PETER THE GREAT
It was a day to forget for North-West sides in the Irish Senior Cup with seven of the eight teams crashing out at the first-round stage.
Strabane, winners in 1998, were the exception as they held their nerve to beat Cork County by four runs in a last-over thriller which made the 600-mile round-trip that bit sweeter.
Former Irish international was their hero with the bat, top scoring with 82 as they posted 222, which proved to be just enough.
“It was a good win in terms of getting over the line in a tight game but we made it harder for ourselves than it should have been,” said Gillespie. “It feels like our season is only starting as we have had a washed-out game, a T20 game then a break for the Test so there was definitely a bit of rustiness on Saturday. A lot of credit should go to Cork County though as they played very well and never gave up.”
The Mardyke is renowned as one of the most picturesque grounds in the country, and Gillespie was full of praise for their Munster hosts.
“Cork were excellent hosts from the moment we arrived to the BBQ afterwards, old friendships were renewed and a few new ones forged.
“It is without doubt one of the most beautiful grounds in the country and a treat for anyone who gets the chance to play there. So, massive thanks from the players and committee of Strabane CC for the hospitality shown to us. A pre-season tour to the North West was discussed and hopefully a chance for us to reciprocate the treatment we received. They even had a plaque made and presented to commemorate the day.”
Gillespie shook off the gruelling trek, and revealed the club used the journey to forge and strengthen relationships in the squad, which included new signing Rachit Gaur from Railway Union, and Ryan Gallagher, fresh from his break in Australia.
“The journey was long but enjoyable, we always see them as a chance for some team bonding especially with a new Pro, and new member of the squad (Rachit) and a few younger guys.
“The team is definitely looking stronger with the addition of two quality all-rounders. That’s not to say that the young guys like Taylor Boyd, Tom Harpur and Conor Graham haven't looked out of place since the start of the season.
“They have all done a fantastic job considering they were thrown into the deep end a bit at the start of the season and they are all showing signs of progressing nicely as cricketers.
“But with Ryan back and Rachit on board it means we can now carefully manage again the exposure the younger guys get. They might not get as many overs or as much time at the crease as they did at the start of the season but just being in the first team squad and around that environment will help them enormously and show them what it takes to make the next step.”
On a broader note, what did Gillespie attribute the region’s poor showing to?
“It’s obviously pleasing to be in the next round but not so as the only NW team! Our Unions record has been poor over the past number of years. There is no doubt that the standard has improved in the other unions where the clubs have become more professional in their approach and I don't think we have quite caught up to that yet.
“However, saying that I think the Warriors have started the season fantastically well and maybe, despite the weekends club results, there are signs that things are on the up.
“Having Boyd Rankin and William Porterfield back playing for the Warriors has been a great boost, as well as Craig Young, Andy McBrine and Stuart Thompson being regulars in the Ireland squad shows that the union is producing top quality cricketers and the later three’s presence in the league can only help raise the standard both in the league and at their own clubs and hopefully show other payers out there that with a lot of hard work and focus that the sky is the limit.”
There’s no let-up for the Red Caps this weekend as they face a double-header, attempting to end Donemana’s six-year domination of the Senior Cup, followed by a crucial rearranged Premier League match at home to Ardmore on Sunday. Gillespie is aware of the importance of both fixtures.
“It's definitely a big weekend coming up. Any match against Donemana is big but more so when it is the senior cup given their track record over the past six years.
“Everyone would like to be the team to end their fantastic run and we are no different but we are under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task at hand. Having home advantage is a good start but it will also require a massive team effort to get anything out of the game. Both teams will be up for it so I'm sure it will be a good game.
“The rearranged game v Ardmore is another big game. I thought the washed-out game was very evenly poised and it would have been interesting to see how it panned out but it was not to be. A win for either team would be a good springboard for the season and again we are hoping that home advantage will be a factor.”
HENRY HUNDRED HIGHLIGHT FOR KILLYCLOONEY
There was better news for the NW sides in the National Cup with five going into the hat for the next round, albeit boosted by the fact that Ballyspallen and Glendermott both received byes and North Kildare failed to travel to St Johnston.
Performance of the day was that of Killyclooney, who met fellow former finalists Laois and emerged 8-wicket winners thanks to a typically hard-hit unbeaten hundred from Andre Henry.
The news wasn’t so good for the other Tyrone sides with Burndennett giving Railway Union a walk-over and Sion Mills being on the receiving end of a mauling.
STRABANE ACADEMY REACH QUARTER-FINALS
An inspired bowling display by Jordan McIntyre propelled Strabane Academy into the last eight of the Ulster Bank Schools Cup. Defending 149 at Ballyclare, the Fox Lodge teenager took 6 for 19 – including a hat-trick – on their way to a 53-run win.
This capped an excellent week for the school with victories in all four matches played. 37 from Tom Harpur helped them reach the quarter-finals of the U15 cup with a ten-run win over Methody, while Kirsty Gamble took three wickets in one over as the U15 girls won by 9 nine wickets at Regent House. The U14 boys won by the same margin at Campbell College, with Brooke Crumley and James McDermott starring with the ball, and Jordan McIntyre hitting an unbeaten 30.
TYRONE PLAYERS TO THE FORE IN WARRIORS SQUAD
The NW Warriors have made just one change to their squad for tomorrow’s clash with Munster at Eglinton, with Ryan MacBeth replacing Ardmore’s Steve Lazars. The Bready trio of David Rankin, Craig Young and Davy Scanlon are included, alongside Donemana duo Andy McBrine and Ricky-Lee Dougherty, while Strabane’s Aaron Gillespie is also in the line-up. Former Killyclooney and Donemana player William Porterfield is also there and his 46 and a half-century from David rankin helped the Warriors defeat the Northern Knights in their opening interpro match last week.