CRUNCH WEEKEND LOOMS FOR CHAMPIONSHIP SIDES

There is action on several fronts this coming weekend for second-tier sides; a full programme in the league on Saturday followed by a couple of quarter-final ties in the National Cup and one semi-final in the Sammy Jeffrey Shield some 24-hours later.

The Championship’s top three are all competing on both days, as too are Bonds Glen who despite currently sitting bottom of the table will be hoping to make it to their second final of the season.

The Bee Gees stunned Glendermott in last Thursday night’s Eric Cooke T20 semi-final at the Glen before losing very heavily at home to them in Saturday’s league meeting. The two will meet again this Sunday, their third meeting in ten days at the same venue, with a place in the two-day decider at Eglinton on the line.

There will be no need for name badges this weekend and the nature of this season will mean that those last two matches will count for nothing. What is difficult to ignore however is how impressive the visitors were in the league game and their quality simply wore the hosts down. Johnny Haslett’s team cannot afford to let them get away like that if they are to reach the Jeffrey final.

Ballyspallen will have their ambition tested over the weekend as they plan for a couple of difficult games over the two days. On Saturday they go to a Newbuildings side who returned to form in the league last time out- hitting a Ted Rodgers (321) in a solid victory over Killyclooney. Both sides will be keen to avoid a repeat of their recent bad-tempered game in the Roe Valley but with plenty at stake, the pair are likely to have eyes fixed on the points this time.

On Sunday, Mark Averill’s team go head-to-head with St Johnston at the Boathole in the quarter-finals of this year’s National Cup. The Bridge Park outfit showed their liking for knockout cricket on their way to both domestic two-day senior finals last season and they have plenty of potential match-winners in their ranks.

The Saints are no slouches themselves obviously and the fact that they have use of their own patch makes them a very real threat. The younger lads at the club are now well bedded-in at senior level and as always, their strength lies in that team spirit. The visitors will start clear favourites to progress but that won’t bother the home side one bit.

Those aren’t the only North West sides left in the All-Ireland competition either- Drummond making the journey to North Dublin to take on Rush in their quarter-final. This will be a huge ask for the struggling Championship side but with the pressure off them for a week it wouldn’t just quite be water into wine miracle if they were to win.
Saturday’s two remaining league matches see leaders Glendermott entertain Chris Moore’s team while St Johnston host Burndennett. The Rectory side were flagged up as one of the promotion favourites this year and the addition of David and Gordon Cooke was certainly a sign of intent from Bonds Street.

They have now taken a decent advantage at the top of the table and could be difficult to pull back, but such is the inconsistent nature of both senior divisions this time, nothing can or will be taken for granted. Still, with both Cookes as well as Alan Johnson, Gordon Montgomery and Jason Lynch all enjoying decent campaigns so far, it would be a surprise to see the home side miss out.

Drummond have found life difficult even at this level this time around and they will be relieved that it is highly unlikely there will be any relegation from the Championship in 2018. The club looks to have a bit of work on its hands to plot a way back towards staying competitive and don’t currently seem to have the personnel required in the longer term.

Hopefully they can find a fix for their problem, but it might require an overseas presence at least in the immediate future.

The Saints and Burndennett are another couple of sides to have gone without the “pro” option although ‘Dennett did manage to entice a trio of players into the club in the week before the season started, and that has definitely helped their cause. Eddie McGettigan’s men have hung around in the top half of the table thus far and if they can string a few wins together in the next couple of weeks they could yet be a factor in the race themselves.

The Donegal side look like they could very much be one for the future and a thriving youth scene at the Boathole gives hope for the future. For now though it’s a tough one to call with home advantage maybe just swaying it towards the Saints.

CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES FOR SATURDAY
Killyclooney v Bonds Glen
Newbuildings v Ballyspallen
Glendermott v Drummond
St Johnston v Burndennett

NATIONAL CUP QUARTER-FINALS (SUNDAY)
Rush v Drummond
St Johnston v Ballyspallen

SAMMY JEFFREY SHIELD SEMI-FINAL (SUNDAY)
Bonds Glen v Glendermott