The Donemana angle
The Donemana angle....
Despite what has been a disappointing domestic campaign by their own high standards everything else will be forgotten this coming weekend if Azhar Shaffique lifts aloft the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup in front of what is sure to be a big North West support at The Hills.
Having come so close last year, reaching the final and then having North County on the back foot for most of the day, the Tyrone side will feel that this is a wonderful opportunity for them to go one step further and repeat their success of nine years ago.
There is no doubt that Donemana have reserved their best form throughout the season for the cup competitions, six league defeats tells its own story, but with the Northern Bank Senior Cup already in the vault you can expect the reigning North West champions to go at this full pelt.
Ahead of the big game we chatted to a few of the Donemana players to get their feelings on the match itself, and why they felt the Holm side had fared so well in this particular competition and there was a distinct air of confidence in the camp. Opening bowler Stephen Dunn felt that the fact that the side had been written off so many times had positively encouraged them, and that he also felt that there was now an ideal blend of youth and experience.
'Already this season we've seen youngsters like Ricky Lee Dougherty, Ritchie McBrine and Andy McBrine being given their chance in the first team and their enthusiasm has rubbed off on the rest of the team. Our fielding this year has been really good and when catches are being taken and runs saved, that obviously gives the bowlers a lift. The form of the batsmen has been really good as well with Richard Kee, Azhar, Andy and the twins all regularly among the runs and we feel we have a really good mix throughout the side. I would also have to say that our supporters turn up in big numbers for these games and give us real encouragement and we hope to win the cup for them.'
Dale Olphert is another who will be playing in his second consecutive final and the quiet man of the side echoed his team-mate's sentiment about the support. 'We've heard that there are four full bus loads making the journey as well as those who will be travelling by other means and we want to do well for our supporters. We were all very disappointed last year but there is a very positive feel about the place and we don't fear travelling to Leinster as we have shown already.'
Olphert's sentiments are something that skipper Shaffique is sure to focus on, the Tyrone side having already defied the odds twice in the competition already by travelling to both Malahide and The Hills in earlier rounds and coming through unscathed. Club stalwart Junior McBrine reasoned that far from lamenting the fact that they weren't going to Strabane Park to tackle Limavady, the players themselves were more than happy to be heading south. 'We've been down there twice this year and fared well enough and we've no reason to fear going again. The Hills is a happy hunting ground for us and although cricket followers throughout the North West would have loved an all-local final, we're more than happy to be taking on Leinster. They know as little about us as we do them and that might make for a really interesting final. We will be taking a big, noisy support with us and it will be up to us to give them something to shout about.'.
For all that they have had an indifferent league campaign there is no doubt that Donemana are one of the few clubs capable of winning the All Ireland trophy. They have so many match-winners throughout the side and whilst Leinster have beaten some very good teams already, this will be a real test for them against opposition who have been there and done that. In Azhar Shaffique the Holm side boast a professional who set the bar on the top notch when he first arrived, and has kept it there ever since. He will see this, in his role as skipper, as a golden opportunity to seal his time in Tyrone with the ultimate prize.
Seeing as how these opportunities don't usually come along every year, there may not be many better and that will make the Pakistan player a handful for the Southerners. And if Shaffique misses out personally he has the comfort of knowing that there are plenty of options around him and that will see Donemana start the game as favourites.