THE Scottish domestic season reaches a potentially pulsating climax today with both the National Club title and the Murgitroyd T20 Cup on the line.
Most interest may centre on The Grange, Edinburgh, where Aberdeenshire, the Eastern Premier Champions, take on Western Union winners Ayr in the biggest match of the domestic season.
The stakes are high and, perhaps, particularly so for Ayr who have the chance to become the first champions from the west since the Grand Final was introduced two years ago, Dumfries and Uddingston having lost out to Watsonians and Arbroath respectively.
If that places an extra burden of responsibility on the men from Alloway, they are surely accustomed to handling such pressure after staving off a late surge from Clydesdale to win their first Union title for eighteen years.
Andi McElnea, who has led his team with distinction throughout a memorable season, puts a typically positive spin on the occasion, seeing it as an opportunity to shine.
“It would be a fantastic accolade for the club to be crowned the first champions of the country from the west. Hopefully we can do the Union proud,” he said.
McElnea will rely on the same attributes which served his team so well throughout a campaign which began with no greater ambition than top-flight survival, yet ended in glory and silverware.
“We’ll treat it as business as usual,” added McElnea. “Last week [the victory over Dumfries to clinch the title] was a strong team performance and that is what got us through the season. Contributions from the whole team have allowed us to win the Union and there really are no standouts in the side.”
Aberdeenshire have had an extra week to prepare for today’s encounter, having clinched their title without a ball being bowled on the final day of the Eastern Premier season.
There was a whiff of acrimony in that outgoing champions Arbroath felt that the plug had been pulled too early on the Mannofield side’s clash with Falkland.
However, there is no doubt that Aberdeenshire were worthy winners, boasting the highest run scorer in opener Chris Venske, while captain Tyler Buchan was the fourth leading wicket taker with 29 victims.
Buchan will miss his team’s big day due to a previously booked holiday but is convinced the Dons, with Kenny Reid taking the reins, can prevail.
“I’m obviously really disappointed to miss the match but I have every faith in the boys to bring home the trophy,” said Buchan, whose side will not treat Ayr lightly.
“I don’t see there being pressure in trying to keep up the tradition of Eastern sides winning this end of season game but it might provide a little extra motivation. It’s been a few years since we have played Ayr but we are fully aware of the strength in the West leagues and for Ayr to have beaten off competition from a strong Clydesdale side speaks volumes.”
Adrian Neill is also unavailable for the Dons, leaving them light on the seam bowling front but overseas stalwarts Harsha Cooray and Hayes van der Berg have remained in the country to take part in one of ‘Shire’s biggest games of recent times. Ayr are at full strength.
Meanwhile, Murgitroyd T20 Cup finals day will, for the first time, take place at two venues.
While holders and Scottish Cup winners Grange meet Forfarshire at Shawholm at noon, Clydesdale will simultaneously entertain Dumfries a mile down the road at Titwood.
The winners will then contest the final at the traditional Shawholm venue with a repeat of the Scottish Cup final between Grange and Clydesdale a possibility. However, Clydesdale are without Scotland duo Richie Berrington and Majid Haq, who are being rested ahead of next week’s ODI series in Ireland.