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Villagers are in hot pursuit of double title triumph

By Ian Callender

It's a position which Waringstown captain Lee Nelson admits he "would have bitten your hand off at the start of the season to be in". Now all he needs is for the weather to play ball and his men to perform to their capabilities.

By Saturday night there could be two trophies in The Lawn pavilion with the Irish Cup final against Merrion following tonight's Ulster Bank Premier League game against Lisburn at Wallace Park (5.00pm).

Although victory tonight in the 20-overs game will put them only four points clear of North Down with one game to play, their run rate is so good even the Comber side will acknowledge Waringstown cannot be caught. And they have a final game against Instonians in case of a slip-up tonight.

But after a crazy scare last Saturday against CIYMS, when they collapsed to 55 for eight chasing only 68 before winning by two wickets, that must be seen as a good omen.

"It's just a case of getting over the line, taking the four points and moving on," said Nelson.

"We tried to make a mess of it on Saturday. It was all a bit stupid but I think we have learned from last year (when they lost their last two games to hand the league title to Instonians). We have realised where we went wrong and have learned from that."

With seven top-two finishes in the nine Premier League seasons, no one can deny Waringstown's consistency but it is 15 years since they have won more league matches than any other team so outright victory this time will be a huge achievement.

Although Waringstown have only three games remaining this season, they will have a debutant tonight in all-rounder Jean de Villiers, who replaces fellow South African Ruhan Pretorius. He is someone Nelson knows well.

"I played against him in Pretoria on the Grasshoppers tour about three years ago. He bowled quickly and then scored 70 not out. He made his debut for the Titans the following year so it was clear he was a very good cricketer," he recalled.

"He is an impact player, so he is ideal for us. I've had him in my mind for a couple of years but haven't been able to get him… until now."

And he does mean now. De Villiers flies in this morning but it is the Irish Cup final where Nelson hopes their new professional will make the biggest impact, because history is not on Waringstown's side in recent games against Merrion.

The Ballsbridge side have won the cup twice in the last five years and they have knocked out Waringstown, at The Lawn, on both occasions, in 2013 and the 2010 semi-final.

The Villagers, though, will have nine survivors from that quarter-final clash two years ago, and Nelson says they are two years older and wiser.

"We're hoping it's third time lucky but we are a better side than the previous two games. Our batting line-up is still very young," said the captain. "James (Hall) is the oldest at 26.

"We weren't playing well at the time (of Merrion's last visit), but we have competed well in the last four or five years in the Irish Cup, so we will take confidence from that."

There was disappointment for Waringstown on Sunday when the 2nd XI lost the O'Neill's Ulster Plate final to Brigade II.

David Murdock steered the Beechgrove side to a five-wicket victory, finishing 75 not out, with five fours and two sixes, as Brigade chased down Waringstown's 170 for seven with five overs to spare.

Former Waringstown captain Alan Waite top scored with 57 not out while Michael Hingston also hit a half century as they recovered from 14 for three after an impressive early burst by former Brigade captain Mark Simpson who finished with three for 25 and Nick Donnell (2-24).

James Mitchell hit two sixes in a quickfire 20 but it proved well below par as Murdock received good support from Matthew Gillespie (30) and Thomas Wray (22).

THE first day of the Inter-provincial Championship game between North West Warriors and Leinster Lightning at Bready was abandoned because of a saturated ground at Bready. The teams will try again today from 10.30am.

IT should be celebration time for Armagh on Saturday after their penultimate Ulster Bank League Section Two game at Larne. Victory for the visitors will clinch the title, promotion back to Section One and complete a four-trophy season for the 1st XI.

Already winners of the Junior Cup, Midweek League and Twenty20 Shield, they need to win only one of their last two games to clinch the league. The second promotion place is between Laurelvale and Saintfield, locked on 11 wins each with two games to play.

Promotion to the Premier League still involves three teams with Derriaghy still favourites for the title. They are eight points clear of Muckamore and Woodvale.

In Junior League 1, Civil Service North II beat Muckamore II by just two runs on Sunday to move two points clear of the Moylena side and Waringstown II.

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