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Saturday sees the 'big guns' enter the second round of the Gallagher Challenge Cup with entertaining clashes involving Robinson Services Premier League teams, recent past winners, and some young and talented Section 1 teams with a point to prove against the top-flight opposition.
One of these teams is Robinson Services League Section 1 club Ballymena who will travel to Stormont where they will face off against CSNI. This is a special fixture for Ballymena's James Kennedy who spent 4 years at CSNI after joining them from Ballymena before the 2017 season.
After this move, he captained the Robinson Services Premier League outfit and led them to the final of this very competition in 2018, where they lost to Waringstown and missed out on lifting the trophy.
James said, "Since the draw was made, I've been looking forward to getting back to play at Stormont. I had a brilliant 4 years there and have only positive things to say about the club and the people involved, both on and off the pitch". James has stated in an interview before that his reasons for going to CSNI were because of his aspirations of winning the Gallagher Challenge Cup, and this reason almost caused him to stay another season before his return to Eaton Park before the 2021 campaign, making it quite fitting that his return to Stormont is in the Gallagher Challenge Cup.
He added, "When the draw was done, I had a wry smile. On one hand, I was delighted, but realistically, for Ballymena to overcome CSNI and progress to the next round would be an upset of epic proportions. I have great memories of our 2018 cup run, but ultimately unless we had won it, I was always going to be disappointed".
Ballymena are in great form in the league, having won 4 out of 5 games with a win against league leaders Derriaghy. This run of form will give the young side some added confidence going into a game against premier league opposition. "Yes, we have started the season well, although we are not getting ahead of ourselves. There are so many things we need to improve on if we want to continue in that vein. We have a young team who are looking forward to testing themselves against high-quality premier league opposition, but we are very aware of the quality that CSNI possesses and the challenges that face us."
In the first-round tie against Templepatrick, James scored 51 runs, aptly supported by young batters John Glass and Liam Peters, which helped his side to victory by 12 runs. With James's experience in the game and the competition, his role in the batting unit is crucial to the team. He said, "I got a few runs in the 1st round against Templepatrick and as the 'old man' in the team, I certainly have a lot of experience to fall back on, but there are several talented players in the team who can score freely. My role is to play a part in helping us build big partnerships to enable us to set competitive totals".
With the young talent around him, and players like John Glass who we all know can take the game away from any opposition, "John and Michael Glass and Liam Peters are all talented, quick scoring players and batting with them is very enjoyable. They're very good at rotating the strike and putting away the bad ball to the boundary. If they can keep the scoreboard ticking along, then it certainly makes my job much easier"
James is excited about the game and the return to his old club, where he held many fond memories during his 4 years there. He is a competitor and will want to win, he reflected on some of Ballymena's successes and said, "Ballymena have had some incredible victories over the years, and we will do our very best to compete on Saturday but if our name is still in the hat for the quarter-finals, then we might have topped them all"
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