Another busy weekend for NW big guns
ANOTHER BUSY WEEKEND FOR NORTH WEST "BIG GUNS"
A solid showing from local clubs in the 1st round of this year's Irish Senior Cup means there's a busy weekend ahead for several, with the competition second round on Sunday preceded by a full set of fixtures in the Long's SuperValu Premier Division. The "big three" of Donemana, Coleraine and Brigade will all be doubly-engaged with the latter pair meeting in the title race at Sandel Lodge before their respective All-Ireland games.
Having been beaten at home by the champions last week the pressure will be on Brigade to get themselves back on track on Saturday, however of all the places Andy Britton would fancy taking his side, Coleraine is hardly one of them.
The Bannsiders have been in excellent form so far and have several players at the top of their game at the minute. Scott Campbell certainly falls into that category and so too does Rishi Chopra while South African overseas player Graham Hume looks a class act. David Cooke's side boast the best spin attack in the region with Campbell, the two Chopras and Steve Lazars and you suspect Brigade will be rigorously tested again.
The Beechgrove boys are much better than they showed against Donemana last time out and it was a major surprise that their impressive bowling attack looked very one-dimensional against Ricky-Lee Dougherty's outfit. Apart from skipper Britton and Johnny Thompson in the middle order the batting wasn't overly convincing either so the Waterside club will be desperately hoping that Faisal Iqbal will land in time for the games.
The Pakistani batsman's situation remains unclear, but what is certain is that he might be of little value to a club already out of the senior cup if they lose one or both matches this weekend.
Brigade can be so much more potent than they showed at the weekend, and they will need to be if they aren't to fall further behind on Saturday.
Both sides have very difficult All-Ireland matches to navigate the following day as Coleraine renew rivalry with a so far strangely subdued Waringstown while Brigade are away at Instonians. The North West duo have fairly recent wins over their NCU opponents to their names and are both well capable of progressing but each will need to be at their best for that to happen.
Waringstown have hardly set the world alight in their domestic competition this season so far and although in normal circumstances they would be favourites against most teams, they will need to be better than that if they want to progress.
Instonians haven't looked infallible either and Brigade will hardly be dreading a trip to Shaws Bridge given previous performances there. This too looks really difficult to call but the Belfast side could make home advantage pay.
Donemana have back-to-back home games starting with Fox Lodge in the league before The Hills come calling in the Irish Senior Cup.
Ricky-Lee Dougherty's side were excellent in that Beechgrove win and once more look a threat to all in the domestic competitions this summer. They appear to be really free-scoring so far this season and there seems to be runs right throughout the order.
The Foxies earned their first win of the campaign at Drummond on Saturday but will find this an altogether different challenge you would suspect. Their top order looks solid enough but they are at least one bowler light of being regularly competitive at this level and the Holm isn't a fun place to be when your bowling is short.
After Fox Lodge, attentions turn to The Hills and having won at Clontarf in the first round there will be no-one writing off the North West champions while they remain in the competition.
The visitors lost for the first time this season when beaten by Phoenix last weekend but boast a fantastic pool of players including Leinster Lightning Head Coach Albert van der Merwe and players Sean Terry and Max Sorensen. Yaqoob Ali and Naseer Shoukat are other men that Donemana will need to be wary of, however this is Donemana, cup cricket and the Holm, where nobody does reputations.
It has all the ingredients of a really intriguing game and although the Dublin side would be favourites on the book, it would be a brave man that would part with cash on the outcome.
Bready have a couple of "toughies" as well, starting with a trip to Eglinton in the league on Saturday. Likely to be without skipper Davy Scanlon who is on holiday, the Magheramason side have started their season brightly, albeit Ardmore really let them off the hook last weekend.
It will be a relief to many at the club that David Rankin rediscovered his scoring touch against the Bleachgreen men and with Andrew Austin possibly in tow as well, their batting is starting to gain some measure of stability. Without Scanlon they will rely on Craig Young, Connor Olphert and Reece Kelly to spearhead the attack but Iroosh Samarasooriya, Andy Lucas and indeed Rankin are all useful back-up options.
The villagers will be smarting from a couple of recent defeats - at home to Coleraine and then that senior cup bowl-out against Donemana and will see this as an ideal opportunity to get their season on track. Stuart Thompson was missing several players for those games but will be hoping to be as near ass possible to full strength for what us an important game for them.
On Sunday, Bready welcome Pembroke to their place and a side that includes the likes of Andy Balbirnie, Ryan Hopkins, Paul and Theo Lawson and Josh Little will bring plenty of challenges for the North West team. The visitors start clear favourites on all known form but it wouldn't be the first time in recent years that the former Ulster Cup champions sprung a surprise.
Elsewhere in the league on Saturday nothing other than a win over struggling Drummond will do for Ardmore after Saturday's slip-up at Magheramason. Gary Neely's side are without a win in their first three games but they ought to have enough about them to cope with the bottom side.
Chris Moore remains unfazed by Drummond's precarious situation, insisting his team have absolutely nothing to lose and that they will continue to enjoy their sport come what may. There is of course every likelihood that Moore's men will spring a surprise or two as the summer progresses, however you feel there is too much at stake for the home side to mess it up again.
The Weekend's fixtures
LONG'S SUPERVALU PREMIERSHIP
Ardmore v Drummond
Coleraine v Brigade
Donemana v Fox Lodge
Eglinton v Bready
IRISH SENIOR CUP 2ND ROUND
Bready v Pembroke
Coleraine v Waringstown
Donemana v The Hills
Instonians v Brigade