A superb all-round display from captain Nigel Jones helped CIYMS successfully defend their Gallagher Challenge Cup crown with a dominant 127-run win over North Down at The Green.

Jones top-scored with 51 from 50 deliveries as CIYMS posted 269/8 after being inserted to bat, before picking up figures of 2-40 from 10 overs which included the wickets of overseas professional Gayan Maneeshan and Peter Eakin in consecutive balls of the 16th over.

North Down made a solid start to their chase but twice lost two wickets in as many deliveries, which curbed any momentum and when Aniruddha Chore (54) – who had scored over 500 runs since last being dismissed – was caught off the bowling of Jacob Mulder, the game was all but over.

The Comber side were 120-6 at that point and ended up being bowled out for 142 inside 35.1 overs, with Irish international Mark Adair finishing with figures of 4-33.

It continues CI’s dominance of local cricket with this, their fourth Challenge Cup success in the span of six seasons in which the competition has been played and adds to the four trophies they won in the 2019 campaign.

“I’m delighted for the guys,” said Jones. “We spoke at the start of the season about focusing on it and getting to the final.
“Playing the cricket we did was an outstanding effort and it was a thoroughly deserved win.

“Putting a score like that on the board, especially in a week where there’s been quite a bit of rain about and the tracks probably aren’t quite as hard or dry as it could be, 270 felt like a really big score and that proved the case.”

North Down lost captain Alistair Shields (13) early on when he was run out by John Matchett, but Chore and Maneeshan (19) then put on 54 for the second wicket.

Jones broke that partnership – the only one of real significance throughout the North Down innings - when the latter was caught behind by David Miller and he felt his side were always in control.

“They got off to an alright start in the first 10 overs but it felt like us giving them a bit of a leg up rather than anything they were doing,” he added. “We felt as soon as we got some of our bowlers on who bowl stump to stump that we could put on a bit of pressure and there was never any moment where we felt it was getting away from us.

“Once we got that squeeze on it always felt like it was going in our favour.”

Graham Kennedy (2-17) was the other bowler who picked up two wickets in as many balls in the 21st over...before Adair returned to collect the final four of the game.

Both players returned early from Ireland’s training camp at Millfield School in Somerset and showed their class.

“They were one down and then I was fortunate enough to go bang, bang and then Graham went bang, bang too and all of a sudden they were five down,” said Jones. “You have to do very well to take ‘Sparky’ (Adair) down and, sure enough, he mopped things up at the end and it was a great effort.

“Graham’s was some spell which helped put a real squeeze on.

“He’s a canny operator and he’s only getting better.”

It’s often debated in sport if it’s harder to scale the mountain of winning a significant trophy for the first time or to constantly deal with the challengers coming for your throne - and it’s almost certainly the latter scenario.

CIYMS have been able to fend off those opponents on the majority of occasions in the Challenge Cup while adding two Premier Leagues, three Twenty20 Cups and a maiden All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup to their trophy haul.

Jones undoubtedly has access to a plethora of quality players - everywhere you turn in the CIYMS team there are match-winners - and he believes that settled environment has bred success.

“The key to it is having a settled squad,” he added. “That’s came about over the last five years or so with having a core group of eight or nine players.

“It helps in those big games and pressure moments having all those options and knowing how guys respond in those times.

“Having that team and the belief that you can get the job done means results start to stack up.”

The final word deservedly belongs to Jones, who picked up his sixth Challenge Cup winner’s medal and was named ‘Man-of-the-Match’ for his exploits.

At 39, Jones is still one of the best performers in the NCU and his average for the season is in excess of 50, with five half-centuries to his name.

“it’s always nice to contribute,” he said. “I’m lucky that there are many that do it for us and I have to lead where I can through my performances.

“I’m in a bit of a patch but need to keep it going and as I say, there are plenty of others doing it too.”