Tomorrow sees the final salvo of the group stage of the SportsHub Senior League Cup, with one qualification spot on offer still in each group, with one of Merrion and YMCA set to progress alongside Clontarf in Group A, whilst any of North County, The Hills, Phoenix, Dublin University or Railway Union could still join Pembroke in qualifying from Group B. The Sydney Parade outfit, unlike Clontarf, have themselves already guaranteed they will finish top of the pile in qualifying for the latter stages.
This weekend’s fixtures will test the depth of the quality available to clubs across the board, as clashes with the IP20 festival at North Down mean several sides will be without important individuals in this weekend’s selections.
It is a measure of club cricket in Leinster that no less than 27 players from the province are participating in the IP20 Festival this weekend.
Starting off in Group A, YMCA travel to Clontarf knowing nothing less than a win is required if they are to have any chance of progressing to the semi-finals of the competition. The away side will be without the services of Harry and Tim Tector, Simi Singh and Curtis Campher this weekend as all are away on interprovincial duty, one silver lining in a way is that thankfully they cannot be haunted by their former player just yet, as Cillian McDonnell misses out for Clontarf due to being cup-tied. In the absence of their four big names above, YMCA will need Jack Tector and Mitchell Thompson to lead from the front with the bat, whilst with the ball there will be an added emphasis on the batting of all-rounders Rory and Tom Anders with a number of middle order players not available.
Clontarf on the other hand will be missing Munster Reds men PJ Moor, Fionn Hand and David Delany from their side, meaning added responsibility for the likes of captain Eoghan Delany and Ruan Cronje with the bat, and Mick Granger with the ball to put on a good showing for their side. A win is important for them in this fixture to ensure they retain top spot in the group, earning a home semi-final, should Merrion win in The Mardyke. The absence of their IP players will likely mean a return to the side for Andrew Poynter and Matt Butler, whilst no doubt a promotion in the batting order could be on the cards for young John McNally.
In this game the start of each innings will be key, with both sides’ depth set to be tested heavily in the middle order, at the top of YMCA’s innings, Jack Tector will be tasked with getting his side off to a strong start and he will need to negotiate the fiery opening spell of Mick Granger to get his side off on a solid footing.
KEY BATTLE: Mick Granger vs Jack Tector
Next up, Merrion travel to Cork County, knowing that their fate is in their own hands, and that should YMCA overturn Clontarf in their fixture, nothing less than a win will do to ensure they qualify for the semi-final stage. The home side are without the services of gloveman Cormac Hassett this weekend, as he is on Munster Reds duty for the first time since he returned to Ireland. However he is the only absentee in the side and Cork County remain a dangerous side on their own patch. Their batting will be led by captain Ross Durity at the top of the order, whilst Rudolph Pollard’s skills in the middle order become far more important in the absence of Hassett. Abubakar Saddique and Byron McDonough will be the two main men with the ball for the home side in a game where they will want to put in a good performance ahead of the start of the league season the following weekend.
Merrion however are without a number of players this weekend, with IP call-ups for Jack Carty and Stephen Doheny compounded by unavailability of John Anderson meaning the batting stocks will be tested severely this time around. Swapnil Modgil and Michael Lewis will be the men Merrion look to in the hope of the bulk of their runs on the basis of their season so far. Their bowling isn’t as badly hampered by availability, with Muhammad Sinan, Tom Stanton and Amish Sidhu all in the side this week, their main bowling attack is relatively untouched and will allow them to have control at the top of the innings, followed by two spinners who appear to have regained their form in last weekend’s victory.
Merrion’s top order will be under pressure to get through an opening spell this weekend, with their batting resources to be tested to the limit, Swapnil Modgil is their highest placed regular batter and he will be tasked with getting through Byron McDonough’s early spell if they are to have a chance of making a big score.
KEY BATTLE: Byron McDonough vs Swapnil Modgil
The next game in Group A sees Rush travel to North Kildare, with both sides already out of the competition with two games to spare, this game is unfortunately a dead rubber, however both teams will be looking to put down a good performance, and lay down a marker for when they face off in the Championship later in the season. The away side are without their skipper Neil Rock, who having just returned from injury for the side is now also on IP duty. Daniel Coffey will take the reins as skipper again in Rock’s absence, and he can once again call upon the experience of Allan Eastwood and Jarred Barnes, whilst there’s spin options from Brandon Morris and Jack McGee, who have both bowled good spells in their own rights at stages this season. Llew Johnson’s form will remain integral to Rush’s chances of putting together a big score.
North Kildare remain without the bowling of Muzamil Sherzad this weekend, but will be boosted by the form of Yaseen Sherzad who was in the runs at the top of the order against YMCA last weekend before the ensuing collapse. They will need to bounce back on their own patch however will need some season’s best performances from the likes of Manjeet Singh, Devansh Bansali and Waqar Azmat if they are to put together a performance which will see them challenge for results in this game, or further into the season.
Veteran Manjeet Singh will be NK’s main man with the ball in this game, they will need him to be at the very top of his game bowling to Llew Johnson in tomorrow’s fixture in order to restrict the free-scoring Kiwi at the top of the Kenure men’s order.
KEY BATTLE: Manjeet Singh vs Llew Johnson
Finally in Group A, the fixture between Leinster and Balbriggan is also a “dead-rubber” in name this weekend, however no game involving either of these sides could ever lend itself to being a damp squib and this one is sure to be no different. The home side will be without Gareth Delany who is on Munster Reds duty, which will once again see them relying on Joey Carroll, Chris Janik and Saqib Bahadur in their middle order to make the majority of their runs. Ben Mitchell will be opening the batting and bowling for the hosts and his good recent form has helped the side put in some stronger performances, even with the results not necessarily always being positive.
Balbriggan will be without their skipper Greg Ford this weekend, as he is on IP duty with the Leinster Lightning, his good form has been key to the ‘Brig’s two recent wins, having done almost all of the heavy lifting by himself in Kenure a couple of weeks ago. Connor Fletcher showed some form last weekend, making an unbeaten half-century in their win against Cork County. Ford’s absence however will mean Farooq Nasr and Nathan Rooney are looked towards to provide more runs than they have as yet this season. With the ball, Ryan Hadley has finally found his rhythm in the last couple of weeks, bowling some searing spells alongside Andrew Darroch, with plenty of support from the spinning duo of Nasr and Dylan Lues, both of whom will need to be on their game this weekend in Rathmines.
With the importance of spinners performing well in Observatory Lane, Dylan Lues will be a vital bowler for Balbriggan, his biggest test will be when he bowls to Saqib Bahadur, who’s range of shots all around the wicket will be a real challenger to the ‘Brig’s main spinner.
KEY BATTLE: Saqib Bahadur vs Dylan Lues
In Group B, with 5 teams still in with a chance of qualifying, all teams are sure to have an eye on all the games around the grounds. Starting off with the team in pole position to qualify, North County, who host the team with the slimmest chance of qualification, Railway Union in Inch. The home side aren’t missing any players to IP20 duty, however Railway Union are weakened by the loss of Kevin O’Brien and Liam McCarthy who are both in the Munster Reds squad for the weekend
North County saw Malcolm Nofal very nearly burst into life last weekend, making 91 out of their total of 208 however that wasn’t quite enough for his side, as they were defeated off the final ball by Phoenix. He will be supported with the bat by Jamie Grassi, Andrew Sheridan and Eddie Richardson who have all been in decent form thus far this season, whilst John Mooney provides the lower order ballast which can work as a rear-guard counter attack, or acceleration role as required. With the ball, Abdul Ghaffar and Usman Azhar have done brilliant work at the top so far this season, whilst Nofals left-arm spin and Mooney’s right-arm seamers give them great control throughout the middle and back end of the innings, Sheridan’s seam-up bowling is as good a 5th option as can be found throughout the competition.
For Railway Union, a crucial point of the game will no doubt be the toss, the side have only won so far this season when batting first, and that is in no small part thanks to the impact which Kenny Carroll makes at the top of the order, in games where he has gotten going, Railway have put together some strong totals and been able to defend them excellently. Carroll will be supported by middle order players Philippe le Roux and Fakhar Zaman who are both in good form of late and will need to be to help account for the loss of McCarthy, who has made useful contributions of late with the bat. With the ball, they will also feel their skipper’s absence, however mystery spinner Alan Mathew, along with Hamza Maan’s leg breaks will provide plenty of wicket-taking opportunities for the away side to keep North County’s batsmen under pressure throughout.
Alan Mathew’s opening spells have caused great difficulty for the most part to almost every side Railway have faced so far this year, and he will once again be tasked with taking early wickets, with his role even more important without the team’s regular captain in the side. If Mathew can get an early look at the classy Malcolm Nofal, Railway will optimistic of his chances of dismissing the left-hander cheaply, and giving the side every chance of restricting their opposition’s total significantly.
KEY BATTLE: Malcolm Nofal vs Alan Mathew
Up next we look to The Hills, where Terenure are the visitors to the side with arguably the second best chance of qualifying for the semi-finals in a week’s time. The home side are without the services of Murray Commins this week, who will be representing Munster Reds at the IP20 festival, however that won’t deter them too much after a couple of powerful performances last weekend in both the Irish Senior Cup and the Senior League Cup. The men to the fore last week was German International Dylan Blignaut, who took 11 wickets across their two games with his out-swing medium pacers, whilst Tómas Rooney-Murphy’s half-century followed by two wickets on Sunday afternoon were vital to their cause. Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin, Mark Donegan and Andy Kavanagh have all been in the runs of late as well, whilst with the ball Ashley Bain has impressed as a first change bowler and will be joined in the seam attack by Matthew Weldon who returns to the side this weekend.
Terenure were below full strength in last Sunday’s defeat to Malahide, and this weekend will see Donal Vaughan, Mark Thomas, Dylan Cleary and Raghav Grover all return to the side having missed that fixture. All four of those men played in their first round National Cup victory over Cliftonville-Academy and no doubt the away side will be hoping to build on that game ahead of the opening weekend of league fixtures on June 6th. Liam Harris and Sadiq Safi will provide the spin options having both bowled good spells against Malahide in last Sunday’s fixture. With the bat, Séamus Lynch will be the man aiming to give his side a flying start at the top of the order, whilst Grover is also in fine nick off the back of an unbeaten 50 in the National Cup victory.
Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin’s form at the top of the order has been strong for The Hills so far this season and in the absence of Murray Commins, he will need to be on top of his game again to give them a chance to build a big total around his innings at the top of the order. Mark Thomas has produced some excellent opening spells for the away side this season, and he will be tasked with taking the wicket of The Hills’ opener.
KEY BATTLE: Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin vs Mark Thomas
Up next, Malahide host Dublin University in a game where both sides are stripped back by unavailability due to InterPro call-ups. The home side, along with Terenure, are one of the only sides out of the competition in Group B, and will be without their skipper Matt Ford, Mike Frost and David O’Halloran for this weekend’s action. James Newland was the pick of their bowlers last time out, and his opening spell of swing, followed by death bowling skills are always vital to how the side performs. Ryan Hackney and Fintan McAllister were in the runs last week at the top of the order, and they will have further support this week from Arjun Muntha and Callum Riches. Peter Saville returns to the side to support Cameron Shoebridge, whilst Riches will also bowl seamers. Mohit Sane’s left-arm spin will provide cover for the missing Mike Frost who has bowled brilliantly for The Village so far this season.
Dublin University are without the services of player-coach Nigel Jones, Gavin Hoey and Mikey O’Reilly for this fixture, but do have their in-form wicket-keeper Nicolaas Pretorius, as well as opening pair David Vincent and Sanil Gupta who have put together several good stands at the top of the innings. With the ball, Theo Dempsey, Jack Atkinson and Max Collins will provide the seam-up options, whilst Vincent will be the main spinner in tomorrow’s line-up. The Students are relying on a remarkable string of results elsewhere to give themselves a chance of qualifying, however that would all be academic were they not to produce the necessary victory here themselves.
With a strong top 4, Malahide will have every chance of making an imposing total in tomorrow’s fixture, their main man in that will be Ryan Hackney, who finally kicked into some sort of form with a half-century. Theo Dempsey will be the away side’s main hope for early wickets and if he can deliver a strong first spell, will be the man most likely to dismiss the New South Welshman early doors.
KEY BATTLE: Ryan Hackney vs Theo Dempsey
Last but not least we have the game from the Phoenix Park, where Pembroke are the visitors for the first time since their Irish Senior Cup semi-final victory against Phoenix there in 2019. The away side are without Lorcan Tucker, Andy Balbirnie, Josh Little and key man from earlier rounds Barry McCarthy, who are all away on IP20 duty with the Leinster Lightning team. That means captain Theo Lawson will take the gloves, whilst JJ Garth and Dale McDonough both return to the line-up which features some form players in Joe Prendergast and Macdara Cosgrave, both of whom have been in the runs in the 2nd XI Premier League in recent weeks.
Phoenix are without their skipper Tyrone Kane, George Dockrell and Ben White from their regular XI, with those three scattered across the provincial sides on IP20 duty. That means the spin bowling duty will fall to Dev Ranolia, whilst there will be more responsibility from the seamers of Oliver Hald, Conor Sheil and leg-spin of Will Bennett to give the home side a foothold with the ball. Their batting efforts will centre around Stephen Black and Ranolia at the top of the order, whilst Bennett has been solid if not spectacular at number 4 in recent weeks, those three will be tasked with setting up the game for the likes of Adam Chester to deliver an explosive late charge towards a good score.
Given they are missing their two premier seamers to IP duty, Pembroke will be looking to Poonish Mehta to deliver a big opening spell tomorrow afternoon, if he can knock over Stephen Black, who has been nothing short of resilient in his defence at the top of the order the last few weeks, the away side will be well on their way to getting into the top order of Phoenix and giving his side a great chance of a win.
KEY BATTLE: Stephen Black vs Poonish Mehta
SPORTSHUB SENIOR LEAGUE CUP – FINAL ROUND
SATURDAY MAY 28TH
At The Mardyke – Cork County vs Merrion
At The Maws – North Kildare vs Rush
At Castle Avenue – Clontarf vs YMCA
At Observatory Lane – Leinster vs Balbriggan
At Phoenix Park – Phoenix vs Pembroke
At The Vineyard – The Hills vs Terenure
At Malahide – Malahide vs Dublin University
At Inch – North County vs Railway Union