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Irish Senior Cup - Callum Atkinson Interview

Jonny Morton  

Both CIYMS and Lisburn have their eyes set on creating history this weekend as they aim to reach a first Irish Senior Cup final.

CI got to this stage in 2019 before losing a thriller to Waringstown and will take on Phoenix this time around while Lisburn are entering only their second ever semi-final with the prior appearance coming in a seven-wicket loss to eventual champions Brigade in 1996. It's yet another occasion for Lisburn to cherish in a dream season which brought them to the Gallagher Challenge Cup semi-finals and they're also sitting top of the Robinson Services Premier League by eight points with only four games to go.

They will continue their pursuit of that trophy – a potential first league title since the memorable campaign of '96 – today when they host Waringstown before Sunday's clash with Clontarf in front of home support. The Leinster-based outfit, who won this competition in 2013, have a star-studded line-up with Munster Reds captain PJ Moor, Ireland international speedster David Delany and latest Irish call-up Fionn Hand all in their ranks.

They've already beaten NCU opposition in the shape of CSNI in the first round before seeing off Merrion and Leinster on route to the last four, but Captain Callum Atkinson and his side will be in no mood to lie down and the whole club is looking forward to the match.

"We've had a really enjoyable run in the Irish Cup this year and this is only the second time we have got to the semi-final," he said. "I know the support that travelled to The Hills (in the quarter-final) really enjoyed their day out and are now happy to have a home game and there will be a decent crowd there. From a playing point of view, it's going to be a really tough game for us. We know they are a very strong side with a lot of big players and good local depth as well. It'll be tough but one we are going into with a nothing to lose attitude. It has been a real bonus getting to this stage of the competition, so why not go out on Sunday to give it another crack and see how we go?"

Lisburn have also been mightily impressive on their journey to the semis after progressing past Malahide by four wickets before picking up further wins over Donemana (84 runs) and two-time champions The Hills (33 runs). Days like these don't come around often in a local player's career and Atkinson is determined to embrace it alongside players – and more importantly, friends – that he has known for years.

"There are a core of players in our team that have been playing senior cricket together for 10 or 15 years and some of us have played a lot of youth cricket together, so this is a big day for us," he added. "This is probably one of the best achievements as a team – getting to the last four in the Irish Cup is really special. Everybody around the club is buzzing about it so hopefully we can go out and do ourselves proud. Regardless, we will look back on this campaign and be really proud of it."

There were great scenes on social media at the end of their quarter-final victory over The Hills with the travelling busload of supporters celebrating as their players walked off the pitch, showing how much moments like that mean to not just those directly involved but also those on the sidelines. Success has trickled down through the club with Lisburn's 2nds into their second consecutive Junior Cup final while the 3rds have booked a spot in the Minor (Lindsay) Cup final at the end of August. It has been a special year and Atkinson is looking to top it off by giving something back to the club in terms of silverware.

"The 'ultras' as some of them call themselves are brilliant and the atmosphere is always good so it's great to be able to give them a wee bit back," he said. "It makes the beers a bit sweeter and it's about the whole club for a club like Lisburn. Our Midweek team got to the semi-final, the women are top of Division 1, the 2nds are in the Junior Cup final and every team is doing really well, so it's about the whole club."

This is Atkinson's first campaign as captain and having grown up through the ranks, it's probably hard to put into words just how much it would mean to lead his boyhood club into their first Irish Senior Cup final. Of course, full focus is on the job at hand but he wouldn't be human if he hadn't allowed himself a couple of seconds to drift off and think what it would feel like to cement that legacy for this team.

"I'd be lying if I said I haven't imagined what getting through on Sunday would feel like," he admitted. "I'm certainly just focusing on Sunday's game but it would be a special moment not just for myself but the whole team. The guys have been playing together for a long time and it would be nice to look back and know you are the only team in Lisburn's history to make an Irish Cup final. When you get into the final, it's just one game and you never know what can happen there. We're just really enjoying ourselves but always taking it one game at a time."

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