Cricket: Do Waringstown’s history-makers of 2017 compare with class of 92?

Kyle McCallan celebrates hitting the winning runs
Kyle McCallan celebrates hitting the winning runs

Twenty-five years almost to the day that Waringstown made history by winning the treble of NCU Senior League, Challenge Cup and All Ireland, their class of 2017 stand on the very brink of an even greater achievement.

By toppling a star-studded The Hills team on Saturday in an Irish Cup final that became rather too close for comfort, the villagers lifted their third trophy of the season, with the NCU Premier League destined to be the fourth if they can beat already-relegated Lisburn next Saturday.

Greg Thompson on his way to a vital unbeaten 25 that sealed Waringstown's fifth Irish Cup triumph

Greg Thompson on his way to a vital unbeaten 25 that sealed Waringstown's fifth Irish Cup triumph

In an era dominated by Leinster cricket, Waringstown’s all-Ireland achievements this decade have become truly remarkable. Three consecutive finals, two victories in the last three years, three triumphs in the last seven.

The villagers now stand level with North County, who dominated the competition in the previous decade, with five wins.

No-one can argue that Greg Thompson’s men didn’t beat the best on their way to winning Irish club cricket’s most important trophy. Merrion, the holders complete with Ed Joyce and John Anderson, were beaten in the quarter-finals, Andrew Balbirnie and Pembroke slain in the semis and The Hills, littered with internationals and Leinster Lightning interprovincial stars, slain at Magheramason.

The margin was four wickets, but for a long time it was looking much more comfortable. This was an old-fashioned final that chugged along like the village cavalcade that graces Waringstown in high summer, meandering at half-pace for much of the day, only to turn all Formula One in its dying moments, as The Hills finally got out of first gear and reminded us why they are considered Dublin’s most accomplished team.

Greg Thompson holds aloft the Irish Cup after Saturday's four-wicket win over The Hills

Greg Thompson holds aloft the Irish Cup after Saturday's four-wicket win over The Hills

At 80 for two in the 20th over, chasing just 136 for victory on a pitch that seemed to have lost its venom after baring its teeth in the early stages when Waringstown won an important toss, the villagers were all but champions, the champagne already on ice, the trophy engravers at the ready.

But Adam Dennison, after batting imperiously for a 45 that contained seven boundaries, became Yaqoob Ali’s third wicket in the 21st over, and that was the prelude to a crazy period when three wickets fell without a run being added in the space of four balls as 93 for three became a perilous 93 for six.

The travelling Waringstown supporters huddled together against the first blast of autumn blowing across the Co Tyrone hills could barely watch as Lee Nelson was caught at silly mid-off off Yaqoob and in the next over after drinks Ryan Cartwright bowled Shaheen Khan with a beauty and a full toss trapped Marcus McClean lbw.

From there it was the irresistible force meets the immovable object as Yaqoob (4-25) and Cartwright (2-33) threw everything at Thompson and Kyle McCallan, knowing that another wicket would expose the Waringstown tail and perhaps set up one of the great cup final turnarounds.

But the seventh-wicket pair first defended with their very lives, and gradually chipped away at the target, cheers from the boundary greeting every single run of perhaps the most important 43-run partnership in the club’s long history. Thompson’s contribution was an unbeaten 25 and McCallan, who had earlier taken a priceless 3-18 with the ball, gritted his way to 13 including the winning run to mid-wicket. At 42-years-old, his importance to Waringstown, stretching back to 2005, shows no sign of abating.

It might not have felt like it at the time, but that domino-like clattering of wickets and the unbearable tension that followed made the win seem extra special.

Somehow, chasing down 136 with say three wickets down and plentiful overs to spare might have seemed like an anti-climax.

Of course the nerve-jangling finale was only half the story. Thompson deserves credit for his decision at the toss. A year ago Waringstown opted to bowl first against Merrion and lost comprehensively, but local advice from Bready suggested batting second was the way to go.

Initially, the decision didn’t seem to have paid dividends, as just one wicket fell in the first 14 overs. But The Hills rarely reached three runs per over and gradually Waringstown took a stranglehold, helped it must be said by Sorensen’s captaincy.

Khan, bowling at a much-reduced pace because of a side strain, claimed 2-14 in his 10 overs and after opener Mark Donegan departed for 40 in the 30th over, the first of McCallan’s three wickets, and with The Hills struggling for momentum on 82 for three, it seemed odds-on that Sorensen would come 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, exactly what Waringstown would have wanted, and by the time the fourth wicket fell in the 37th over, The Hills weren’t even 100.

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 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 overs 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 over 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 175, The Hills had lost their last seven wickets for 36 and Sorensen was stranded on 24, having faced just 32 balls. It was to prove vital in the final analysis.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between the modern Waringstown team and that all-conquering side of the early 90s, widely regarded as one of the finest club teams ever assembled in Irish cricket.

But is’s an unfair comparison to make, cricket is drastically different in the modern era, though the irony is that Saturday’s final, a low-scoring game that only roared into life in its dying moments, was a throwback to the past.