The North West cricket public are in for a treat this weekend (weather permitting) as Saturday’s Premier Division programme is followed 24-hours later by the three remaining quarter-final ties in the senior cup.
Newbuildings are the first team into the last four of the Blue Riband competition after Marty Mehaffey’s side out-scored last year’s beaten finalists Ballyspallen on Sunday; that game having been brought forward by the Roe Valley men’s involvement in the National Cup this weekend.
On Sunday all eyes will be on Sandel Lodge where Donemana will still be strong favourites to beat Coleraine despite the fact that the Bannsiders inflicted a morale-sapping defeat on Ricky-Lee Dougherty’s team on their own patch last Saturday. The cup holders are a different proposition in this competition with the lure of that historic seven-in-a-row now in their nostrils.
Two weeks ago you would have got long odds on a home win in this one but after recent events that may not be quite so much the case. Certainly the Tyrone outfit will have to find a way of counteracting Coleraine’s overseas man Graham Hume considering they couldn’t lay bat on ball against him in the league game.
There will be plenty of interested spectators too at the Bleachgreen where Ardmore take on Brigade in a game that has taken on added significance after a bit of a sideshow in the week leading up to the tie. Irish International Niall O’Brien is currently plying his Interprovincial trade with the North West Warriors and with Ian McGregor’s team entertaining Leinster Lightning throughout next week, O’Brien will be in the region this weekend.
The story goes that Brigade contacted the player and offered him a short-term deal and the keeper/batsman initially agreed, however soon after that the Bleachgreen men went in with what we assume was a new, improved offer. The upshot of that is that O’Brien will now be in the home changing room on Sunday instead and you would expect things could be lively for him on his first sojourn into North West club cricket.
As far as the actual game is concerned, O’Brien will certainly strengthen a batting order that has looked a bit fragile at times. Brigade’s bowling attack will be up for this but if rumours are to be believed, the visitors could be missing a player or two and on the back of a shock defeat at Fox Lodge last time they will need to be a lot better.
It is difficult to call, not least because the Beechgrove side may well be tempted to pull their own rabbit out of a hat before Sunday.
The final game sees Eglinton entertain Fox Lodge and while a home win would have appeared “nailed on” a fortnight ago, that may have changed just a touch on the back of contrasting fortunes for the teams last weekend. The Foxies had that impressive win at home to Brigade while Eglinton were finding life tough down the rocky road.
To complicate matters the visitors will be without their talisman, Stuart Thompson, who is away on International duty, so this might be a bit more of a contest than it looked when the draw was made.
The three winners of these matches will join Newbuildings in the semi-final draw which, if matches are completed as scheduled, will be “live” on BBC Radio Foyle at lunch time on Monday.
And so to Saturday’s league programme which lo and behold sees Brigade and Ardmore meet at Beechgrove. After the tug-of-war between the two over Niall O’Brien there is likely to be an extra edge to both games this weekend, however with home advantage and without the Warriors man in the away changing room, Andy Britton’s team start favourites.
Again though, the Waterside team would need to be some way better with both bat and ball if they are to get back to winning ways. They could well be bolstered by the return of Jonny Robinson who has been working in the USA for the past few weeks and that would help shore things up.
While we keep waiting for Ardmore, and in particular Grant Mokoena and Decker Curry to burst into life, they have kept winning and seem to have acquired a real fighting spirit that has helped them get over the line in their last two league outings.
On all known form Brigade should win on Saturday before the playing field levels considerably the following day.
Coleraine and Bready put solid starts on the line as they clash on the north coast- the home side seemingly really enjoying their cricket so far this season. Graham Hume looks a real player but Scott Campbell, Marcus Poskitt and both the Chopra and Hutchinson brothers are currently playing with the handbrake off as well and this could also be interesting.
Bready skipper Davy Scanlon is unlikely to bowl too much with four days of Interprovincial cricket ahead of him the following midweek but there are good options behind that in attack. Their batting was decent against Strabane last time too and it will need to come together again against a side that is every much as in-form as they are.
It isn’t often you see Donemana at the bottom of the Premiership table and you suspect we’d need to take a photo on Friday night because they probably won’t be there for long. Those of course could turn out to be famous last words after Brian Allen’s side turned on the style last Saturday. There is however just likely to be something in the air at the Holm this weekend and you sense that teeth could well start to be sharpened in anticipation of their trip to the coast on Sunday.
The final game sees Strabane entertain Eglinton and you wouldn’t want to be fooled into thinking that there’s anything easy here either.
The Red Caps were unlucky (or careless, considering your point of view) to have lost at Coleraine a few weeks ago and had earlier shown a decent bit of fight in beating Ardmore, but you just suspect there is more to come. Peter Gillespie, Aaron Gillespie, Ryan Gallagher and Khushpal Singh are all more than capable at this level. Rachit Gaur has quality in him as obviously does Chathura Peiris but it seems to be the case that only one or two of their key players manages to produce the goods on the same day.
If that side does click, and they’ve got to at some point, it could really turn their season around.
Eglinton were among many people’s favourites to be pushing for the title this year but in keeping with the year that’s been in it so far, they’ve lost as many as they’ve won. They’ll get nothing for free at the Park either, but another loss here would be a huge blow for the villagers.
THIS WEEKEND’S FIXTURES
Coleraine v Bready
Donemana v Fox Lodge
Strabane v Eglinton
Brigade v Ardmore
SENIOR CUP QUARTER-FINALS
Coleraine v Donemana
Eglinton v Fox Lodge
Ardmore v Brigade