CSN and Waringstown could serve up repeat of 2008's classic decider
On the 10th anniversary of the most exciting final since the tie in 1994, it is fitting that Civil Service North and Waringstown meet again in the Gallagher Challenge Cup decider at Comber today (11am).
Just four runs separated the teams in 2008 with CSN coming out on top and although their respective league positions would suggest otherwise, this year's decider could be just as close.
There is a very good reason for ignoring form in the Premier League with Cup performances because one is played with a red ball and the other with a white one. And CSN have starred with the latter this season.
They lost their first 50-over white ball game last Sunday to Clontarf - it was always going to be a big ask against the Leinster Cup specialists without skipper James Kennedy and opening bowler Graeme McCarter, but both are back today, raring to go.
"We have been disappointed with a couple of our league performances but it's not something I'm thinking about too much," said Kennedy. "Anyone in the league can beat anyone on their day and I'm delighted that in the Challenge Cup we have played some of our best cricket."
Marc Ellison scored 50 in the opening round victory over Carrickfergus, professional Andre Malan 140 against North Down in the second and although not one batsman could raise his bat in the semi-final - Aaron Wright top scored with 47 - CSN still amassed 278-9 for a 72-run victory over Instonians.
Malan seems certain to be the Stormont side's key man, having also taken 11 wickets in the three Cup matches, although he was dismissed early in last month's league game at The Lawn, which Waringstown won by six wickets.
Wright - who missed the league clash - and Ireland Under-19 international Morgan Topping have an extra incentive to do well having been released by Waringstown, although Greg Thompson has publicly said he is delighted by their success.
"It has vindicated their reason to leave Waringstown to get exposure to a higher level of game, so I'm delighted for them," said the Villagers' skipper, who is missing the experienced Kyle McCallan today but otherwise leads the team which has won 10 of their 12 50-over games this season.
Carrickfergus completed the league double over Waringstown last Saturday, but they bounced back the next day with a crushing 133-run win over Pembroke in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup.
James Hall (175 not out) and Adam Dennison (105) put on 221 for the first wicket and with in-form James McCollum to follow, CSN know they will need early wickets to stay in the match.
Get those, however, and Lee Nelson, Shaheen Khan and Thompson are waiting to power Waringstown to the finish, so CSN will need to keep plenty of bowling in reserve.
Although Waringstown start favourites, CSN have the recent Challenge Cup pedigree. They are seeking a hat-trick of final wins, after beating Waringstown in 2014 and CIYMS in 2016, but since the NCU's game of the season went to one-innings in 2007, Waringstown have won only two of their five appearances.
It is the seventh successive Cup final at The Green, and the team chasing has won four of the previous six - and it would be no surprise if the captain winning the toss elects to bowl first, especially with rain forecast overnight. It could be a crucial factor in a fascinating final.
teams: Civil Service North: J Kennedy, B Adair, A Cowden, M Ellison, M Foster, A Johnston, A Malan, G McCarter, C McMorran, M Topping, A Wright. 12th man: C Goodall.
Waringstown (from): G Thompson, A Dennison, J Hall, J McCollum, L Nelson, S Khan, M McClean, R Waite, G Kidd, J Mitchell, P Eaglestone, S Kidd, A Mitchell. 12th man: J Hunter.
Weekend fixtures (12pm) Tomorrow: Robinson Services Premier League: Armagh v Carrickfergus, Instonians v CIYMS (11am), Muckamore v North Down (11am). Sunday: Carrickfergus v Instonians (11am).
Section One: Derriaghy v Bangor, Donaghcloney Mill v Cregagh, Laurelvale v Holywood, Lisburn v Downpatrick, Woodvale v Lurgan.
Section Two: Belfast Superkings v Ballymena, Cliftonville Academy v Templepatrick, Cooke Collegians v Drumaness, Donaghadee v BISC, Dundrum v Ards, Larne v Saintfield, Victoria v Saintfield.
Sunday: Lagan Valley Steels T20 Cup Final: North Down v Waringstown (The Lawn, 3.30pm).
T20 Trophy Final: Downpatrick v Holywood (The Lawn, 11am).