On Friday night, after the 26th NCU Challenge Cup triumph in their history, the Waringstown vintage of 2018 were basking in another historic moment.
The trophy cabinet in the Roy Harrison Pavilion at The Lawn when the players, officials and supporters returned home from Comber, was full to the brim with five senior cups. There would barely have been room for the famously bulky Challenge Cup alongside the Irish Cup, the NCU Premier League trophy, the Lagan Valley Steels T20 Cup and the Ulster Cup.
It’s been an almost unprecedented 12 months of success for the villagers, culminating in yesterday’s thumping Twenty20 Cup final triumph over North Down.
So just how good are the Waringstown of 2017/18 and indeed how good have they been during this decade?
It is fascinating to draw comparison with this Waringstown team’s success since 2011, when they won a Challenge cup and Irish Cup double, with North Down’s almost complete domination of the previous decade.
Since 2011, Waringstown have won all of the major 50-over competitions on three occasions; the Premier League title in 2013 (shared with Instonians), 2015 and 2017, the Challenge Cup in 2011, 2013 and now 2018. Most significantly, there has been a trio of Irish Cup triumphs in 2011, 2015 and 2017, with a losing final in 2016 and the prospect of another final if they beat Strabane later this month. There have also been four Twenty20 Cup success since 2012, including the last three.
On the flip side Waringstown haven’t yet been as consistent as North Down were in their glorious era. The Comber club lifted the NCU title a remarkable nine times between 1999 and 2011 and the Challenge Cup seven times between 2001 and 2010. Waringstown have been more inclined to follow a season of glorious highs with disappointments, though 2018 is fast breaking that mould with two trophies already secured.
The last decade has been much more fluid in the NCU, with Waringstown, Instonians and CIYMS taking the league titles, and CSNI, Inst and CI getting on the Challenge Cup honours board.
However, Waringstown’s three Irish Cup triumphs, comparable to North County’s domination of the competition (five wins between 2001-2008), enable them to be considered up there with the greatest. North Down’s great team between 1999-2011 never cracked the all-Ireland arena, one semi-final defeat in 2014 the closest they got, and that remains a source of regret at The Green.
Waringstown Challenge Cup triumph against CSNI and the win over North Down yesterday were a potential glimpse into the future. Along with the thrilling triumph over CIYMS in the Challenge cup semi-final, both cup final wins were achieved without Kyle McCallan, since 2005 Waringstown’s talisman and still, at 42 years of age, arguably the finest spin bowler around.
Waringstown didn’t have a like-for-like replacement for the former Ireland captain, the Glenavon footballer Andrew Mitchell was due to bat in the lower order against CSNI and seamer Stuart Kidd filled in yesterday, but they don’t depend on McCallan quite like they used to.
Adam Dennison, Friday’s brilliant centurion and his partner James Hall, who was at his destructive best yesterday, have formed possibly Waringstown’s best ever opening partnership. Number three James McCollum, captain Greg Thompson, professional Shaheen Khan and spinner Gary Kidd are just as important.
Crucially, the core of the team is still young. Dennison and McCollum, two of the brightest talents in Ireland, are just 21 and 22 respectively, while Hall and Lee Nelson, increasingly influential with the ball, are still the right side of 30 despite having been around senior cricket for over a decade. At 30, Thompson is still in his prime, a captain who is single-minded and bold, unafraid of taking risks. Not many captains would have had the nerve to bowl first at Comber on Friday in the pressure cooker of a cup final considering how badly his team had chased at Carrickfergus the previous Saturday, but Thompson gets it right too many times for it to be a coincidence.
Going forward, Waringstown will need succession plans in different areas of the team if they are to make this a dynasty of success. McCallan won’t go on forever, Phil Eaglestone is mid-thirties and the seam bowling is the weakest link. The first team is high on quality but short on numbers with a number of fringe players having left in recent years in search of opportunities elsewhere.
You get the impression though that this is all on Waringstown’s radar, that perhaps the best may yet be to come.