The journey to the final of what this year was called the IBI Corporate Finance [Tillain] Cup began under the stewardship of Beant Bhatal but due to injury and then Kildare Covid restrictions captaincy passed to Conor Austin.
The Tillain Cup [named after Eddie Tillain of Railway Union who donated the original trophy] occupies the second tier of T20 Competitions in Leinster, for teams below the Premier / Championship. In just over 30 years [the competition began in 1987] Merrion had won the title five times previously. The last win was in 2013.
The competition this year was organised in two eight team sections with a semi-final and final. The season started on 19th July in Anglesea Road with a game against Balbriggan 2nd XI. Merrion were strong favourites to win this opener as Balbriggan had moved up a few leagues to compete at this level. There were no upsets and having bowled out the visitors for 77, thanks in the main to a spell of 2.5 overs from Conor Austin who took 4/11, the target was duly reached for the loss of two wickets in the 12th over.
But things weren’t so easy in the next round when Merrion had to travel to take on another Fingal club, North County 2nd XI. Merrion won the toss and batted first. Beant Bhattal led from the front and made a run a ball half century  but did not get much support from the rest of the batting order. In what proved to be a season of relatively low T20 scores, 121/7 was defendable but, as it proved, not enough. Despite some tight bowling and a brace of wickets each for Niranjan Shankar and Hermanus Bester, North County got home by five wickets with two balls to spare.
With little margin for error Merrion went into their next game against a Longford team that was much of an unknown quantity at this level. Longford had been moving rapidly up the leagues but how would they fare in the second tier. Played at Anglesea Road, the visitors batted first and made 132/9 in their 20 overs. Peter Forkin, with his off-breaks, opened the bowling for the first time and took 3/17 from his full allotment.
Merrion got off to a good start with James Hitchcock  and Jack Atkinson  putting on 91 for the first wicket. But scoring rate pressure remained and the game went down to the wire. A six wicket win sounds comfortable but it was achieved on the penultimate ball and thanks to some late runs from Timcy Khanduja [15*] .
Merrion racked up wins in the following two games against Civil Service and Rush 2nd XI. The bowlers put Merrion into a strong position against Civil Service who were only able to muster 118/9 in their allotted overs. A good all round bowling performance with Vishal Singh [3/14], Shankar [2/26] and Daniel Forkin [2/33] taking the bulk of the wickets. In reply a half century from Rohit Pahuja  with support from Khanduja [24*] and Atkinson [15*] saw them home for the loss of four wickets with four overs to spare.
If is never easy to judge what is a good score in Kenure, so when Merrion made 163/7 it was by no means clear if this would be enough. Hitchcock had led the way with 77 before being run out, his second half-century of the season, and was again well supported by Khanduja . By now the Merrion bowling attack was beginning to work well together and all six bowlers added to the wickets column. Singh and Peter Forkin again opened the bowling and completed their full quote of overs for less than 20 each and Tim Knight [2/17] had the best figures of the day. In the end Rush’s 116/7 fell well short of the required total.
With four wins out of five Merrion were in a good position going into the final two rounds. But they had to win at least one of these and the run in did not get off to a good start when the seconds went down to a very strong YMCA 2nd XI by a large [53 run] margin. This was comfortably the worst performance of the season. Once again the bowling attack held up with YMCA only managing 133/8. Two wickets each for Hitchcock [2/17], Shankar [2/13] and Austin [2/13]. But the less said about the batting where no one managed to reach 20 in a total of 80 all out.
So it all came down to the final game against Malahide 2nd XI. Merrion knew that if they won they would qualify, provided that YMCA beat Longford, Equal points meant that the winners of the respective head-to-heads would qualify. That it turned out to be a very one-sided affair might have disappointed the neutrals [not that there were any] but was a relief to the local supporters. Merrion had home advantage but once again lost the toss and Malahide elected to bat. Eighteen over later they were all out for 67. Hitchcock [4/14] and Hugh Kennedy [4/11] [released from duty on the 1sts] did the damage. Merrion lost five wickets in the chase it was never really in doubt. Pahuja made top score with 31. Meanwhile in Claremount Road YMCA had a 78 run victory over Longford.
|Civil Service 1||7||4||3||1.197||80|
|North County 2||6||2||4||-1.022||40|
In the semi-final Merrion were up against a strong Pembroke 2nd XI that had won their section of the competition. Merrion won the toss and batted first and made 134/4 in their 20 overs. Unfortunately, they had also conceded five penalty runs for running on the wicket which were added to the Pembroke score. That they even got this many was thanks to an undefeated 52 from Pahuja.
It was all down to the bowlers again. Peter Forkin [1/17] opened the bowling, this time with Kennedy [1/18] and together they ensured that Pembroke did not get off to a fast start. Pembroke remained favourites for most of the innings but gradually Merrion began to create pressure and it all came down to the last over with Pembroke requiring 12 runs to win with five wickets in hand. Hitchcock was given the responsibility and the first ball resulted in an inside edge to fine leg for four. A few more scrambled runs and Pembroke needed three to win off the last ball. Memories of a similar situation two years before when Pembroke had won off the last ball to clinch the league title came flooding back. Prendergast was facing and made excellent contact with the ball that could have gone to the boundary and at least would have tied the game. This time, however, a hand went up in the covers and Atkinson brought off a spectacular catch to win the game by two runs.
The final was again in Sydney Parade, this time against Knockharley who were making their debut in a Tillain final. They had disposed of YMCA in the other semi-final in impressive fashion and with three Shivmangals in their ranks looked a strong enough side. Knockharley won the toss and batted. Again the all round strength of the bowling attack came to the fore as Knockharley were held to 95/9. Everyone contributed with wickets evenly spread. Knockharley had no real answer to the battery of slow bowlers deployed with Daniel Forkin [2/2], Shankar [2/19] and Bhatal [2/16] keeping a tight grip on proceedings.
96 to win should not have been too difficult but despite a steady 30 from Bhathal up front Merrion fell behind the run rate and at 67/6 with only four overs remaining were in trouble. But an unbroken partnership between Vicky Dalwani [21*] and Peter Forkin [19*] turned the game around and brought the trophy to Merrion with five balls to spare.
A season of tight margins. But very much a team effort. Some good performances with the bat, generally good fielding well marshalled by John O’Hara behind the stumps and a strong bowling attack that meant the Merrion were never out of the game.
Austin and O’Hara played in all nine matches, with the two Forkins and Shankar in one less. In all 22 players took part in at least one game. Three players made over 100 runs – Hitchcock , Pahuja [140 and Bhathal . Bhathal headed the averages with 33.25.
Two players, Austin and Shankar, shared most wickets on 11 each and seven bowled more than 10 overs. Of these Kennedy [3.86] and Peter Forkin [4.53] at economy rates below 5.
|Leon De Jager||1||0||0||0||0||–||–||2||22||0||0-22||–||11.00||0||0||0|