Experienced duo Shields and Allen ready to battle for glory
Peter Shields made his 1st XI debut for North Down in a Section One league game at Muckamore in 1996. In the opposition that day was Les Allen. This Saturday, they will be opposing captains in the GMcG Junior Cup final at Lisburn.
The clubs haven't changed but, 23 years older and much wiser, Shields and Allen have stepped down a level and are bringing on the youngsters in the 2nd XI and their reward is the chance to lift the most prestigious prize in junior cricket in the NCU for the first time.
Dropping down the club is not for everyone, admits Shields, but it was a case of needs must.
"I didn't envisage going straight into the Seconds. It was my intention to hang up the boots, then maybe play again when the kids got a bit older. I'm also chairman of the club which takes up a lot of time," he said.
"But we've been suffering with numbers - we've only a few youngsters in the 15-20 age group and with players retiring and others like Daniel Graham and Peter Davison moving up to the Firsts, the Seconds were struggling.
"But after 20 years putting heart and soul into the senior team, it is a personal choice to keep going, and a huge commitment. But I still feel I'm playing at a good level, and bringing on the young lads."
There will be no shortage of experience, however, on the North Down side on Saturday.
Alongside Shields will be last year's 1st XI captain Martin Moreland, Marty Dalzell, Billy Adams and one-time Ireland international Gavin McKenna.
But, in the perfect blend, there are three 16-year-olds in Aaron McCrory, wicket-keeper Gavin Anderson and pace bowler Finlay Keenan, as well as Timmy Carson and Hamilton Coulter, who played in the 2011 Challenge Cup final for Civil Service North.
Allen missed out on Muckamore's last Junior Cup triumph in 1998 because he was a regular with the Firsts but, although a Challenge Cup appearance also eluded him - unlike Shields, who played in 10 finals - everything comes to those who persevere.
"I was in and around the Seconds team back in 1987 when we won the Junior Cup, but I missed out so this will be my first cup final," said Allen.
"Richard Keates, Davy Rainey and John Gordon, father of Sam, are other old hands in the teams but we have had a pretty straightforward passage to the final and everyone has contributed.
"Shane Henderson has made a couple of 60s and taken 12 wickets on our way to the final, Michael Wilson took six wickets in the semi-final against CIYMS II and Luke Allen and Arnold Oduvelil have also been consistent performers."
There is literally nothing between the teams who not only are next to each other alphabetically in the NCU but are second and third in Junior League One, with the first meeting of the season, at Moylena, ending in a six-run victory for North Down.
So, it's certainly all to play for - with a trophy at the end - on Saturday.
Meanwhile, only 13 overs were possible on the first day of Northern Knights' Inter-provincial Championship game against Leinster Lightning at Stormont.
Knights openers James McCollum and Marc Ellison played out the two spells against Barry McCarthy, Tyrone Kane and Peter Chase before a thunderstorm ended the day's play.
Already, a fourth successive draw in this rain-ruined Championship looks the most likely outcome.
Scores: Northern Knights 59-0 (J McCollum 27 not out) v Leinster Lightning. Today 11am-6.30pm.