CIYMS and Inst on collision course for cup final trilogy
CIYMS and Instonians go into tomorrow's Gallagher Challenge Cup semi-finals big favourites to set up a repeat of the 2017 and 2015 deciders.
Their opponents are Civil Service North and Muckamore respectively - the teams they defeated last Saturday by huge margins in the Premier League.
CI have lost only one game in any competition this season - a Thursday night Twenty20 group match against Waringstown - but they will have the chance of revenge next Friday when the teams meet in the final at The Lawn.
Otherwise, it's a perfect seven out of seven record in the League and two Premier League sides also beaten in the Challenge Cup.
The bowlers won the league game at Stormont last week - four wickets apiece from James Cameron-Dow and Trevor Britton dismissing CSN for 85 - and Chris Dougherty seeing his side home with 31 not out.
It's been a familiar role for the one-time Ireland international opener and, indeed he has yet to be dismissed in the Challenge Cup, with 54 not out in first round game against Lisburn and 111 not out against Carrickfergus.
Instonians finally got off the mark in the league at the sixth attempt and went ahead of Muckamore on run-rate after their 171 runs win. Having already impressed with the white-ball in convincing victories over North Down and holders Waringstown in the cup, they will be confident of reaching a fifth final in eight years.
The bigger match for CIYMS this weekend is, arguably, their delayed Irish Cup quarter-final against Leinster at Rathmines on Sunday.
The Belmont side have never got past the last eight, since their first appearance in 2008, but captain Nigel Jones admits they will rarely have a better chance.
"Undoubtedly it's an exciting weekend for the lads," said Jones. "We've worked hard and played some good cricket to give ourselves the opportunities which this weekend will present.
"But we will continue to be focused on the task rather than the reward and we are confident if we play our best cricket the result will take care of itself. It's about keeping our nerve and backing our skills."
The other outstanding Irish Cup quarter-final, between Waringstown and Instonians, also goes ahead on Sunday, but without the presence of the late Paddy Allen.
It will, undoubtedly, be a subdued atmosphere at The Lawn but it will be the perfect incentive for the Villagers to 'get back on the horse' and return to winning ways.
They have lost their last four games in all competitions, including that Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat, and, already eight points behind CIYMS having played a game more, their Premier League hopes already looked doomed.
However, Waringstown are the proud holders of the Irish Cup and, indeed have lost only one of their last 19 games in the competition - the 2016 final against Merrion - but have won the other three editions either side of it.
There is a full programme of Long's SuperValu Premiership fixtures tomorrow with Brigade already one win better off than CIYMS in their seemingly unstoppable pursuit of the title.
Nine wins and just 13 points dropped gave them a huge 67 points lead at the top and they will expect to add to that at home to Coleraine who have won just twice in the Premiership.
Defending champions Bready host improving Eglinton and Donemana, in third, will be wary of Ballyspallen, who like Eglinton, have won their last two. Basement club Strabane are on a losing run of five but will end that if they repeat their only win so far, at The Rectory.
TONIGHT: White Horse T20 Blast: Eglinton v Strabane, Glendermott v Ballyspallen
TOMORROW (12.00): Gallagher Challenge Cup Semi-finals: CIYMS v Civil Service North, Instonians v Muckamore.
Robinson Services League Section One: Cregagh v Ballymena, Donaghcloney Mill v Templepatrick, Downpatrick v Derriaghy, Holywood v Armagh, Woodvale v Bangor. Sunday: Ballymena v Holywood, Downpatrick v Cregagh, Woodvale v Armagh.
Section Two: BISC v Cooke Collegians, Cliftonville Academy v Monaghan, Lurgan v Belfast Superkings, Saintfield v Laurelvale. Sunday: BISC v Monaghan.
Section Three: Ards v Larne, Drumaness v Victoria, Dunmurry v Donagahdee. Drumaness v Dundrum.
Long's SuperValu Premiership: Bready v Eglinton, Brigade v Coleraine, Donemana v Ballyspallen, Strabane v Glendermott
Championship: Burndennett v Bonds Glen, Killyclooney v Newbuildings, St Johnston v Fox Lodge
SUNDAY: Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals: Waringstown v Instonians (11.30), Leinster v CIYMS (12.30).
Robinson Services Premier League: Civil Service North v Lisburn (12.00).