FINAL FOUR BATTLE FOR SENIOR CUP SHOWDOWN SPOT

The big weekends keep on coming for the North West cricket public and the pace picks up again over the coming days with a full league programme on Saturday followed by the senior cup semi-finals , and also the start of the Sam Jeffrey Shield.

The standout game is obviously the cup match at the Holm where the holders will look to take that penultimate step towards the elusive seven-in-a-row. It’s probably the game that a lot of people suspected might be the final itself, but it’s a really intriguing clash just the way it is.

Donemana will start hot favourites not just because of their immense cup pedigree but also because on their day they can up the ante like no other. Their league performances in the first four games of the season are a case in point. They lost to Bready, Coleraine and Eglinton but in between times went to Beechgrove and thumped Brigade.

The latter performance showed just how emphatic the Holm side can be when their tails are up and there is absolutely no doubt Ricky-Lee won’t need much of a team talk on Sunday.

Yet while the current holders will be everyone’s choice to progress, there are a couple of little imponderables that make this a much closer contest than it looks at first glance. The league game at the Holm last year that was subsequently the subject of a disciplinary hearing where Donemana needed a “6” from James McBrine off the final ball to earn them a tie gives a hint.

One of Donemana’s potencies is their quality spin attack and that was where they were able to bare their teeth this season. Beechgrove suits the spinners down to the ground and while home advantage is a major concession at this stage of the competition, the holders won’t have that particular luxury at the Holm where spin bowling is a much finer art.

It is very difficult to look past a team that hasn’t lost in this competition in 7 years. That said, I’d bet if Brigade were to look for their best opportunity of finally putting one over on the champions it would be a one-innings game where Donemana’s four spinners will need to work a lot harder for their rewards.

The second semi-final also has a clear favourite as Eglinton travel to Newbuildings in a Championship v Premiership tussle. Second-tier sides have a very poor record in these types of shoot-outs but to be fair to Marty Mehaffey’s team, they are one side with the personnel to make this interesting.

They’re a Championship team with Premiership experience throughout the side so it is surprising to see Newbuildings struggling a touch this season in their division. Despite the best efforts of their new overseas man, Clinton Pienaar, it is conceivable that they are finding it difficult to shake the Peat Salmon legacy. If ever there was a time for the South African to make his name at his new club then it is surely now.

Neither side comes into the game in particularly impressive form- Eglinton coming off the back of a heavy defeat at home to Bready while the hosts lost twice in the league last weekend. Obviously, cup cricket can be a different type of animal that won’t count for much come Sunday, however while Newbuildings have some real quality in their ranks, the visitors could well be on another level.

With Stuart Thompson back at the helm it is unlikely that the home side will cut through their batting quite as easily as Bready did and the top-flight side should have enough about them to progress to the final.

Before Sunday’s fare there is that league action to look forward starting at Magheramason where the new leaders will host a Brigade side that, after three straight defeats, now fall in to the “struggling” bracket. Few would have imagined Andy Britton’s men reaching the half way point of the season in bottom place, but that is a genuine possibility for the pre-season favourites.

It should be quite a game too as Davy Scanlon’s outfit continue to show the form that most knew was there but just never seemed to happen for them. The Bready skipper will know that a win here- with Brigade likely have one eye on Sunday’s cup game- could really set the cat among the pigeons in the title race.

Donemana have a little tester themselves against a Strabane side that seems to have relished their underdog tag ahead of the new season. Tommy Barr’s men have really battled hard and were worthy of their win at Beechgrove; indeed, but for that inexplicable defeat at Coleraine earlier in the season the Red Caps may well already have been safe for the summer.

Rachit Gaur looks a useful addition and Aaron Gillespie seems to have come on again for his Warriors involvement over the winter. Peter Gillespie and Ryan Gallagher have both been in good shape and Khushpal Singh is arguably one of the most improved players in the league since moving from St Johnston.

Chathura Peiris looks a decent “pro” for Strabane as well and they really do have a fighting chance of keeping their Premiership place this year. It wouldn’t be beyond the home side to win this, but much will depend on the visitors’ ambitions for this weekend.

Eglinton and Coleraine will square up at the village in another intriguing match-up; the Bannsiders looking to build on a decent campaign so far while the cup semi-finalists need to get back to winning ways if they are to stay in contention.

Coleraine’s success so far has been a combination of a solid top five in their batting over and some top-quality bowling options as well. Scott Campbell and Marcus Poskitt were both badly missed last weekend at Fox Lodge, but both are expected to return to action on Saturday.

Could be a decent game, this one, and again it could be all about focus with the villagers preparing for a cup semi-final.

Ardmore go to Fox Lodge in real need of points at the wrong end of the table because if results go against Gary Neely’s team this weekend it could be a long road back. It would appear that former Glendermott professional, Azeem Ghumman is set to replace South Africa-bound Grant Mokoena after this one so the Bleachgreen club will he hoping for a farewell gift from the talented batsman.

They will need it too because the Foxies have been in excellent form lately; mostly on the back of some superb batting from Cebo Tshiki and skipper Brian Allen.

If Ardmore can keep those two quiet that will be a big part of their job done.



Saturday

PREMIER DIVISION
Eglinton v Coleraine
Fox Lodge v Ardmore
Bready v Brigade
Strabane v Donemana

Sunday

SENIOR CUP SEMI-FINALS
Donemana v Brigade
Newbuildings v Eglinton