GREAT Harwood completed a fine weekend by reaching a second Ramsbottom Cup final in three seasons by beating holders Cherry Tree at Preston Old Road on Sunday.
Gordon Simpson's men will now take on league leaders Read, whom they trail by just two points after Saturday's results, in the final at Padiham on Sunday 17 August.
It was almost a case of déjà vu as Great Harwood fell at the penultimate hurdle last season on a lively wicket at Settle, as the visitors could only manage to set a target of 101 after winning the toss and batting.
Having seen the state of the wicket, Simpson decided to take first use of the dusty surface, reasoning that the wicket would not get any better and would probably break up as the match wore on.
In the final analysis, it was Stuart Maher, the man who missed the 2001 cup win over Earby through injury, who proved to be the man for the big occasion, destroying the Cherry Tree batting line-up with 6-14 in the most important spell of his career as the home side were flattened for just 57.
It was apparent from the first ball of the match that the batsmen were in for a hard afternoon, with the ball rearing up dangerously off a length to have both Great Harwood openers, professional Andrew Crook and Ian Haworth, in some discomfort.
Crook took several blows in the ribs from his opposite number Naeem Ashraf but it was the amateur who was first to depart when a lifter from Jon Baldwin took the edge of his bat and carried to Mick Veevers at gully.
Even Russ Whalley decided to call for a helmet after an Ashraf delivery almost cut him in two as both batsmen scored with top edges, which proved to be the most popular shot of the afternoon.
Whalley was soon on his way back after making a swift 10 with Great Harwood on 33-2 after six overs.
Liam Deasey came in and looked the most assured and comfortable batsman to date, but it would be 33 balls before he was able to get off the mark as runs became harder to come by.
Deasey had a lucky escape when the ball got an inside edge and appeared to roll onto the wicket, but the bails remained intact. Crook, however, wasn't so lucky when an identical incident saw the bails drop off and the young Australian was on his way back to the pavilion with a score of 24, which would prove to be the best of the game.
Wickets fell at regular intervals and with the score at 86-7, a Cherry Tree official confided that this may already be a winning score against a team without Gary Bolton, Lee Kennedy, Nigel Robbins and the Read brothers.
How true would this prove to be as Great Harwood stumbled just past the 100 mark to finish on 101 all out?
There was still life in the wicket when Cherry Tree openers Veevers and Chris Riley went out to bat, but it took the Great Harwood bowlers some time to find the correct line and length required to exploit this to the full.
The score had moved on to 17 without loss in the seventh over when Riley top-edged a pull off Maher to give Adam Newton the first of three catches that would come his way.
After two loud shouts for lbw, Maher finally got one through the defence of Veevers in his next over and Cherry Tree were 20-2.
Andrew Crook replaced the skipper Simpson from the pavilion end and he immediately bowled Matt Burrows - 20-3.
The next man to go was the Cherry Tree professional Ashraf, who lifted Maher high in the direction of mid-off where Adam Newton picked up catch number two and Great Harwood were jubilant. Andrew Robinson (lbw) and David Hayes (a good catch by stand-in wicketkeeper Deasey) were next to go in Maher's ninth over and the holders' grip on the cup was loosening by the minute at 27-6.
A suicidal shot by Baldwin gave Maher his sixth victim as Andy McNicholas held the catch and it was all over bar the shouting. Home skipper Mark Butler decided to try and hit Crook over the top but succeeded only in giving Adam Newton catch number three at long-off. Simpson returned to remove Andreas Sudnik and Crook wrapped up the match as Mohammed holed out to Paul Newton and the holders' embarrassment was complete.
A league and cup double for Great Harwood? Watch this space.