BREADY LOOK TO TIGHTEN TITLE GRIP

There’s a busy weekend ahead for Premier Division leaders Bready, as Davy Scanlon’s side entertain Ardmore in the league on Saturday before tackling Brigade in the Faughan Valley Cup Final the following day. Having never won the senior title in their history, the Magheramason team would be forgiven for prioritising the points against the Bleachgreen outfit, however such is Scanlon’s competitive edge that he will desperately want to win both.

Saturday’s game should be a cracker especially given the visitors’ need for wins as well. They haven’t enjoyed the greatest of fortune so far this season have Gary Neely’s side, but the skipper is well aware that there will be little sympathy around with the division being as tight as it is.

New Ardmore professional Azeem Ghumman looks a tidy player, however having already lost Kevin Martin for the rest of the season it appears that Steve Lazars has now joined the unavailable list. The former Ballymena and Coleraine player is believed to have hurt himself while fielding at Beechgrove on Sunday and could be side-lined for a few weeks.

It’s hardly ideal for a team in real need of safety points and Ardmore will be hoping that any or all of Paul McDowell, Decker Curry or Ghumman come off with the bat against a side with the most potent attack in the league.

Ireland International Craig Young has put Bready’s title-charge down to the recent good weather helping conditions for the seamers and the fact that they’ve stayed injury-free in the main.

“It’s as open a league as I can remember and we’re thinking- why not? We have good options with the ball and young Gregory McFaul has done brilliantly since he came in too; that’s what has helped us stay on top in games.”

“There are plenty of good sides in the league but with six matches to go we just need to worry about what we’re doing. If we keep to our disciplines, then we have a chance and that’s how we’re looking at it” said Young.

Second-placed Coleraine go to Strabane Park on Saturday and here too it’s a big weekend for the home side. On Sunday, Tommy Barr’s team travel to Dublin’s Phoenix Park after their Irish Senior Cup quarter-final tie in Tyrone last Sunday fell victim to the weather. It’s obviously a showpiece game for the former North West champions but you could hazard a guess that Saturday’s points are a bigger prize in the grander scheme of things.

The Bannsiders have done really well considering the players they lost over the winter and remain a live threat in the title race heading into the last handful of games. They have probably exceeded their own expectations up to this point but certainly haven’t looked out of place in the top half of the table.

It’s a very difficult game to call, this one- Strabane in decent touch themselves will know that a win here would all but cement their safety in the top flight and the visitors looking to keep the pressure on should Bready slip up against Ardmore.

The final match of the day should really have been the star billing as Brigade go to Donemana, however the respective league form of the two clubs has put paid to any thoughts of it being a title shoot-out.

The Beechgrove side are now 70 points (three wins) behind the league leaders with just 6 matches to go while Donemana are one win better off at the same stage. A victory for either will cause irreparable damage to the other’s chances of staying involved in the race for much longer.

The visitors of course have a senior cup final to look forward to; something that we’ve become accustomed to with the hosts. There may well be one or two places up for grabs too which could be an interesting aside, but with little really at stake for Brigade in terms of a title shot, Donemana will start favourites.

It has been a strange sort of season for the current holders, but we’re well aware by now that if anybody can claw back a deficit it is them. They do have that cup semi-final defeat last month to put behind them yet it’s distinctly possible that Brigade would prefer to play the champions here as opposed to at Beechgrove at the minute- the home side’s spinners always more vulnerable in the tighter confines of the Holm.

Given the quality in the respective ranks it should be a decent game but there’s no doubt that there is much more at stake for Ricky-Lee Dougherty’s team. Whether that in itself will be enough remains to be seen.

Finally, for now the finals of the North West T20 competitions will take place at the Rectory this coming Sunday. Supporters are asked to take note of the venue change after Ballyspallen’s fixture backlog put paid to them being able to host the tournament.

The Roe Valley club has outstanding games against St Johnston (National Cup) and Killyclooney (Sam Jeffrey Cup) as well as a postponed league game with the Saints to negotiate and were left with little scope to fit everything in.

In the Eric Cooke Cup final Bonds Glen will meet Newbuildings (12 noon start) while in the Faughan Valley decider, league leaders Bready will take on Brigade (4pm).

The Cooke family have been fantastic supporters of North West cricket in memory of former player and International umpire, Eric, and their competition will be even more poignant this year following the passing of Eric’s mother Lily, who presented the trophy last season.

The Faughan Valley Cup should be a cracking game between two sides with a lot of pedigree and plenty of players who thrive in this format.

The two competitions have obviously taken on more significance in recent years with the rise in popularity of T20 cricket and no doubt spectators will be treated to plenty of runs on a pitch renowned for high scoring.

Admission to the games is £5 (£3 concessionary) and as always, proceeds will go directly into the Derry Midweek League’s charity fund.