White relishing the Challenge ahead of his ninth decider
There will be no-one more experienced in Saturday's AJG Challenge Cup final than Andrew White. 17 years after his first decider, Ireland's fourth most-capped international will play for Instonians in his ninth NCU showpiece, and he still loves it.
Back at the turn of the century, the then 20-year-old had five internationals already under his belt and scored a century in the third of what would be 232 appearances in the navy blue cap. His first final was for a "very good and young North Down team" who would play four in a row, winning three of them.
In those days it was a two-day final, but White accepts that things have changed.
"From a player's point of view, it was special to play in a two-day final. In my first few Cup finals it was something of a tradition and I had seen it growing up, I would have travelled to Downpatrick with my family to watch the Cup final, so that was always something special to be a part of," he said.
"But that hasn't changed since it has gone to a one-day final. It now suits spectators and everyone involved in that you have a result at the end of the day and it makes sense in that the rest of the competition has one-innings matches.
"It also adds tension to it because you only have one shot at it. In the two-day final you could fail in the first innings and still make a winning contribution in the second. But players don't talk about it anymore, most have never played in one and I certainly don't see it going back to two days. I honestly can't say I miss it, if you play well on the day you win."
Memories of that first final have faded over the years but White does remember former Ireland captain Stephen Warke in the opposition (Woodvale) line-up.
"It was a good, young North Down side. You had (Ryan) Haire, (Peter) Shields, (Alan) O'Prey and myself all coming through together, backed up by the senior guys like Ian Shields, Robin Haire, Billy Dale and even Joe Montgomery, our captain in 2000."
White upstaged them all in his first final, the penultimate one at the old Ormeau ground, hitting 67 in the first innings and winning the man of the match award. Indeed, CIYMS beware. Every time White has picked up a winner's medal he has scored at least 30, and in his last two victories finished 50 not out and 57 not out.
"I have had some good displays in Cup finals but the last two we have lost (in 2013 and 2015 when White scored six and 16) were on the back of two very good hundreds, one by Kyle (McCallan) for Waringstown and two by Rassie (van der Dussen for CIYMS, their opponents again this year), although only one counted as the first game was rained off.
"When you lose like that it is hard to argue and I don't see Saturday being any different. There are players on both sides capable of scoring hundreds, and if only one player does that, he is likely to be on the winning side."
What will be missing this Saturday is the usual big Cup final crowd. With up to three players set to miss the game because of commitments with the Ireland Wolves and Ireland Under-19 side, the NCU took the decision to move their showpiece game from the original Friday date, now in direct opposition to a full programme of league games. But White agrees with the decision.
"You don't want to play a Cup final without the best players and speaking to Nigel Jones (CIYMS captain) he said he would like to play us at full strength and it's vice versa on our part. You want the showpiece game of the season to have the best players available and fair play to the NCU and the sponsors for agreeing to it. We appreciate that.
"I don't think the lack of spectators will take anything away from the occasion. CI and Instonians will have a good support and the players will know it's a special day."