Who will win the National Cup?
"The RSA National Cup is the most exciting innovation in Irish domestic cricket in 30 years." Strong words from Joe Doherty, Chair of Cricket at Cricket Ireland when asked about the new competition which gets under way tomorrow around the country.
Doherty explains just how the tournament got off the ground: "It came about after a discussion at the Cricket Committee in September last at Rathmines when we were reviewing the format of the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup. The Committee felt that, rather than add more teams to the BKISC, thus diluting the elite status of the competition, it would be better to give the next tier of teams a competition that a) they would have a realistic chance of winning and b) would enable an additional 32 indigenous clubs to sample the heady atmosphere of all-Ireland competition and the attendant publicity that is guaranteed, with the welcome announcement of generous sponsorship by RSA.
"Added to that, the fact that the matches will be played in coloured clothing with white ball, etc., will give all teams a taste of the razzmatazz of modern global cup cricket. We are greatly looking forward to supporting this new competition and are confident it will be a great success because it presses all the right buttons for our new wave of ambitious clubs."
So just how did the clubs themselves feel about the new innovation? We asked a sample of clubs around the regions for their views on the tournament.
Andrew Pyne of Malahide harbours genuine hopes of lifting the trophy in September; "I think we are the strongest team in the competition and I will be extremely disappointed if we don't win it. We don't fear any team in the draw and are really looking forward to our first round match.
"We have a lot of depth in our squad with a mixture of youth and experience, including three survivors from the 2002 Irish cup win - Jim Govan, Pete Saville and myself. Marc Ellison joins us as our overseas player from Civil Service in Belfast and was top run scorer in the NCU last year so that's a big plus. He is very hungry to win trophies and has very high standards.
"Of the other sides who I think will do well - Rush on their home ground can be very dangerous. They know exactly how to play it and have a number of match winners. Balbriggan have a tight knit squad and in Barry Archer a man who could single handedly win any match in this competition. I must admit I don't really know the northern sides, but hoping to be drawn against them to spice up the competition and visit some new grounds.
"I think the National Cup is a great idea and I hope all the teams commit fully to it to make it a brilliant tournament."
John Pierce of Eglinton said: "Eglinton Cricket Club fully endorse the new competition which allows teams from all over Ireland to play on the national stage. We were looking forward to the trip to Oakhill and a chance to see what is supposed to be one of the most picturesque grounds in ireland, after our own of course, before news filtered through of their withdrawal. Lots of teams in the competition are capable of winning the big prize and in reality only when it is down to the later stages will a favourite emerge. The Oakhill withdrawal means we are still awaiting our first competitive game of the season which is not a satisfactory situation."
George Brolly of Ardmore looked forward to the tournament saying: "We are excited at the prospect of competing in the RSA Cup and see it as a competition we could do well in. We are hoping to proceed to the latter rounds of the competition if the draw proves favourable to us. Other teams to watch would be Eglinton, Rush and Malahide.
Ivan McCombe from Muckamore is another who feels that his side will make it to the latter stages: "We are looking forward to this competition and the opportunity to meet teams we haven't played before. Our trip to Mullingar is being taken seriously and players and supporters alike are looking forward to a good cup run.
"We are confident of success against our Northern counterparts but would be expecting stiff opposition from the two Dublin clubs who came through last weekends qualifiers. Our hopes in the latter stages could be hampered by the loss of Jason van der Merwe to the Under 19 World Cup in Australia. He started the season with a fine 85 against Donacloney. Wayne Horwood made his season debut on the Bank Holiday Monday and if he gets "the bug" he could be our main player in this competition. Wayne is still only in his mid 30's and is a tremendous competitor.
"Personally having played in some great Irish Cup matches in the 80's and 90's and performed well in quite a few I genuinely hope that skipper Neil Gill looks at my own performances on the seconds rather than my birth certificate and maybe I can get another crack at an all Ireland competition.I just hope the odd extra run given away in the field will be balanced by the fact that batsmen still can't resist trying to hit 'donkey drops' into the next field."
Jeff Maguire from Dundrum will be involved early on Saturday as their ground is under water with a bowl-out over the phone being arranged to settle the outcome of their tie with Rush. He said "Like most sides you enter hoping for two things - a good run in the cup and hopefully not drawn away (or at least not further than the Dublin outskirts) as the cost of hiring a bus and getting your strongest side to travel is my only concern on this fantastic new cup .
"In my opinion I would have played it this year without coloured clothing and made it compulsory for next year. My fancy to win it is Muckamore."
Stephen Bunting from Woodvale is another player who feels his club can go all the way; "Obviously as it's another cup we would like to do well, especially with the ground being opened this year. Also with the young side and new professional a run in any cup tournament is good experience. In that respect we are looking forward to the competition so would like perform well and win if the possibility arises. Muckamore or Downpatrick are hard to look past if we don't make a good run in the cup."
The draw in full is as follows - all games start at 12:30pm and are played with a while ball and in coloured clothing: