Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
BRIGADE would probably have preferred an easier start to their Premiership campaign but if they can hit the ground running against Eglinton it would auger well for yet another title challenge.
While Donemana start favourites to complete what would be a first ever hat-trick of league and Senior Cup doubles, Brigade have been the perennial runners-up and are expected to be their closest challengers once again, but Eglinton have the potential to improve on last year’s fourth place finish.
The return of Ifti Hussain has been the high-profile winter signing for Brigade but at the other end of the age scale, the import of leg spinner Kyle Magee from Bonds Glen could be just as significant.
Magee, a badminton international, is a big turner of the ball and having trained with the Ireland youth squads during the winter, is a teenager with a bright future and Brigade skipper Andy Britton will give him every opportunity to achieve his cricketing ambitions.
Eglinton's new professional Mikey Erlank flew in from South Africa yesterday and plays in tomorrow’s match of the day.
Ireland international Stuart Thompson will lead a side which has been improving year-on-year since their promotion in 2012 and feel ready to mix it with the ‘big boys”.
With a trip to Donemana next weekend, they will have a good idea of how close they can get before May even begins.
Donemana’s only change to their all-conquering side is the arrival of Malith Cooray, a 28-year-old Sri Lankan, as their new professional and supporters and team-mates will get their first sight of him at Bready tomorrow when Tom Riddles could make a surprise but very welcome comeback.
Riddles collapsed with a heart problem after an innings last season and was told he would not play cricket again but a second opinion has said that playing the sport will not affect his long-term health and he has been practising in the nets this week.
Ardmore’s home game against Coleraine pitches two sides who could go in the opposite direction to last season.
The Bannsiders must cope without the Cooke brothers, David and Gordon, who have moved to Glendermott while Ardmore, disappointed by their sixth place finish, have snapped up South African Grant Mokoena and Steve Lazars, ironically from Coleraine. He will however miss the first match due to visa delays while Decker Curry is away on holiday to further weaken the Bleachgreen side.
Fox Lodge and promoted, but weakened Strabane, are favourites for relegation and the fixture list has paired them together on the opening day.