League titles are northern consolation
League cricket was due to play second fiddle to the RSA Irish Cup final today but while Clontarf and Merrion meet at Malahide in all-Leinster affair, the battle for the championship and relegation will be centre stage in both the NCU and North West.
The Irish Cup has come north only once in the last nine years and, indeed, there have been only three beaten finalists in the same period, but while Leinster continues to rule the roost nationally – reflected by Eddie Richardson's selection on Thursday in the Ireland squad – the fixture list in both northern unions offers supporters ample compensation for missing out on the big game of the day.
In the Ulster Bank Premier League, Instonians host North Down – first and against joint second – in a game which will either all but settle the league title or set up a thrilling finale. A North Down win would move them level on points with the Shaw's Bridge side and it could be a three-way tie at the top if Waringstown win at home at Ballymena, although the Villagers have played a game more.
An Instonians win, however, would set them up for Eugene Moleon to lift the league trophy on Sunday, with victory against Civil Service North at Stormont.
At the bottom, it is probably a win-or-bust weekend for Lurgan who must beat Civil Service North at home to give themselves a realistic chance of a second season in the top flight, although defeats for Ballymena and CIYMS, at home to Lisburn, will ensure that battle will go to the final round of games.
In the North West, Coleraine will win their first Premiership title with back to back victories over second placed Brigade whom they meet in a double header, with the game at Beechgrove first up tomorrow.
Two Brigade wins, however, will put them in pole position ahead of their final game at Eglinton, while one win each will keep Coleraine two points clear and needing victory in their last match at Fox Lodge to clinch the title.
At the bottom, Bready will probably have to win their last two games at Eglinton tomorrow and, crucially, at home to Glendermott, the team currently directly above them, on Saturday week, while Strabane will want a win at Fox Lodge to easy their relegation worries.
Meanwhile, Carrickfergus captain Iain Parkhill and scorer Roger Bell have both been banned for three games following the incident involving umpire David Gilliland in their Section One game at Dundrum on August 3.
Gilliland accused Parkhill of a Level 4 offence but it was downgraded by the Disciplinary Committee to a Level 2, the same as Bell, who, in his capacity as the NCU Competitions Director was also warned to his future conduct.