GROUP GAMES TAKE CENTRE STAGE ON QUIET NORTH WEST WEEKEND

It was a very low-key afternoon around the North West on Saturday where despite a full programme of Championship games, top-flight clubs were involved in the region’s T2O Cup group stages.

The plan was to have two double-headers- Brigade entertaining Donemana at the start of the afternoon and then Eglinton later in the day. It was to be a similar scenario at Strabane where the Red Caps were set to host Coleraine first followed by Bready in the later game.

Ironically, Coleraine FC’s involvement in the Irish Cup final on Saturday meant that they didn’t have the personnel to travel to the Park given the number of players who wanted to follow their teams’ fortunes. Strabane themselves had forfeited to Ardmore last Sunday at the start of the group stages and with a 10-point “fine” accompanying a no-show, it meant both clubs would then struggle to progress to the knock-out phase.

The first set of matches began on Friday night with Fox Lodge making the short trip to Donemana. Batting first, the visitors were indebted to a really good knock of 63 from Brian Allen as they made 131 for 7 from their 20 overs.

The skipper hit 6 fours and 5 sixes in his 63 with support coming from Cebo Tshiki who made 26 and the returning Jason Milligan who chipped in with 16. Andy McBrine (3-13) and Dwayne McGerrigle (2-21) fared best with the ball for the hosts.

Malith Cooray has been finding his feet in his first season at the Holm but the Sri Lankan was on the money in the reply as he hit 3 fours and 7 sixes in a game-defining 74. McGerrigle followed up his brace of wickets with an unbeaten 32 as Donemana cruised to an 8-wicket win.

There was a thrilling finish to the game down at Magheramason where the elusive Coleraine beat Bready by just one run. The contest was reduced to 16 overs a side due to traffic problems in the village with the Bannsiders posting 86 for 5 in their allotted time.

Paul Douglas made 20 and Matthew Hutchinson 19 not out while there were two wickets apiece for Andy Lucas and Irosh Samarasooriya for Bready.

The home side’s reply looked to be going very well with David Rankin making 41 and Kyle Hamilton 19 but Coleraine dug in and bowled tidily. Try though they may the hosts just couldn’t get their noses in front and despite losing just 3 wickets along the way Davy Scanlon’s men missed out by the narrowest margin possible.

Onto Saturday then and believe it or not there was an even closer contest in one of the three remaining matches as Strabane and Bready tied at the Park.

Irosh (23) and skipper Scanlon (23) fared best of the visitors’ batting this time while Rhys Logue (3-30) claimed the honours with the ball for Tommy Barr’s team. Having started the day on minus 10 points and then picked up 25 for the “win” over Coleraine, only a win would have give Strabane a chance of making the semi-finals so chasing Bready’s 98 for 9, they would have fancied their chances.

Overseas man Chathura Peiris certainly did his bit to try to get Strabane over the line- 2 fours and 2 sixes in his 42 but elsewhere the bowlers were on top. Ryan Barr picked up 2-15, Gregory McFaul 2-17 and Samarasooriya 2-21 and with one ball of their 20 overs remaining it came down to the home side needing 3 to win.

Thomas Harpur was the new batsman and he did very well to connect with the final delivery and scamper two that left the scores tied. The result meant the teams received 12.5 points each leaving the final game of this group to be concluded on Sunday evening with Coleraine hosting Ardmore.

A win for either side would take them through as group winners with Bready already assured of second place- tie notwithstanding.

And finally to Beechgrove where Brigade recorded back-to-back wins in their two matches to conclude Saturday’s programme.

First up was Donemana with Ricky-Lee Dougherty’s men batting first and posting a modest target of 113-5 from their 20 overs. William McClintock top scored with 40 (including 4 sixes) while Dwayne McGerrigle added 29 and Malith Cooray 20. Andy Britton’s 2-18 was the pick of Brigade’s bowling and the Limavady Road side were favourites from there.

Gareth McKeegan scored 38 and David Barr added 32 as the top order provided the platform for a 5-wicket win. Graham Boyd claimed 2-21 but it was to be in vain as the home side racked up a first win.

Next came Eglinton and another solid effort with the ball proved to be enough for the Beechgrove boys once again. Ross Allen did his best to keep the villagers in the hunt- the Warriors all-rounder top scoring with 36 while Jamie Millar chipped in with 19.

Skipper Britton (3-17), Ryan Macbeth (3-18) and Iftikhar Hussain (2-17) did most of the damage as Stuart Thompson’s men closed on 102 all out.

The home side never looked like missing out despite a couple of early wickets for Mike Erlank (2-8). Gareth McKeegan made an early 32 but it was that man Hussain with 42 not out who got the Waterside men over the line for their second win of the afternoon.

Sunday’s remaining fixture was left as something of a dead rubber as Brigade and Donemana had already bagged two wins apiece. The former however can secure a home semi-final for themselves if they manage to avoid defeat at Ballymagorry.

The semi-final line-up and dates will be confirmed shortly with the final of both the Faughan Valley and Eric Cooke cups taking place on Sunday 22 July at Ballyspallen.