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Alistair Shields Interview

Jonny Morton  

After an enforced two-season break, the Clear Currency Irish Senior Cup makes its return this afternoon.

With CIYMS and Waringstown receiving byes into the second round for making the semi-finals and final respectively back in 2019, six NCU clubs will be in action and one of the most intriguing ties pits North Down against North West side Brigade. The Comber outfit won this competition three times in a seven-season span between 1989 and 1995 – including victory over today's opponents in the 1993 final – while Brigade reigned supreme in 1996 and 1999. Neither have been back to that stage since the turn of the millennium and both will be looking to take a step closer at The Green.

North Down sit top of the Robinson Services Premier League after winning four of their five matches, but captain Alistair Shields is under no illusions about how hard it is to progress in Ireland's premier club competition. "It's a difficult competition to win as there are so many quality sides in it," he said. We have a difficult draw against Brigade but you're going to have to beat some really good teams if you have ambitions of progressing and getting to the latter stages. Brigade will be a tough challenge – it's always good to play clubs from outside the Union so we're looking forward to that and hopefully we can put a cup run together."

They will be without Ireland internationals Paul Stirling and Craig Young – the former has departed to play in the Vitality T20 Blast for Birmingham Bears, while Young is still recovering from injury. Shields will have Ani Chore – last season's Club Player of the Year – and overseas professional Neil Brand in his ranks, who has scored 190 runs without being dismissed in his last two innings. That included a century in defeat to CIYMS and Shields has been delighted with the impact that the South African has had in his early days at the club.

"He has been brilliant," he added. "I was guilty of running him out in his first real chance to bat against CSNI which he wasn't happy about! He has done really well with a quality hundred against CI and a quality 80* at the weekend. With his left-arm spin, he gives us a different option that we haven't had in a few years and just around the club generally he has fit in really well. He's a good bloke and really helping on a nightly basis at training with giving me and other guys tips with batting against spin and batting options. That's what you want from a professional so long may it continue."

It has been a team effort for North Down this season, with the likes of Stuart Nelson playing a key role in victory over Carrickfergus, and Shields will be looking for his squad to keep stepping up as the season progresses.

"That's key for us," he said. We have players with star quality with Neil starting well, Stirlo has had a couple of big hundreds and Ani started well too, but we do have a reliance on the rest of the squad to chip in at times and Stuarty played beautifully on Saturday. It shows the development he has had – he has worked really hard over the past few seasons and really stood up on Saturday to be counted when it mattered."

Clear Currency Irish National Cup fixtures (involving NCU teams):
Ardmore v Instonians
Clontarf v CSNI
Lisburn v Malahide
Newbuildings v Carrickfergus
North Down v Brigade
Woodvale v Balbriggan

Clear Currency Irish Senior Cup (full draw)