BREADY STAY ON HISTORIC TITLE TRACK

Gareth McKeegan was the toast of the division on Saturday after the Brigade opener starred in his side’s telling league win at the Holm; a result that puts a massive dent in the champions’ quest to retain their title.

It is the second time in the past month that Andy Britton’s side has gone into the lion’s den and emerged with the spoils and it is a result that now gives Bready a truly outstanding chance to claim their first ever top-flight championship win.

McKeegan’s contribution was simply superb- 21 fours and 16 sixes in a 149-ball 216 not out as Brigade fought back from 111-4 chasing 287 to win. The Beechgrove side never lost another wicket from there; Kyle Magee providing the foil for his partner at the other end with an ultra-patient 34 not out (3 fours and 2 sixes) with the teenager facing 82 balls in his excellent supporting role as they added an unbroken partnership of 176.

William McClintock’s early 4-wicket blast (4-52) had left the reigning champs in with a chance of pulling off a win that had looked very unlikely earlier in the day. Mark Simpson (3-38) and skipper Britton (3-44) had combined to stunning effect in the first six overs to leave the hosts batting in tatters at 19-5 before Ricky-Lee Dougherty (77) started the fightback.

The Donemana captain received great support from his middle order with Andrew Riddles (54), Levi Dougherty (51 from just 24 balls including 6 sixes), Graham Boyd (36) and Willie McBrine (36) helping their side post what looked a highly-competitive total of 286.

It looked plenty when Simpson and Britton were in full flow, however this was to be all about McKeegan and it was his effort that sends Brigade into cup final week on the crest of a wave.

With Donemana and Brigade tripping each other up this season the way was left clear for Bready to tighten their title strangle-hold as they entertained Ardmore. The Bleachgreen boys have been out of both form and luck this season and that is rarely a good combination, however they had few excuses here.

Batting frailties were exposed again and After Azeem Ghumman (54) and Decker Curry (28) had taken their score to a promising 128-2, the wheels were once again set to leave the wagon. Curry’s run-out was the breakthrough the hosts needed, and they wasted little time in tucking into a vulnerable middle and lower order.

David Rankin proved the most successful of the bowlers with 3-14 followed in by Craig Young (2-30) but it was very much a team effort as Ardmore added just 46 more runs for those last 8 wickets.

Ireland International Rankin wasn’t done there either and he proceeded to anchor the leaders’ replying- hitting 11 fours in his unbeaten 77. Irosh Samarasooriya kept his team-mate good company at the other end; the Sri Lankan hitting 8 fours and a six in his attacking 61 before being bowled by Gary Neely. It was to matter little however as the job was all but done as Bready racked up another impressive scalp.

With 5 games to go, Davy Scanlon’s men are probably three wins away from claiming that first-ever title and few would begrudge them the honour in a season where so far at least, they have been by some way the most consistent team in the region.

It is of course a different story at the ‘Green where Ardmore, who have won just 2 of their first 9 games now need to win 3 of their last 5 to have any hope of surviving. There will be plenty of time for enquiries when the short nights roll in because for now, Neely’s team simply need to grind out a couple of results to give them some sort of push.

Strabane have all but secured their Premier Division status after a convincing 7-wicket win over previous leaders Coleraine. The Bannsiders, missing Tim and Varun Chopra as well as Marcus Poskitt, were dismissed for just 93 at the Park- only Paul Douglas (26) and Graham Hume (21) making much inroads as the visitors struggled to find any rhythm with the bat.

Varun could well be out for the season with a shoulder injury which would be a big blow to their bowling options, but the home side looked decent in attack here with Rachit Gaur (3-18) and Chathura Peiris (3-27) particularly lively.

The Red Caps were on top pretty much throughout in truth and although they lost three wickets on their way to the victory target, Aaron Gillespie (30), Rhys Logue (28 not out) and a very quick unbeaten 26 from Ryan Gallagher ensured they made no mistake.

It was a massive win for rejuvenated Strabane who might be thinking that but for a blip in the reverse fixture they could well have been title-contenders themselves this summer. As it is they consolidate their place in the top half of the table and on recent form are nobody’s mugs in this topsy-turvy campaign.

Senior Cup finalists Eglinton warmed up for the weekend with a bloodless victory up at Fox Lodge. Barry Scott’s 26 was best of the home side’s very disappointing 100 all out- Cebo Tshiki (17), Aaron Heywood (16) and Brian Allen (14) best of the rest as the Foxies struggled manfully for a full 36 overs.

Ross Allen bowled superbly to finish with figures of 5-17 while Lee Ritchie, who skippered Ballyspallen in last year’s showpiece decider, ensured his place with the villagers this time as he backed the Warriors spinner up with 4-29.

The visitors needed just 11 overs to secure their maximum-points win- Andy Millar with 55 (8 fours and a six) and man-of-the-match Allen (35 not out) prompting something of a rout. After a promising start to their league campaign things have been a little more difficult for the Ballymagorry boys of late. Skipper Allen is well aware they’ll need a win or two yet before they can feel totally safe however Stuart Thompson’s team will now go into the cup final in decent nick.

In the Championship, Glendermott enjoy a healthy lead with just three games to go after they won at St Johnston. The queue behind them has really tightened up however with just a handful of points separating Ballyspallen, ‘Clooney and Burndennett after ‘Spallen won the battle of second v third while ‘Dennett beat Newbuildings.

Bonds Glen are now adrift at the foot of the table after they lost at Drummond however there’s a break for a few days now as the Union prepares for the senior cup final between Brigade and Eglinton which gets under way at Bready on Friday.