‘SPALLEN START FAVOURITES TO BOOK PROMOTION
The race for promotion to the Premier Division gets under way this weekend with the eight hopefuls all in with some sort of chance of challenging in the top half of the table.
There is no real standout in the division this time, especially with relegated Drummond likely to be going through a season of consolidation, therefore the way is open for one or two less likely contenders.
Having chased Strabane in vain last time, Ballyspallen will justifiably be favourites now, especially given that both Averills and Graham Kennedy have decided to stay put. West Indian Darnell McCallum is back too and if he can get among the runs in the middle order, the Roe Valley outfit could take some stopping.
2018 is a big year for Kennedy; having sidestepped the interest of several Premiership clubs the teenager will be looking to hit the ground running with Interprovincial places very much up for grabs.
Any slip-ups from ‘Spallen could see the likes of Glendermott back in the mix. New skipper Jason Lynch will have the Cooke brothers by his side this season and these are two proven winners.
At a venue likely to suit their style you can expect a real push from the Rectory outfit over the coming months. Killyclooney are another side capable of coming into the reckoning.
Darren Moan’s men were irresistible for the first six weeks of last summer before falling away in the middle stages but in Andre Henry they have an explosive talent capable of propelling them into the race.
Newbuildings won’t have Peat Salmon in the ranks this time and their push could be dictated by how their new overseas man, Clinton Pienaar performs. Marty Mehaffey retains a fairly decent side at his disposal and a top two place is far from beyond them, especially if Pienaar clicks.
Burndennett have brought in Strabane pair Mark Snodgrass and Andy Barr at the last minute having dispensed with the services of their overseas option. They have match-winners in the side too but are often dogged by inconsistency.
A title challenge just looks beyond them at present- a comment which probably also applies to Drummond, Chris Moore’s team had a torrid time in the top flight last year and have lost their top gun from that campaign, Adam McDaid, to Eglinton. The skipper has made it clear that this will be his last season as a player and it is thought that this summer may be a swansong for more than just him.
Bonds Glen should be competitive without the threat of challenging for the title just yet. The Bee Gees are one of the hardest-working clubs around but having lost skipper Graham Boyd back to Donemana and talented teenager Kyle Magee to Brigade, they just lack that bit of quality required. To their credit they won’t be overly bothered for now as the club builds for the future and it’s possibly a similar picture in St Johnston.
Ian Macbeth’s team can be a match for anyone on their day and with all their ex-University students available from the start they could well be a top half side. The skipper however has made no secret of the fact that he intends to give the youth their chance throughout the summer and much of the focus will be on ensuring that the players enjoy their cricket.
There will be no play-off for the bottom team in the Championship this time unless Sion Mills finish in the top two places in Qualifying 1, which may take a bit of heat off some of the combatants.
THE INS AND OUTS FROM LAST TIME