ACID TEST AWAITS PACE-SETTING BANNSIDERS

It is quarter-finals day in the Bank of Ireland senior cup on Saturday at the start of yet another busy weekend for several of the clubs involved. Bready, Coleraine, Donemana and Newbuildings will all be vying for a semi-final spot in the region's blue riband competition before setting off on Sunday hoping to progress to the 3rd round of the All-Ireland cups.

Bready and Donemana go to Pembroke and The Hills respectively while Coleraine head to the Lawn to tackle Waringstown. Newbuildings are the North West's sole remaining participant in the National Cup and they'll be in Meath on Sunday to play Knockharley. Before that however it's all about the senior cup with four intriguing contests whetting the appetite of the local cricket public.

Game of the day is undoubtedly at Donemana where the top two in the Long's SuperValu Premier Division go toe-to-toe in what has the prospect of being one of the match-ups of the season. The home side is of course steeped in cup pedigree and with Brigade already out of the picture, will see this as a chance to take a huge step towards that record-equalling sixth success in a row.

The champions have it all- a strong batting line-up, a good attack, excellent spin options and a heart as big as an ox and when it comes to the senior cup, well, we all know the score.

The thing is now though that the Bannsiders are no mugs themselves and the way David Cooke's men have started the season means that they'll head into the lion's den this weekend afraid of no-one. They came off second best to Ricky-Lee Dougherty's side in the final last year but there seems to be a feel around Sandel Lodge that playing Donemana in a one-innings game makes the playing field a bit more level.

Chatting earlier this week, Coleraine chairman Gareth Godfrey insisted that Donemana were very much the team to beat but that the north coast outfit were heading into their big weekend in good heart.

"I thought from the start that Donemana would be the team we all had to beat and nothing has changed my mind about that. We've started well and the team is in very good form but there's no doubt we'll be tested to the limit this weekend. We have a very young side at Coleraine and we're well matched with Donemana with a good seam attack, four good spinners and plenty of batting."

"What makes it all the more special here is that we used six batsmen in the win over Brigade and the top five all came through the ranks at Coleraine. Apart from our overseas player, only Steve Lazars and the two Cookes didn't start their careers here. For all the talk of "hired hands" we've got a very solid Coleraine base."

On the subject of the overseas player, Godfrey was satisfied that the Bannsiders are more than happy with their lot after a torrid time last season. "He's a top player and has been turning in big performances for us every week, but he's also great for the players to have around. He's a really nice fella and is in several schools in the area, including for the first time, Loreto College."

"Graham is a very good influence to have around the place and we're delighted that he has settled in so well."

"We have two massive games this weekend but David (Cooke) and the players are well up for this. We wouldn't be without a chance, I can say that much."

To be fair to Coleraine, if anybody can stop Donemana picking up a sixth senior cup it is them. They have a wonderful balance to the side but as well as all the talent they possess, they will need cahoonas to win at the Holm in the senior cup. Whether they have those remains to be seen.

The other three ties are no less difficult to unravel- including the one Championship v Premiership tussle- Newbuildings v Bready. In normal circumstances the visitors would be odds-on favourites, but these aren't normal circumstances. There is the "local derby" conundrum and the fact that there is likely to be one or two former Bready players on the home sheet.

Throw in the fact that the visitors are likely to be without skipper Davy Scanlon while Newbuildings have the potentially destructive Peat Salmon in the ranks and you get the impression that the village side might be eyeing an upset.

Bready though have quality and plenty of it. Davy Rankin, Craig Young, overseas man Iroosh Samarasooriya, Andy Austin, Kyle Hamilton, Reece Kelly and others who are all capable of taking the game away from a Newbuildings team lacking just that touch of experience at this level.

If Salmon has a really good day- and he's had a few- it could be interesting. If Bready keep him quiet however, that will be a huge part of the job done.

Next up is Ardmore v Fox Lodge; two sides separated by just a point in the current league standings. Neither has much of a recent cup pedigree if truth be told but this too has all the makings of a good game.

The visitors have a solid batting line-up, especially at the top with Brian Allen and Jason Milligan, while Dean McCarter, Andrew McGinnis and overseas man Cebo Tshiki are all capable of a good shift. Tshiki is the one imponderable because hasn't fulfilled his early season promise and he needs to find his range fairly soon if he is to make a lasting mark.

Where the Foxies struggle however is with the new ball and that is where the contest could be won and lost.

Ardmore's batting can be sometimes hit or miss however it is only a matter of time before Decker Curry gets his sights set. Rameez Alam looks a batsman of genuine quality too while Paul McDowell and Ciaran Curley have shown in the past few weeks the benefit of a quick start. Kevin Martin is usually seen to best effect at the top of the order but is also very capable of anchoring things in the middle if need be.

It's a game of ifs and buts this one but its difficult to get away from the contest between the home side's bowling and the visitors' batting. To that end the toss could be vital but on current form Ardmore are favourites to progress.

The last of the four quarter-finals is an all-Championship affair as Strabane travel to Ballyspallen. At the start of the season Peter Gillespie flagged Bridge Park up as a ground he wanted to play at as he'd never done so before, and now he gets his chance.

Strabane come into the game having lost just once so far- that an unexpected defeat at Burndennett in the league last time out. Barry Scott will be hoping that they've got that out of them now because this is a really tricky tie to negotiate.

The Red Caps' batting has looked compact in their new surroundings- Manu Sharma and Aaron Gillespie already with centuries to their names- and on their day they can be very potent. An order that also contains Kevin Pretorius, Ryan Gallagher and the dangerous Khushpal Singh, as well obviously as the aforementioned Gillespie is likely to give 'Spallen plenty to think about on their own patch.

Not that Lee Ritchie's team will be overawed in any way and they have plenty of players of their own who are very capable of taking a hand in the outcome. The Kennedy lads, Stephen and Graham, are obviously two of those but Darnell McCallum has looked a dangerous customer at times as well. Mark Averill, skipper Ritchie and Steven McCloskey are likely to be involved at some stage as well but the feeling is that whoever bowls best will win.

Pound for pound the visitors just edge it but it's a game that could go either way.