STRABANE SOARING IN SIZZLING SEASON
It really was a Carlsberg weekend for Tyrone’s senior clubs as they produced a clean sweep over their Derry counterparts.
Bready top the Premiership table, while Killyclooney are at the summit of the Championship at the half-way stage, in with a great chance of making the top flight for the first time in their history.
Our focus this week though concentrates on two sides who have defied the odds to sit in mid-table.
Fox Lodge and Strabane were widely tipped to be involved in a relegation struggle, but both have three wins to their credit following victories at the weekend over Coleraine and Brigade respectively.
For Michael Gillespie, it was a double cause for celebration as he marked his 50th birthday at Beechgrove. The former Strabane captain reflected on the wonderful start to the campaign for the Red Caps.
“The great start to the season is due to a combination of things including the weather. There's definitely a feelgood factor around Strabane Cricket Club this season,” said Gillespie.
“There's something going on every night of the week as well as the actual games with youth coaching, senior practices and the ladies matches.
“Positive results obviously accentuate the atmosphere around the club but they aren't the defining factor. Having said that it's great to see the teams at all levels picking up regular victories this year and it does your heart good to see the ground buzzing every day of the week.
“The main focus is on the senior team, and they're in great form at the minute, winning three league games and reaching the quarter-finals of the Irish Senior Cup.
“They are aware though of the scale of the task ahead of them as they try and keep their place in a highly competitive Premier League.
“While the plaudits will rightly be aimed primarily at the performances of Chathura Peiris, Rachit Gaur, Aaron and Peter Gillespie, great credit must go to the trio of 15 year-olds, Tom Harpur, Conor Graham and Taylor Rouse who have been thrust unexpectedly into action this season.
“Indeed, their seamless elevation into the senior ranks is testament to the sterling work our youth coach Martin Deans has carried out over the past few years.
“I honestly believe that the three will have learned more about the game during the three recent tightly contested matches than in their entire fledgling careers to date.
“The recent results have stemmed also from an upturn in the performances of our overseas player Chathura Peiris. Not only have we signed someone who is a good cricketer, but also understands the community aspect of our club that we work so hard to foster, and we are already hoping that he will be with the club for many years to come.
“It could well be a memorable year for us, with the youth teams picking up wins, the seconds going well and our Ladies team reaching the cup final. I sincerely hope this feelgood factor continues as we enjoy our cricket on an off the field.
CEBO CELEBRATES AS FOXIES HUNT MORE SUCCESS
There’s also been a dramatic upsurge in the results at Ballymagorry, where last season’s strugglers Fox Lodge have been one of the surprise packages of this campaign.
While the young team have all been chipping in, it’s been the solid batting of skipper Brian Allen and overseas player Cebo Tshiki who have been instrumental in the revival.
South African Tshiki struggled in his maiden season at Ballymagorry, but Fox Lodge’s faith in him has been rewarded with a series of strong performances. What did he attribute his improved form to?
“I have been working harder, hitting more balls at practice, in a determined effort to try to give myself the best chance of scoring runs, and it seems to be working,” said Tshiki.
“There’s a great team spirit at Fox Lodge, and we are enjoying each others company. Everyone has the self-belief that we can beat anyone in the league if we all give 100% on game days.
“I’m really enjoying it here, as the people are friendly and the weather had been good enough so far, which has really helped.”
Fox Lodge have a home match against bottom of the table Ardmore, and victory in the contest would go a long way to avoiding automatic relegation.
“For us it’s about taking it one game at a time and we obviously played in the relegation play-off game last year. Staying up in this league is still our main priority right now and hopefully we can achieve that.”
BREADY LOOK TO RETAIN T20 TROPHY
While the Senior Cup takes centre stage on Sunday as Donemana host Brigade in their quest for a seventh consecutive triumph, there’s T20 action before that tonight.
Defending champions Bready have home advantage against Donemana, with the Magheramason side on a roll as they currently top the league table.
Bready won the NW T20 competition last year with a convincing win over Coleraine, with their professional Irosh Samarasooriya playing a pivotal role.
The Sri Lankan scored a match winning century in their league win at Eglinton and will be vital to their chances of overcoming a powerful Donemana side who are starting to play with confidence after an uninspiring start to the season.
There’s the added incentive for Bready if they will the competition in that they are scheduled to host the All-Ireland T20 finals day in August, when the four regional winners will assemble. Cork County are the first team through after winning the Munster tournament.
FOX LODGE AND STRABANE SAINTS REACH LADIES CUP FINAL
Fox Lodge will meet Strabane Saints in the Ladies Cup final following the Ballymagorry sides 8-wicket win over Burndennett.
Julie Logue (37) and Kylie McGarrigle (18) shared an opening stand of 60 off the opening ten overs.
Mollie Devine (3-19) changed the course of the tie, taking the key wickets of Logue, McGarrigle and Arbuckle.
Nicola Arbuckle (14) and Megan McGettigan (15) both made double figures in a final Burndennett total of 101 off their 20 overs.
Julie Logue struck in the first over to give Burndennett hope, but a superb second wicket stand of 96 between Emma Allen and player of the match Mollie Devine ensured a routine win for the hosts.
Allen struck three boundaries in her unbeaten 47 from 45 balls (3 fours), while Devine made 35 before being trapped lbw by Logue (2-10) with just six needed.
Hannah McLaughlin joined Allen and they knocked off the six required to win with 3.4 overs to spare.
Their opponents in the showpiece decider will be Strabane Saints who were given a walkover into the final after Eglinton forfeited.