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The only difference this time around is that rather than fighting for the trophy, they meet in the semi-finals at The Lawn (11am), which will also host the final at 4pm where the winner will take on either Waringstown or CIYMS, who play at Wallace Park (also 11am). Carrick ran out victors by 43 runs last year in a match that was certainly the most thrilling I've covered during my time in this role, but that doesn't even really begin to tell the story of the game or do it justice.
465 runs across 40 overs in front of a healthy crowd, 35 fours, 26 sixes, three glorious half-centuries and two one hundred partnerships gives you an idea of the brutal ball-striking on display. Luke Georgeson (93 from 45), Jeremy Lawlor (91* off 52) and Jacques Snyman (79 from 32) caused most of the carnage which had spectators ducking for cover and all three will likely have a big say on proceedings again today. It was an important moment for Michael Gilmour's side to get their hands on a major trophy and they're aiming to repeat the feat today.
"Every final is incredible to be involved in but the game last year was definitely something special," he reflected. "There were so many great performances throughout the day and it looked in the balance for so much of the game. It had everything a final should have. It definitely allowed us to see that if we work hard and perform at the right times, then you're always within reaching distance of some silverware. We're a confident team, so to go all the way and win it was a special moment for us and also keeps that hunger for more."
Carrick have done an admirable job to bounce back from the departure of players like Graeme McCarter and Neil Gill while club legend Ryan Eagleson has been unavailable due to coaching commitments with Ireland. The Middle Road outfit, who conducted smart business by bringing in Craig Averill and Dan Kearsley, have hit their straps in recent weeks to put together a run of four consecutive Robinson Services Premier League victories, which helped seal a comfortable top-six berth.
"I think we've played some good cricket this season but found ourselves losing some games early doors we shouldn't have," said Gilmour. "We've definitely stepped it up over the last few weeks and the results are starting to show. They've (Craig and Dan) been great additions to the squad this year and are both two guys who thoroughly enjoy their cricket at Carrick. Getting the right guys in and complementing the team we already have is very important, and to see them contribute with important performances has been exciting."
Having a player like Snyman in the changing room allows Carrick to enter almost every match with confidence while also giving the opposition a sense of trepidation as they are all too aware of his reputation and capabilities. The South African international has once again been brilliant this season, topping the Premier League run-scoring charts with 559 at an average approaching 70 and strike-rate of 126. He was named man-of-the-match for his efforts with bat and ball in last year's final and Gilmour is hoping for another performance from his star man.
"Jacques is a quality guy to have around the club, whether you're batting with him, training with him, or having a drink," he added. "He always helps the rest of us focus on our natural games and he'll churn out so many important performances. Hopefully he can kick on with the same form and put in some more match winning knocks."
On Sunday, attention will turn to the Irish cup competitions with CIYMS and Lisburn representing the NCU in the Irish Senior Cup as both travel to Leinster-based opponents. CIYMS will take on defending champions Pembroke, who will be without their Ireland contingent of Andrew Balbirnie, Josh Little, Barry McCarthy and Lorcan Tucker while CI will also be impacted by the absence of Mark Adair as they all prepare for a T20I series vs New Zealand which starts on Monday. Lisburn are looking to progress to a second cup semi-final of the season as they come up against two-time winners The Hills.
In the National Cup, Cregagh and Derriaghy both have home ties versus Rush and North County respectively.
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