Final rites in the Premier League
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
The NCU Premier League trophy has been won at Belmont in each of the last two seasons and whatever the outcome of this weekend’s matches, the east Belfast venue will once again host the presentation ceremony tomorrow.
That is just part of the story though. While CI are already guaranteed at least a share of their first-ever title, Instonians can still join them on the winners’ podium if results go their way today and tomorrow.
Eugene Moleon’s team breathed life into the race by winning three times in the space of four days last week, including at Belmont last Sunday, and if they triumph in their final game of the campaign against Civil Service North at Shaw’s Bridge today, Inst will draw level with CI on points.
From there it is all about tomorrow at Belmont where CI and North Down meet in the final top-flight match of the season. A victory for CI in a Twenty20 game will see them getting sole possession of the silverware but North Down, no doubt smarting from a first season without a trophy since the 1990s, could inadvertently give Inst their second shared league title in the last four years and indeed another league and cup double.
Instonians shared the league trophy with Waringstown in 2009 but their aspirations of a repeat looked to be over after they lost a third league match of the season to North Down just two days after the Challenge Cup final in late July.
But five successive victories, a run interrupted only by a no-result against Lisburn, have brought them right back into contention,. They looked a class apart during a nine-wicket demolition of CI on Sunday and Moleon hopes they can now keep their part of the bargain today and hope North Down do them a favour tomorrow.
He said: “I said about a month ago that we needed to win five out of six matches to keep us in contention and the only game we haven't win was Lisburn which was a no-result. Certainly if we beat Civil Service North then we will have done as much as we could to win the league.
“The lads are confident but Civil Service North are a good side and every team wants to finish off the season well. We will be taking nothing for granted. As for North Down, they are a very professional side and I’m sure they will want to go out on a high against CI on Sunday.”
Instonians will be without Andrew White, but the Ireland all-rounder’s absence is effectively cancelled out by CSN captain and talisman Nigel Jones also being in Sril Lanka for the World Twenty20.
Dangerously for Instonians Griffin Nieuwoudt, the CSN professional, is still in the country, so it would be a surprise if this was an end of season stroll for the home side in the September sunshine.
Moleon said: “Griffin is a very good player, when I looked at the statistics he is sitting with 900 runs or thereabouts. He will be looking to finish his season well, but we will be looking to stick to our game plans and hopefully get the right result.
“We are happy with what we have already achieved in winning the Challenge Cup, but it would be great to add the league to that.”
One man who won’t be at Shaw’s Bridge is Rory McCann. The Ireland international has begun a teaching career in Edinburgh and Moleon said the club hadn’t even considered flying him back.
Richard McCarthy continues in his place and he could be McCann’s long-term successor at the top of the order alongside John Stevenson. In addition, there seems no possibility of a league title play-off. It is understood that both Instonians and CI are happy to share the trophy should they finish level.