Donemana’s win at Brigade last Saturday coupled with defeat for Bready at Ardmore has really thrown the Premiership title race wide open ahead of this weekend’s fourth round of matches.
If the first quarter of the programme is anything to go by it could be quite a keenly-contested summer with just one win separating the top side from the bottom thus far.
As always there are a few crunch games down for decision this time again starting at the Holm where the champions will hope to build on that victory at Beechgrove when they entertain Coleraine. The Bannsiders change in policy over the winter has seen them revert to an-all local side, however with two wins from three so far, they will still be nobody’s mugs.
The two teams are set to meet in the quarter-finals of the senior cup at Sandel Lodge on Saturday week, so both will be keen to lay down a marker on Saturday.
Donemana’s Jordan McGonigle agreed to look ahead to that, and the rest of the weekend matches for us, however the former Irish International started by reflecting on his team’s first league win of the season at Brigade.
“It was good to get one in the win column for sure and it was also big because people were talking about us being out of the title race after two matches” he began.
“An 8-team league means a fairly short campaign, but you couldn’t realistically rule anyone out that early. There has been talk as well about us focusing solely on the senior cup and while everyone knows how much that competition means to the club I would imagine it means as much to all clubs.”
“The North West senior title is a very, very important part of the domestic season and of course we want to win it. We’ve claimed the title for the last two years running and that doesn’t happen by accident.”
“That is probably why beating Brigade meant so much last weekend. Maybe players get into a mindset where if they do lose a league game we can still claw it back whereas you get no second chances in the cup.”
“Getting a big score at Beechgrove was the key. We knew they’d have to go some to chase it down so the plan was to keep things as tight in the Power Play and then use our four spin options to try to strangle the match. The pitch worked in our favour- it was obviously prepared to suit the seamers, which is Brigade’s strength- but while it was taking spin it wasn’t spinning every ball and that put the doubt in the batsmen’s mind.”
“It will count for little if we don’t back it up against Coleraine on Saturday though. I know people talk about the players they’ve lost over the winter but looking at their scores and results they don’t seem to have weakened too much.”
“It should be a decent game and the boys are all looking forward to it.”
Turning to the rest of the matches “Jordy” felt that there were one or two potentially tricky games on the card this weekend.
“I know the common thinking is that the race is between ourselves and Brigade this year, but I honestly don’t believe that. There really are no easy matches and I’m expecting at least one and possibly more teams to emerge as the season goes on.”
“Bready started the season really well before losing at Ardmore but they were probably unlucky with the injury to Davy Scanlon. That was nearly 9 overs from their skipper lost to them and who knows what impact that could have made. Fair play to Ardmore though- they were without Decker so that probably cancelled things out, and their decision to bring Stevie Dunn in will be a big help.”
“If they are going to be in the mix Bready probably need to be winning matches like this one at home to Strabane and yet I reckon this could be really tight. We played Strabane in the cup already and although we beat them I honestly thought they looked decent. I’ve followed their scores as well and seen that they probably threw it away at Coleraine but for me, that’s as good a side as Strabane have had for several years. They are probably just looking to consolidate this season and I think they will.”
“Eglinton will also be a factor this year and they will be a danger to everybody in both competitions. They have two or three really big players like most of the top teams, but the rest of their squad is also really good quality. You look at their batting line-up and see men you expect to score runs or take wickets and if they do, you only need 2 or 3 of the others to have a good day after that.”
“They’re at the Bleachgreen on Saturday and with Decker no doubt back again, Neely’s side are another who are capable of mixing it. Ardmore are maybe just a player or two players short of challenging for the league but that won’t stop them being dangerous. I still think Eglinton will be favourites though.”
“Fox Lodge have struggled a bit after beating Strabane early on and they’re relying a touch on a couple of players. They seem to be a bit light in their bowling, so you would expect Brigade to be too strong up there.”
“Brigade are still in a good position in the table and while I feel we were comfortable winners on Saturday they have enough about them to win here.”
The first of the senior cup semi-finalists should also be known by Sunday night as Ballyspallen and Newbuildings have had their game brought forward by a week to accommodate the home side’s National Cup tie on the 17th.
‘Spallen of course are coming off a run that took them to the showpiece final last year where they certainly didn’t let themselves down in defeat to Donemana. These two sides have had very little to split them in recent times and Marty Mehaffey’s men already have a league win at the Bridge to their credit this season.
It looks likely to be very close again and although Mark Averill’s team are probably marginal favourites, this one could easily go either way.
Donemana v Coleraine
Bready v Strabane
Fox Lodge v Brigade
Ardmore v Eglinton
SENIOR CUP QUARTER FINAL
Ballyspallen v Newbuildings