Waringstown begin their defence of the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup tomorrow with one of the most attractive games of the first round, against Strabane at The Lawn, and still unbeaten.
Comfortable Premier League victories against Ballymena and Lisburn have eased the Villagers into the new season and although captain Kyle McCallan appreciates more difficult assignments lie ahead, he described his side’s start to the new campaign as ‘ok’.
“Strabane will be a big set-up on Saturday but most of the batsmen have had an innings under their belts and the bowlers have done well in contrasting conditions,” said Ireland’s most capped player. “We have a nice balance to the team and I’m hoping for another good season.”
They have a lot to live up to to match last season’s performance. Not only did they win the Irish Cup for the first time in 19 years but they won the Challenge Cup for only the second time since 1995 and finished a clear second in the Premier League, just one win behind North Down.
They were also beaten semi-finalists in the Ulster Cup and in the Twenty20 Cup. Undoubtedly, Obus Pienaar made a significant contribution last season but, remember, the South African missed the last six weeks of the season and it was the local talent which had to finish the job. And in some style.
“We haven’t had to change too much from last season,” admits McCallan. “We have a strong top three with Simon Harrison, man of the match in the Irish Cup final, James Hall and Lee Nelson all very successful and it allows me to come in at No 4 with Glenn Addicott at five.”
Addicott is Pienaar’s replacement as professional and has made an impressive start.
“He put away the bad balls to finish the game in a hurry against Ballymena but then against Lisburn he showed application on a difficult wicket at Wallace Park and scored 40 off 55 balls and made sure we got a competitive total. He has settled in well,” adds his captain.
“We are expecting a hard game on Saturday. We lost to Strabane when they were last at The Lawn (in 2010) in the Ulster Cup. That day, Mark Gillespie scored 90 and took four wickets, Phil Eaglestone (another Ireland international) took three and we finished 15 runs short. They’ve also got Niall McDonnell and their new professional Faisal Iqbal has made a good start so they will be strong, but we’ll be going all out to keep our grip on the trophy.”
Waringstown are one of five NCU teams at home in tomorrow’s first round action with all but CIYMS of the big guns favoured with a home draw. Last year’s beaten finalists Instonians welcome YMCA, now coached by Ireland international Trent Johnston, North Down will expect to progress against Fox Lodge but Lisburn host 2009 winners Leinster and Ballymena welcome 2010 holders Merrion to Eaton Park.
Lurgan head north-west to Coleraine and Derriaghy face the longest journey of all, away to Cork County. At least they have a favourites’ chance of being in tonight's second round draw.