The 2019 season has been one of inconsistency for Waringstown and they haven’t been at their best for large parts of it, but they will still enter their fifth consecutive Clear Currency Irish Senior Cup final on Saturday.
One quality that has remained constant throughout has been the Villagers never-say-die attitude; an innate capacity to always seemingly come out on the right end of pressurised situations and matches – especially in the Irish Cup.
Waringstown are the most successful club ever in this competition, winning it six times in total and they’ll be looking to further extend their record beyond the others when they take on Pembroke at Milverton, home of The Hillls C.C, this weekend.
Remarkably, three of those triumphs have came in the last four seasons but the run this year has been perhaps their tightest of all, beating Malahide by two runs after multiple rain breaks, navigating past the lottery of a bowl-out against Instonians in the quarter-final before a match that will be forever remembered as a classic against CIYMS.
With eight runs needed off the final two balls to seal an unlikely spot in the showpiece final, up stepped Kyle McCallan with a six and four to complete a comeback that didn’t seem possible even a few minutes earlier.
“The emotions changed throughout the last few overs,” explained captain Greg Thompson.
“I was always confident that we had a chance with Kyle and Haseeb (Azam) at the wicket. The tension was building when we only scored two off the first four balls.
“It’s just been one of those seasons where in cup matches we have won a few close ones. We have done what is necessary and the semi-final was probably a prime example of that.”
While in the midst of trying to always improve and challenge every year, it might be tricky for the squad to sit back and reflect on what a successful journey they’ve been on over the last five years. They will enter their fifth consecutive final – no team has even managed three before.
Thompson has been the leader that has held everything together and will have the chance to become the first captain to lift three Irish Cup crowns in a row on Saturday.
“We talk extremely fondly about the Irish Cup as a squad,” he added.
“I know for a lot of northern teams the Irish Cup hasn’t had that priority in the schedule, but we have made it one in the last six years or so and it’s paid off by making five finals.
“We take great pride in the fact we have reached more finals in a row than anyone else and hold the record for most wins. It’s a competition we get excited for.
“We haven’t been at our best this season – there’s no getting away from that and there have been better teams in the league.
“When it comes to cup matches, this squad find a way to motivate themselves and get across the line. That’s worth its weight in gold.”
A victory on Saturday is no foregone conclusion given how impressive their Dublin opponents have been this season and the international experience their squad has built up over the last few years.
Andy Balbirnie has been in tremendous form for Ireland recently, scoring runs for fun including a half-century against England at Lords while Josh Little and Lorcan Tucker are helping to lead the way for the next generation.
They also have the likes of Barry McCarthy, Fiachra Tucker and Jack Balbirnie, and while Waringstown beat them by 133 runs in last year’s quarter-final, this time will almost certainly be more competitive.
“Pembroke are an extremely strong team and have a number of high class performers,” said Thompson.
“They have a number of international performers in their ranks and will be a tough prospect.
“They probably go into the match as favourites in most people’s eyes as a result of that experience.
“We won’t be backing down and will back ourselves that we have that cup final experience and look forward to what promises to be a very good game against a good Pembroke team.”
Another member of Pembroke’s squad they’ll have to deal with used to share a dressing room with them – South African overseas professional Shaheen Khan who joined the Leinster outfit ahead of the current campaign after a successful stint in Waringstown.
The all-rounder was named man-of-the-match last season in their historic victory over Merrion at Stormont and he will almost certainly have a say in the game at some point.
“Shaheen’s record at Waringstown in terms of trophies won was outstanding,” added Thompson.
“He was a large part of that success and wish him good luck on Saturday, but I’m hoping there is no match winning performance from him!
“He fit brilliantly into our changing room. I have seen him once or twice this summer and it’s always good to meet up with him.”
Thompson has been dealt a massive blow ahead of the final with Irish international James McCollum ruled out due to a shoulder injury.
McCollum has been impressive so far in his young international career and has been a big miss for the majority of this season due to his numerous commitments, but Thompson is looking for someone to step up and play a match-winning role.
“It’s a big blow,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when you look at the amount of cricket James has missed for Waringstown this year compared to the last two years and you compare our form over those years – it’s a big factor.
“I consider James to be one of Ireland’s most promising batsmen and we have missed him at number three. We will miss him on Saturday.
“It gives someone an opportunity to come in and others an opportunity to stick their hand up and say they’ll be the one to score the telling runs or give a match-winning performance. We would much rather have him in the team than out.”