It’s official. No club has won more the Irish Cup more times than Waringstown.
The villagers lifted the trophy for the fifth time on Saturday, equalling North County’s record, after a nerve-jangling triumph over The Hills at Magheramason.
Playing in their third consecutive Irish Cup final and aiming for the third trophy of what is fast becoming a truly vintage season, Greg Thompson’s team appeared to be cruising after dismissing The Hills for just 135.
When Adam Dennison and James Hall, the Waringstown openers, raced to 53 in less than 13 overs, there appeared to be only one outcome, and that was a crushing Waringstown triumph.
The Hills, who are renowned as fighters who never know when they are beaten, appeared to be fast running out of ideas but the combination of Yaqoob Ali and Ryan Cartwright threatened to turn the final on its head.
Hall was caught at mid-off trying to hit Ali over the top, the spinner was then too wily for James McCollum soon after but the first sign of a proper Waringstown wobble came when Dennison, who had batted imperiously, chopped on after a 45 from 73 balls that included seven boundaries.
But the real drama came four overs later in a quite extraordinary few minutes. First, with Ali threatening with almost every delivery and just one ball before the drinks interval, Albert van der Merwe brought himself into field just under Nelson’s nose at silly point. The batsman duly obliged pushing his forward-defensive into van der Merwe’s hands just inches above the ground.
One ball after the break and Waringstown were five down, Cartwright bowling his fellow South African Shaheen Khan with one that darted back in and beat him for pace.
Two balls later, and the tide appeared to have completely turned, Cartwright’s full toss struck Marcus McClean on the pads, he was palpably lbw and Waringstown were 93 for six, having lost three wickets for no runs in the space of four balls. Suddenly 43 more runs seemed a lifetime away.
With nails amongst the visiting supporters by now bitten to the quick, The Hills threw everything at Thompson and McCallan, Cartwright (2-33) bowling quickly and Ali (4-25) probing at the other end.
But in truth there weren’t many more alarms, both players defended the good balls stoutly and capitalised on any rare loose deliveries.
It was fitting that McCallan, whose 3-18 with the ball earlier in the day was pivotal to Waringstown dismissing The Hills for such a modest total, was there at the end, hitting the winning runs and sparking tumultuous celebrations amongst Waringstown supporters, giving them a second Irish Cup triumph in three years and a third in the last seven.
Arguably the most crucial part of The Hills innings was the baffling decision of captain Max Sorensen, by far their most destructive batsmen, to hold himself back to number six in the batting order.
Khan had taken two early wickets to peg the Dubliners back and after opener Mark Donegan departed for 40 in the 30th over, with The Hills struggling for momentum on 82 for three, it seemed odds-on that Sorensen would bring himself in at number five and attempt to inject some life into an innings starved of attacking strokes.
But instead, Sorensen sent in the more conservative van der Merwe and by the time the fourth wicket fell in the 37th over, the Dubliners had still to bring up their three figures and Waringstown held most of the aces.
What happened next confirmed the worst fears of the travelling Hills supporters as Waringstown chipped away at the lower order, van der Merwe caught behind off the excellent McCallan (3-18) for 11 and then the left-handed Cartwright held brilliantly by a running Dennison at long-off off the same bowler.
At 112 for six, there was a real danger Sorensen could run out of partners and that’s exactly how it worked out. He added 20 for the seventh wicket with Tomas Murphy but the latter’s departure, caught superbly by Khan off Phil Eaglestone (2-21), precipitated a dramatic late collapse.
With Sorensen cutting a forlorn and increasingly angry observer at the non-striker’s end, Murphy’s was the first of four wickets to fall for just three runs in the space of nine balls.
Naseer Shoukat was run out, superbly by a direct hit from Khan, as he bizarrely attempted to get on strike for the 48th and then Gary Kidd, the left-arm spinner, removed a bemused Ali and Luke Clinton in the space of three balls.
From eyeing up what most observers felt would have been a par score of around 176, The Hills had lost their last seven wickets for 36. It was to prove vital in the final analysis.