BRIGADE AND EGLINTON SQUARE UP IN CUP SHOWDOWN

Two relatively “new” sides will line up at the start of the 2018 senior cup final at Bready on Friday (12 noon) as Brigade and Eglinton bid to claim the famous old trophy at the end of Donemana’s period of stunning cup dominance.

There will be a strange feel to events to some degree with the outgoing holders not involved in the showpiece decider for the first time since 2010. They were beaten by Bready in the 2011 final and after that went on their well-documented six-in-a-row, therefore this looks sure to be an intriguing weekend given the recent records of this season’s combatants.

Brigade actually won that 2010 showdown- getting the better of Strabane at Eglinton and now it is the villagers who stand in Andy Britton’s team’s way of another success. Stuart Thompson’s men won the trophy themselves in 2006- the Red Caps again the beaten finalists here- and they are very worthy opponents for the Beechgrove boys.

The two sides last met in the cup in the 2015 semi-final when Eglinton went to Beechgrove and easily saw off the home side after half centuries from Thompson, Oraine Williams and Craig Averill. Only one of that trio will take the field on Friday, however the villagers’ skipper is an even more potent threat now than then and Brigade’s work will never be done while he is involved.

They’re far from a one-man band of course and in professional Mike Erlank, Eglinton have a player of real quality who has been threatening to showcase his talents on a stage like this. The 28-year old South African could have a huge say in the outcome of the game- as too could the likes of Ross Allen who is another big-game player.

Eglinton’s line-up is full of players who are capable of playing a key role- including Lee Ritchie who captained Ballyspallen in last season’s final.

Many will feel that Brigade are favourites now that Donemana are out of the way and pound-for-pound they certainly have an edge. Mark Simpson looks sure to get the nod after a string of big recent performances and he will be backed up by Andy Britton, Ryan Macbeth and Johnny Thompson in the seam department.

Iftikhar Hussain will look to keep the middle overs tight, but the big team news coming out of Beechgrove is that Jonny Robinson, who flew to Spain on a family holiday at the start of the week could well fly home at the weekend to play in the game before continuing his vacation. That would certainly be an indication of how much the Waterside team has their heart set on claiming the trophy.

Strangely enough Brigade’s batting has been found wanting on several occasions this season and they have relied on skipper Britton more than once. There is no lack of talent in there- Niall McDonnell, David Barr, and of course Gareth McKeegan, fresh from his double-century last weekend backed up by the likes of Thompson, Britton, Chris Dixon, David Murdock and young Kyle Magee who has really matured judging by recent performances.

The favourites tag means nothing on its own of course and it will be about whose players turn up over the two days. The fact that a disappointing league campaign has left both clubs with this single target will mean that each will be fully focused on the job in hand and it would be no surprise to see this one going down to the wire.

Action on both days gets under way at 12 noon and admission is £5 (£3 concession). As always, no alcohol carry-outs will be permitted inside the ground as food and beverages will be available inside the Magheramason venue.

Both these sides were due to meet in the league on 7 July- games which were postponed because of the Warriors involvement in the T20 festival in Dublin on the same weekend. That programme will now be replayed on Sunday after the cup final although understandably the Brigade v Eglinton clash has been further postponed given that the Sunday is also available to finish the cup match if required.

League leaders Bready will have their title credentials severely tested when they travel to the Holm. Despite the teams’ respective current form, Donemana are the most dangerous of wounded lions and Davy Scanlon’s men will know they are in a game. The flip side of that of course is that a win here would really see the visitors start to genuinely think about bringing that title back to HQ.

Personnel may well dictate the respective fortunes here and while Bready are probably slight underdogs, there is no doubting they definitely have more at stake.

Second-placed Strabane, fresh from that stunning Irish Senior Cup semi-final win at Phoenix Park, are involved in another crunch game as they welcome Fox Lodge to the Park. Having lost at Ballymagorry at the start of the season, Tommy Barr’s team have really turned things around and the impact of Rachit Gaur, Chathura Peiris and Khushpal Singh as well as the Gillespie boys and Ryan Gallagher has forged Strabane into a compact unit this year.

After their excellent start, the Ballymagorry men have hit the buffers just a touch of late and although they have a two-match cushion over Ardmore, they could really use another win to keep the wolves from the door.

For their part, Gary Neely’s men absolutely have to find wins from somewhere and a defeat at Coleraine on Sunday could well leave them with no way back. Azeem Ghumman is, as we already know, a more than useful addition, however the Bleachgreen side’s confidence looks shot.

If Ghumman, Decker or Paul McDowell don’t get runs it is very difficult to think where they might come although Ardmore will be hoping that Coleraine are in the same form as they were at Strabane last weekend. The Sandel Lodge side looked woefully out of touch and seem to be struggling to get a competitive side out at present.

This is a decent chance for the bottom side and it is one they must seize with both hands.

SENIOR CUP FINAL

BRIGADE V EGLINTON
(At Bready CC, Friday 27 and Saturday 28 July- 12 noon start)

PREMIER DIVISION
Coleraine v Ardmore
Strabane v Fox Lodge
Donemana v Bready
(All Sunday 29 July- 12 noon starts)