FRIENDLY FIRE: Local schools ignite rivalry on pitch
OPEN BOYS: The age-old battle between leather and willow will take centrestage at McKittrick Park tonight as rival schools Grafton High School and McAuley Catholic College lock horns in the grand finals of The Daily Examiner Shield Super 8s tournament.
After three rounds of thrilling action under the lights at McKittrick Park, the tournament, which made its return this year after a decade-long hiatus, will come to a fitting crescendo.
In the Open Boys decider Grafton High will get a chance to exact revenge against McAuley after a shock loss in the second round.
After their systematic dismantling of South Grafton High in the opening round of the tournament, it appeared the Grafton High boys led by Dylan Lucas would be the benchmark side of the competition.
But McAuley, a side full of confidence and flair, would not have it as Eli Fahey led his troops to a 32-run victory.
"It's been a pretty good season, the boys have really worked hard this year,” Fahey said.
"We're just keen to get out there and have fun in the grand final. This is about giving everyone the opportunity to rip in on the pitch.”
The McAuley side, which is coached by Premier League fast bowler Matt Lobsey, has been all about inclusion in The Daily Examiner Shield, reversing the batting order in their second round clash against South Grafton High.
It worked wonders for the side with fast bowler, and former Westlawn Premier League rising star, Noah Green showing his potential with the bat in hand.
Green starred at the top of the innings with 28 before eventually falling victim to an inswinger from Matt Barker.
The one player who didn't get a chance to show his potential against South Grafton was all-rounder Kobe Sangster. But Fahey said there was a reason for that.
"We put Kobe on ice last week to make sure he was ready for the final,” he said.
"We knew this was going to be a big game, and we needed him to be rested up and ready to fire.”
Sangster is not the only player that McAuley will be looking to go big, with Fahey tipping big performances from all-rounder Ben Shipman.
Shipman, who has opened the batting for Westlawn in the Clarence River Cricket Association's top flight this season, is the consummate all-rounder with his ability to open the batting, bowling and take the gloves behind the stumps.
Fahey admitted the side hoped he would fire in all three departments tonight.
"I think Ben Shipman will be one of the standouts, he has been a bit quiet this tournament but this final is tailor made for him,” Fahey saud. "He is the complete package.
"Joel Imeson also loves the limelight, so expect him to chip in with the bat.”
Imeson took a rare hat-trick with the ball against South Grafton last week, but Fahey said that was likely a one time occurrence.
While McAuley is firing on all cylinders for the grand final, their opponents Grafton High have been dealt a crushing blow on the eve of the clash, with captain Dylan Lucas likely to be ruled out due to injury.
Grafton High coach Daniel Moar said the side would give their fearless leader every chance to get himself ready for the clash.
If Lucas is out it will heap the pressure on the side's other seamers.
In that effort against South Grafton High, Lucas had retired not out on 30 after a strong start, before turning around and taking a first over hat-trick.
Moar has named seam bowler Ethan Powell to return to the squad as cover for Lucas.
Fellow fast bowling fraternity member Hayden Woods admitted it would be a tough blow but said the side would be able to cope.
"We didn't have our full strength team last time and hopefully having Ethan back can make a difference,” Woods said.
All-rounder Hayden Ensbey will likely step up to the captaincy after impressing for club side Harwood in the newly formed North Coast Premier League this Summer.
While he was impressive with the bat in Grafton High's opening clash against South Grafton, it is Ensbey's ability as a left-arm tweaker that could deliver the trophy to the northern side of the Clarence River.
Ensbey has taken an impressive 18 wickets in senior cricket this season and will look to utilise that form at McKittrick Park tonight.
While this year's reincarnation of The Daily Examiner Shield only welcomed three teams, Woods said he hoped that would grow next year.
"It has been really fun,” Woods said.
"I'm pretty sure no matter what school it is, they could just get a team together and have a fun time.”
The grand finals will be held at McKittrick Park tonight. Opens Girls at 4.30pm, followed by the Open Boys at 6.30pm. Presentations will be made after each game. There will be a full canteen operating at the ground.
DEX SHIELD STATS
LEADING RUN SCORERS
H Ensbey (Grafton HS)46
D Lucas (Grafton HS)44
J Imeson (McAuley CC)42
T McGarvie (Grafton HS)35
C Chevalley (Grafton HS)24
J Creighton (South Grafton HS)21
LEADING WICKET TAKERS
D Lucas (Grafton HS)3
J Imeson (McAuley CC)3
C Lewis (McAuley CC)3
S Thwaites (Grafton HS)4
H Blundell (South Grafton HS)4
J Creighton (South Grafton HS)3