T20 WEEKEND UP NEXT AS NWCU SEARCHES FOR THE RIGHT MIX

Thereís a change of pace in the North West this weekend as the Group stages of the Faughan Valley T20 Cup which started last Sunday, will be played to a conclusion over the next three days.

Itís a format that the Union themselves would probably admit they have struggled to get right over the past couple of years however work is clearly ongoing. Fixture Secretary David Bradley has done a superb job in refining this competition over the past couple of seasons and this year again he has ticked as many right boxes as he could, given the circumstances.

The fact is that T20 is seen by Cricket Ireland as a genuine growth area within the sport and while that may be true on a global scale, it creates more questions than answers domestically. As an International agenda Ireland needs to get better at T20 cricket, there is no doubt about that.

The process filters downwards from there- a good standard of International T20 players is fed by a good standard of Interprovincial players and consequently the same at club level. In theory it should work well enough but in practice it doesnít.

The problem is that T20 cricket the world over is beautifully packaged and sold on huge budgets. Players buy into it on the basis of the financial benefits and supporters buy into it as much as a social occasion as a sporting one. Technically, itís a business.

At Interprovincial level itís a part of the players contractual obligation but at club level the benefits of T20 cricket are pretty non-existent. Sure, there is the lure of ďfinals dayĒ but in terms of prestige, in the North West at least, the T20 Cup is a long, long way behind the senior cup and Premiership title for now.

The Union is very keen to change that, but their problems are currently two-fold. One is that teams who are pretty much already playing league and cup cricket every weekend between now and August are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the extra demands on their time and two, attempts to find a main sponsor who would help create some scope to make it worthwhile have been unsuccessful.

Itís here that David Bradley has done a sterling job, but he still has more to do if this is to really take off. This season the Group stages of the competition will be played pretty much over one week.

We started last Sunday with four matches and weíll continue on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday with the other eight, meaning all games will be done by the weekend.

This time last season the top two in each group would have gone into the Faughan Valley and the bottom two into the Eric Cooke Cup which basically meant that after the Group stages, all the teams still qualified for a knock-out competition. It was an astronomical waste of time for no reason other than to play T20 cricket for the sake of it.

This season only the top two teams in each of the two groups will qualify for the semi-finals and the same will happen in the Eric Cooke Cup with only Championship teams playing in that. Itís a really good compromise from the Fixture Secretary.

The downside is that to a potential sponsor a competition that is over in a week (bar the semi-finals and finals) is a very difficult sell, but there must surely be some sort of presentable package still in there.

Again, to their credit the North West have committed to finding the right balance to all of this and while that is to be encouraged, the plain fact of the matter is that for it to work properly they will have to make this competition more appealing than something that is already there, and then take that something out and replace it with this. It is a work in progress and the likelihood is that we have it as good as itís going to be at least now for a while.

The danger remains that from a club point of view if one game has to be sacrificed here or there as schedules get evermore loaded, this one will always be the most vulnerable.

And so to the weekendís matches then with two potentially eventful Friday nights lined up at Bready and Donemana. Coleraine will be the visitors to the high-flying Magheramason outfit who have already won their first game in the tournament last Sunday while Fox Lodge will make the short trip to the Holm in the other group. Wins for the respective home teams would make qualification probable, if not guaranteed.

Saturdayís games are double-headers with Strabane playing Coleraine at 1pm and then Bready at 4.30 and Brigade entertaining first Donemana and then Eglinton at the same time. This is another facet of the tournament that has changed over the past season or two and little doubt it has met with clubís approval.

In terms of the outcome of the group standings the Red Caps would need to win both of their games to have any hopes of progressing. Given their current player plight this may not be the first thing on Tommy Barrís mind at the moment but thatís not to say they wonít be dangerous if things fall their way, Brigade would go a long way towards booking their semi-final berth with a similar return and you suspect itís a format that should suit the Beechgrove outfit as they go in search of more silverware.

The weekend is completed when Coleraine host Ardmore and Brigade head to Fox Lodge with both of these matches taking place on Sunday. An interesting weekend ahead then, again kudos to organisers for sandwiching these matches in between a 3-day Interpro and that high-profile Test match with Pakistan where they ought to create as little inconvenience as possible.

 FAUGHAN VALLEY CUP WEEKEND GROUP GAMES

Friday 4 May

  • Bready v Coleraine
  • Donemana v Fox Lodge

Saturday 5 May

  • Strabane v Coleraine
  • Strabane v Bready
  • Brigade v Donemana
  • Brigade v Eglinton

Sunday 6 May

  • Coleraine v Ardmore
  • Fox Lodge v Brigade