The new cricket season begins this Saturday and all eyes will be on Donemana as they bid to smash not one but two long-standing records in the region’s premier club competitions.
Ricky-Lee Dougherty’s men equalled Clooney’s 112-year old run of 6 senior cup wins in a row when they beat Ballyspallen in last season’s final at Beechgrove and they will have their eyes fixed on the “Magnificent 7” when the competitions starts in mid-May.
Should Donemana win the cup this summer they will then set themselves up with a chance of claiming the domestic double- that and the league title. Claiming both, as they did in 2016 and 2017 would also mean the Holm side becoming the first in North West history to claim three “doubles” on the spin. Only themselves (twice) and Limavady have ever done two.
So what chance do the reigning champions have and where will the main threat come from?
Well, at a glance you would have to think that the title race will develop into a shoot-out between them and Brigade.
Donemana’s only changes in personnel this season are the return of the more than useful Graham Boyd from Bonds Glen and a change in overseas player with Malith Cooray replacing Imran Butt. Cooray has the profile that Dougherty’s men obviously favour- the 28-year old Sri Lankan a pretty smart seam bowler and top order batsman and although time will tell how readily he will settle into these new conditions, his pedigree looks decent.
There have been few changes at Beechgrove either with the return of Iftikhar Hussain the main piece of business in a quiet winter at the club. Promising teenager Kyle Magee comes in from Bonds Glen and there have been suggestions that Richard Hepburn may be making the same move, however it is unclear as yet exactly how regularly either of them will feature in Brigade’s first team this summer.
Brigade and Coleraine have posed the biggest threat to Donemana’s North West dominance in recent seasons however the Waterside club may have that honour to themselves in 2018 given that the Bannsiders have opted to go back to basics this year with an all-local side. To be fair to Coleraine it may be no bad move given that they have a decent nucleus of north coast players in their ranks, but it’s difficult to see a sustained title challenge for a season or two yet.
In their defence they have a guy who looks an outstanding overseas option in Graham Hume. The South African is a class act with both bat and ball and with the likes of Scott Campbell, Rishi and Varun Chopra and Stephen Hutchinson offering support, Coleraine will still be no pushover.
Depending on the accuracy of rumours about Marcus Poskitt’s hand injury however the Bannsiders may have to content themselves with competing for a top half finish.
A more likely challenge could then come from Eglinton; the villagers having brought in Adam McDaid, Lee Ritchie and new overseas man Mike Erlank during the close season. The 27-year old South African has a decent CV and could be just the type of player that Stuart Thompson needs in his top order. McDaid is an excellent signing for the very same reason and the sum of their parts make the villagers genuine top-three contenders.
Bready and Ardmore will also feel they have a chance of getting into the mix. The Bleachgreen outfit will need to improve on an indifferent 2017 but they could do just that with the addition of Steve Lazars and a new overseas player in Grant Mokoena. The latter can be a destructive batsman based on his franchise form in South Africa and he could be the player Gary Neely’s men have been missing in the top order.
Lazars has more in him than was evident at Coleraine last summer and he could be a shrewd addition, as too could former St Johnston spinner David Anthony.
Bready have opted for just about exactly the same squad as last time although they will be weakened to some degree by the absence of Reece Kelly who is on work placement in the UK. Irosh returns for a second season after a solid debut summer but it will be the usual suspects like David Rankin, Andrew Austin, Davy Scanlon and Craig Young who will hope to lead their charge.
Fox Lodge will also have their same overseas man back, Cebo Tshiki did well for the Ballymagorry outfit 12 months ago, however despite the addition of a few new faces from Sion Mills they still look a touch light to trouble the more experienced sides.
Strabane will also have to punch well above their weight if they are to make it into the top half of the table; Tommy Barr’s men left reeling after Burndennett opted not to go for an overseas player and instead target Red Caps’ duo Mark Snodgrass and Andy Barr.
Last year’s Championship winners have yet to announce the identity of their new overseas man- thought to be a 27-year old Sri Lankan seam bowler. They’ll be hoping he bats as well as bowls because they’re a bit thin on the ground ahead of what could be a testing summer.
It’s difficult to imagine anything other than Donemana and Brigade scrapping out the title when all is said and done, perhaps with Eglinton as the main threat to that pair. After that it looks like Bready, Coleraine and Ardmore in an any one from three scenario for the remaining spot in the top half.
Good luck to all at the start of what will hopefully be an enjoyable summer.