Third and Fourth XIs in cup final action this weekend

BALLYMENA Third and Fourth XIs take centre stage this weekend with both sides aiming to bring silverware back to Eaton Park.

Andy Lytle's Thirds will be aiming to lift the Lindsay (Minor) Cup for the third time in the club's history after previous successes in 1968, 1989 and 1991.

For the Fourth XI, who take on Academy Thirds at Newforge in the Minor Qualifying Cup, that particular piece of silverware has proved even more elusive, with just one previous triumph, way back in 1967!

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THIRDS

Having lost the final last season, Ballymena 3rds will look to go one better when they take on Bangor 3rds in the final of the Minor Cup this Saturday.

Recent form would suggest that the County Down side will be favourites as the sides clash at Shaw's Bridge but captain Andy Lytle, who has lost six semi-finals and one final during his time as skipper is hopeful that this year will be different.

The road to the final has seen the Thirds travel to Armagh, Muckamore, Derriaghy and Waringstown and while Paul Campbell, Ali McIlroy and Alasdair Frazer, who were so influential with bat and ball in the early rounds are unavailable, it is hoped that Richard Boyd, man of the match in the semi final win over Waringstown, will be free to play.

He would lead a bowling attack of Trevor McBurney, Dean Gordon and Andy Craig with Fergus Taylor, Johnny Holmes and Ethan Archer all possible starters. All are capable of turning a game and tying up the opposition.

While Lytle has been the main run scorer this season, averaging 37, Phil Harshaw, Boyd, Gordon and the big-hitting Brian McGooken are all positive batsmen who should feature next Saturday. Nicholas Jolly may also come into the reckoning as an all-rounder and first-class fielder.

Lytle said, "We've played so much good cricket over the recent years and I'm confident that we have the potential to win this game. Bangor will be strong but if we get things right, I’m sure we can beat them.”

The final starts at 12.00 at Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast.

The Thirds didn’t receive an ideal send-off on Saturday as they lost their relegation clash with bottom place Bangor Fourths.

Despite a half-century from Lytle, they fell from 101-3 to 113-9 and Bangor, who featured former Irish international Chris Harte, reached their target of 125 with one over to spare.

This defeat leaves Ballymena, last season’s champions, third from bottom with 2 teams set to be relegated but they can put those concerns to one side this week in the chase for silverware.

FOURTHS

Having had a week off this week, the Fourths play Academy Thirds in the Minor Qualifying Cup Final at Newforge this Saturday.

Easily beating Cregagh in the first round, the Braidmen hosted local rivals Muckamore in the Quarters, beating them through good batting and a tight performance in the field.

In the semi-finals they played a strong Holywood team and, despite losing off the final ball, it subsequently transpired that the opposition had fielded players who were ineligible for the competition and the Ballymena side progressed to the final.

The fourths are a team which has a dynamic combination of both experience and youth in abundance.

Colin McClean is the team Captain and left handed opening bat who has usually ensured the opposition opening bowlers are seen off before the stroke players come to the crease.

Alistair Gibson makes up the other half of the experienced opening pair. The ex-Firxt XI fast bowler has accumulated a bagful of runs this season and his mixture of cutters and seamers makes him a superb mid innings bowler.

Matthew Dick has all the attributes necessary to fill the critical number 3 position. Capable of building an innings or playing his shots, Matthew's enthusiasm is a real asset to the team.

Michael Caithness has established himself to be an improving bat who is capable of playing a long innings against the best of bowling. His leg spinners have often beguiled opposition batting orders.

Ballymena Academy batsman Ricky McNeill has promised so much with the bat this season and the fine strip at Newforge should suit his agressive style of batting.

Peter Gillespie is the true all rounder of the team. Wristy bat and excellent swing bowler, Peter’s fielding is worth an extra 10 runs to the team in every match and it would be a very confident batsman who would risk a quick single to Peter’s arm.

Queens student Mark Monteith bowls his left arm quicks very reminiscent of the ex Ballymena player and ICU Chairman John Caldwell. Always attacking the leg stump, his fielding is gymnastic and dynamic at all times.

Steven Healey contributes in all departments. A batsman capable of scoring a good knock, coupled with nagging medium paced bowling and aggressive fielding Steven is a Captain’s dream.

Paul Smith is the "Glen McGrath" of the team. A snarling opening bowler whose economy rate this season is amazing, his experience and guile will inspire the younger memebers of the team as he leads the bowling attack by example.

Cambridge House student Matthew Bell has added a yard of pace and a hint of aggression to his bowling this season, while wicketkeeper Charles Deane has been a stalwart of the team for many seasons.

Ethan Archer, last season’s player of the year, has continued to excel with his leg spinners. His flight and new found googly has spun many opponents to defeat throughout the season.

Dean Reynolds has been the find of the season. His medium fast bowling and brilliant fielding has shown the young Cambridge House student to be a real "one to watch".

Micky Parent completes the squad. Our "overseas professional" from Canada, the ex-pat via Michelin, is soon to return to work in the US. His safe hands, bullet like throw and boundless enthusiasm for cricket, a game he has only found since arriving in Ballymena, will be sadly missed when he goes to the US.

The match starts at 12 at Newforge; all supporters will be most welcome!