James Shannon is expected to take his place in the Instonians line-up for the Ulster Bank Challenge Cup final against hosts North Down today (11am), despite missing the club’s last two games.
Shannon’s shoulder injury ruled him of last weekend’s North-South inter-provincial at Waringstown and the chance to again captain Ireland A in their game in Durham, but he is in a squad of 13 for the 50-overs decider.
The selection poser for skipper Eugene Moleon is who will replace Ireland Under-19 player Ben Wylie, with Richard McCarthy, Neil Hamilton and Ashkay Dheurula added to their regular line-up.
They have been further handicapped by the loss to injury of Aussie professional Mick Delaney, just a month into his time at Shaw’s Bridge, but Moleon is full of praise for the way the rest of the team have made light of his absence, not only reaching tomorrow’s final but also firmly in contention for the Premier League title itself.
“All the guys have done well. People like Zac Rushe has stepped up to the plate and on our day we believe we can beat anyone as we proved with the (league) win over Waringstown. We can take that confidence into the final,” says the captain.
Recent history is also on Instonians’ side with North Down their victims in their last Challenge Cup final appearance, in 2009, also at Comber, and again last year in the Ulster Cup final at The Lawn.
“All the games have been close, but we have the spirit, we enjoy playing at The Green and it’s always good to play the big clubs,” adds Moleon, who says that North Down’s achievements cannot be played down.
“You get to be a big club by what you achieve and North Down’s are second to none.”
Indeed, a North Down victory tomorrow will be their 32nd Challenge Cup success, no fewer than eight of them since 2000. That big-game confidence probably also explains why the hosts confirmed their starting 11 at the start of the week with Andrew Haire called in to replace their Under-19 Cup squad member, Alistair Shields.
“It’s a big blow for Ally,” says his captain.
“But he has bigger fish to fry and he will have plenty more opportunities to win a Challenge
Cup medal. His batting and bowling will be a loss to us but we’ve still got Peter Eakin, who could have been in that squad as well.
“He’s only 17, but he has more than exceeded our expectations this season and is playing for Ireland A this week.
“He’s also won two man of the match awards in the cup so what better time to win a third.”
And while Shields admits it is nice to have home comforts, he doesn’t accept that The Green offers much home advantage.
“It’s an advantage for good batsmen and we all know what the Instonians’ top four are capable off,” he adds, although knowing, without saying, that North Down bat deeper than any team in the NCU.
“It has been difficult to get some momentum this season, but we have enough players who have been there and done that so going into a final they’ll not be overawed.”
Instonians: E Moleon (capt), R McCann, J Stevenson, J Shannon, A White, Z Rushe, R Kirk, S Shannon, R McCurry, R White, N Hamilton, R McCarthy, A Dhareula
North Down: P Shields (capt), N Russell, A Sutherland, R Haire, P Eakin, G Wijekoon, J Terrett, M Moreland, A Haire, G McKenna, D Kennedy.