TOP-TWO SHOWDOWN HEADS FASCINATING LEAGUE PROGRAMME

With the senior cup final done and dusted, attention now switches to what looks certain to be a fascinating conclusion to this season’s Premier Division league campaign. Bready’s defeat at Donemana at the weekend has really opened things up at the top of the table and realistically, any one of six of the eight are in with some sort of chance of claiming this year’s honours.

Davy Scanlon’s men are still very much in the box seat but are involved in Saturday’s match-of-the-day as they make the short journey to second-placed Strabane. It is a mouth-watering clash between two sides that were considered title favourites by very few before the start of the season.

Truth to tell, most felt that the Red Caps would do well to survive the drop and yet in this topsy-turvy summer they are a win away from really serving a title notice. They will also play Waringstown later this month in an All-Ireland semi-final no less- testament to a brilliant effort this time.

Strabane haven’t really changed much in personnel save for the addition of two players who have really lit the touch paper. Chathura Peiris has improved with both bat and ball the longer he has been here and Rachit Gaur, who also took a couple of weeks to get over a foot injury, has just taken off in the second half of the campaign.

Aaron Gillespie looks to have benefitted immensely from his regular Warriors involvement and batting with William Porterfield at First Class level hasn’t harmed his development at all. Gillespie seems to have settled on a role as a batsman who also bowls, and it has made a huge difference to his game at all levels.

Peter Gillespie can now move around in the order dependant on any given situation- whether it is opening in a big chase or tucking in as a finisher, while Ryan Gallagher and Khushpal Purewal Singh have also played their part.

Bready have been brilliant themselves, especially in the league, with a success built on their bowling. Gregory McFaul has been a real find, and such are their reserves at present that Reece Kelly, a great talent in his own right, has only had a bit-part role since returning from the UK.

Skipper Scanlon and Craig Young have been superb with the new ball and with McFaul, Irosh Samarasooriya, Conor Olphert, and Kelly providing the support, it is easy to see how they have bowled a lot of sides out cheaply. Andy Lucas and David Rankin give options with the slower stuff although that is one area in which they could probably do with another body.

The batting is decent but has certainly been helped by Andrew Austin’s return from University. Rankin has been excellent again but it’s an order that has depended at times on Young and Scanlon as well, and a middle-order option might well be on the wish-list over the winter.

As a contest it is far too close to call- Bready possibly marginal favourites on overall form this season but the hosts now with a real wind in their sails and fearing no-one.

Cup finalists Brigade and Eglinton are in action on both days this weekend; playing each other on Sunday in a re-arranged league match after taking on the division’s bottom two 24-hours earlier. In order to be involved in the title race, you suspect that one of them needs to win twice.

The cup winners should be too strong for a Fox Lodge side that has picked up no points at all in their last three games- a stat that could leave them vulnerable considering that Ardmore at the bottom have claimed 9 in the same period without winning either.

The Ballymagorry side needs a win from one of their final four games- against Brigade, Donemana, Coleraine or crucially Ardmore if they are to avoid bottom spot.

Gary Neely’s team are now in full survival mode and will be hoping to catch the villagers cold as they too bid to beat the drop. They should have had enough about them not to have been sucked into the dogfight and the skipper will be hoping that they can find two wins in their last four matches that would dig them out of trouble.

There is nothing easy for them either- Brigade and Donemana the two other sides on their fixture list other than this one and that pivotal Fox Lodge showdown at the Green in two weeks’ time. Given what’s at stake here for the visitors they might be able to nick something.

Saturday’s final top-flight encounter sees Coleraine host Donemana and again the current champions simply have to win if they are to stay in the race. It will have been a very disappointing season for Ricky-Lee Dougherty’s men if they don’t manage to claw back a deficit that can be traced back to their opening league games- losing to Bready, Eglinton and Coleraine out of their first four fixtures.

The Bannsiders have managed to hang in the title race as well and with games against Eglinton and Fox Lodge to come, a win here would tee-up a real cracker of a game against Bready next weekend. Scott Campbell won’t be worrying about the second game just yet because Donemana are one side they won’t want to look beyond.

The Holm side had to pull out all the stops to get past the league leaders last weekend, but we know what they’re like when they sense there’s a trophy at stake, no matter how big the ask. The champions showed the sort of resolve that they’re going to need in the run-in during that run-fest in Tyrone and another win here would really get them interested in an unlikely defence of their title.

All in all it should be a really interesting weekend at both ends of the league table and we’ll bring you reports of these matches on Monday.

Saturday fixtures
Coleraine v Donemana
Strabane v Bready
Brigade v Fox Lodge
Eglinton v Ardmore

Sunday fixture
Brigade v Eglinton