There have now been three rounds played of the SportsHub Leinster Senior League Cup, which means we have reached the halfway point in the group stage of the competition. It’s therefore worth taking stock of what has happened so far, and looking ahead to who appears to be the best placed going into the business end of the groups.
Starting in Group A, it’s incredibly tight between Leinster, Rush and YMCA, whilst Terenure aren’t mathematically out yet, it would take an improbable series of events for them to overtake the three sides above them in the table. That’s not to say they won’t have a say in who qualifies, as if any of the other three sides were to take a victory against them for granted they could see qualification slip from their grasp.
It’s extremely likely that bonus points will play a part come the end of this group, which makes the most clinical side the most likely to go through. With that in mind, Leinster gained a point on YMCA last weekend, as their 9 wicket victory earned them one more bonus point than the Sandymount side’s 7 wicket win. It would be premature and silly to look down the road to the final weekend of the group and say they’ll be fighting it out for qualification, but it could shape up to be a crucial game. Another key game remaining will be Rush vs Leinster in the penultimate round, whilst losing one more game may not be fatal, both sides will be looking to take each other down and leave a straight fight going into the final round of fixtures. YMCA currently look best set to qualify, but that could all change in the course of one weekend.
In Group B, Clontarf missed their chance to go three from three and put one foot in the semi-finals at the weekend, when Kenny Carroll inspired Railway to a 9 run win. This put Railway onto two wins alongside ‘Tarf, but behind on the basis of an inferior bonus points haul. Malahide meanwhile succumbed to Cork County, giving the Munster outfit their first win of the season.
All of that means just thirty points cover the four sides with three games to go, however with the last round of fixtures repeated next week, it’s likely that one of Railway or Clontarf will find themselves in the driving seat for qualification in seven days’ time. Malahide will need to beat Cork to keep themselves in the hunt, and which of their last two games turns out to be the key really depends on who wins out in Park Avenue! Of course Railway do face a trip to Cork as well, with the Leesiders being particularly tough to beat at home, I think this group is too tight to make any call on at the moment, but Clontarf do hold a marginal advantage due to their high number of bonus points they’ve collected so far.
In Group C, Pembroke’s third win in a row sees them as the only unbeaten side in the competition still, and having claimed 8 of 15 available bonus points they are sitting in a strong position with two home games left to play. Merrion lie second after a convincing win against North Kildare, however they travel to Kilcock next week with memories of being beaten there in the 2019 Alan Murray Cup, so will not underestimate their opponents on their patch.
Balbriggan will need three big victories and results to go their way to qualify, and Merrion will be cheering them on this weekend in the hope that they can halt Pembroke’s apparent march towards the semi-finals. The Sydney Parade outfit host Balbriggan this weekend, in a game where a win would all but cement their spot at the top of Group C. Obviously if Balbriggan were to turn the ‘Broke over, Merrion’s final two fixtures, Balbriggan and Pembroke respectively, become must win and hugely important in the context of the group. At this point in time, Pembroke are in the best position of any team in the competition to progress to the next round.
Finally in Group D, it’s another group with three teams on two wins, as Dublin University top the pile, The Hills are just three points off them in second, and although full details of the result are yet to be confirmed, a North County win over Phoenix on Saturday has seen them into third and keep their qualification chances alive.
The return tie between Dublin University and The Hills will be crucial in this group, as the winner will move clear at the top of the table and be in control of their own fate (Peter Boyd will be covering this game for Cricket Leinster next Saturday at College Park). The other fixture between North County and Phoenix is a must win for County if they wish to retain their qualifying hopes without relying on other teams doing them favours. If the Students can complete the double over The Hills in College Park this weekend, they could confirm their qualification with a win the following weekend against Phoenix, and whilst the same wouldn’t quite be true for The Hills, their game against North County in the penultimate round could be made all the more competitive if both sides are still in with a shout of progressing to the semi-final stage. Given home advantage and having already beaten The Hills last weekend, Dublin University have the smallest sliver of an edge in the qualification stakes at the moment, but just like Group B, everything will become far clearer in the next 7 days.