SETTLED STRABANE LOOKING TO CHALLENGE AGAIN

Strabane defied the critics expectations in 2018 with an excellent campaign that saw them challenging for honours on two fronts, reaching the Irish Cup semi-finals and finishing fourth in the Premier League.

It’s been a quiet close season at The Park, although the club have lost the services of talented all-rounder Rachit Gaur to Brigade, which is a major blow.

The club are still hopeful of a late addition or two to bolster their playing ranks, but much of the season’s expectations will rest on the familiar faces which have served them so well in the past.

Talented all-rounder Aaron Gillespie has been busy over the winter, once again playing in Australia, as well as representing Ireland A and the Academy. He can’t wait for the new season to begin.

“We are all really looking forward to it getting under way,” said Gillespie. “We’re going into it with more or less the same team as previously, so we have a pretty close group.

“Obviously I haven’t been around much for club training but from reports everything has been going really well and the guys have been working hard with various indoor and strength and conditioning sessions.

“It’s been a busy time for me, and thankfully my second time round in Australia I had a much better time with the bat and again the experience was again second to none.

“I had ten days at home before I was off to Bristol with the CI academy and it was good to keep the cricket going as constantly playing means I’m feeling ready. I felt I had a good run out to help prepare for the season against some good opponents so looking to kick on from that.”

The air miles are once again clocking up for the 22 year-old, who is in Spain this week with the NW Warriors in the opening interprovincial fixtures. It was a false start though for Gillespie as the opening fixture on Tuesday against defending champions Leinster Lightning was abandoned.

Strabane start their new season at home to Eglinton on Saturday, while for defending champions Bready, it’s a tough opener as they travel to cup holders Brigade at Beechgrove.

The Magheramson side were another to rip up the form book in 2018, racing out of the blocks with comprehensive early wins which meant they were able to freewheel to the first title in their 70 year history.

They were dealt a severe blow by Craig Young’s departure to pastures new in the NCU with Comber. The Irish international was a pivotal figure in their success, with his new-ball partnership with skipper Davy Scanlon the bedrock on which their title was secured. Ryan Barr has also left, moving to Glendermott.

On the credit side Irish U19 international keeper/batsman Marcus Poskitt has joined from Coleraine and he will strengthen their batting – a fact acknowledged by skipper Scanlon.

"Marcus is an excellent signing for Bready and it shows the leaps and bounds the club is making when a player of his calibre wants to come and play here. His addition strengthens our batting department, which people saw as our weakness last year. Along with Andy Austin, Davy Rankin, Irosh, Jamie Magee and Ross Dougherty we feel that's a really decent top six.

"The bowling will be as strong as ever despite losing the two boys. Conor Olphert has come on very well in the past 12 months and Greg McFaul has benefitted a lot from Warriors and U-19 winter training. Reece Kelly will play a bigger role this year and Marc McCloskey is one of a number of others pushing for a spot in the side. We're looking forward to defending our title including a tough first fixture on Saturday.”

Another side who will once again be in the hunt for trophies are Donemana. They suffered an all-too rare barren 2018, and have responded by appointing a new skipper in the form of former Ireland A international all-rounder Andrew Riddles, and a new professional, Bilawal Iqbal, a 29-year old bowling all-rounder.

The Lahore native boasts some impressive numbers with the new ball- 161 wickets including two ten-wicket hauls on his first-class CV. Iqbal looks like being a handful for local batsmen to contend with and the new skipper is hoping he can prompt a change in fortunes for Donemana.

"We're looking forward to getting started and on a personal level I'm looking forward to captaining Donemana" he began. "Dean Mehaffey is a good addition for us and Tom (Riddles) is considering a return as well, having played very little cricket in the past few years. We're looking forward to meeting up with our new pro tomorrow and hope he can help us push to be back among the trophies again."

Donemana will be at full strength for their opening match at The Holm against newly promoted Glendermott on Saturday (1pm).

FOXIES LOOK TO BOUNCE STRAIGHT BACK

In the Championship, Fox Lodge will be looking to make an immediate return to the top flight after being relegated last season. Aaron Heywood takes the skippers armband, and they have signed a new overseas player, Coenie Nel, a 22-year old South African is a batting all-rounder who spent last season playing club cricket in Glasgow.

There is also a new overseas player at Burndennett, with Salman Ahmed joining, and the club will have a new captain, with former Fox Lodge and Glendermott all-rounder Mark Mooney taking charge.

Killyclooney have a familiar look and will once again have West Indian Andre Henry back following his prolific 2018 in which he topped the run charts with 1284 runs at 67.78. Darren Moan is captain again, and he’ll be hopeful of another successful season.

TYRONE SELECT UNDER 20 SIDE

The NWCU have announced details of a new ‘Warriors Challenge Series’ this season that will see Co. Derry versus Co. Tyrone go head-to-head in a series of 50-over and T20 games. The first round of fixtures take place today (THURS) and Friday 26th at Bready. Both games start at 11am with a 50-over match today followed by a T20 game on Friday.

The squads are made up of Under 20 players from the region and General Manager, Peter McCartney, outlined the thinking behind the new series.

“We are looking to close the gap between Under 17 Warriors and the Warriors team. This new series is predominately aimed at our Under 20’s and will give coaches a good opportunity to see not only those players in our current Under 17 set-up but also those players who are impressing in the club game.”

The Tyrone side is as follows: Adam Boyd, Ali Doherty, Aidan Logue (all Fox Lodge), Levi Dougherty (Donemana), William Finlay (Killyclooney), Conor Graham, Thomas Harpur, Rhys Logue (all Strabane), Jack MacBeth (St Johnston), Cameron Knight, Marc McCloskey, Gregory McFaul (all Coleraine).

SATURDAY FIXTURES

PREMIERSHIP
Coleraine v Ballyspallen; Brigade v Bready; Donemana v Glendermott.
CHAMPIONSHIP
Newbuildings v Fox Lodge; Burndennett v Killyclooney; Ardmore v St Johnston.
QUALIFYING ONE
Bready II v Brigade II; Eglinton II v Ardmore II; Fox Lodge II v Bonds Glen II; The Nedd v Donemana II.
QUALIFYING TWO
Ballyspallen II v Coleraine II; Killyclooney II v Glendermott II; Maghera v Newbuildings II; Sion Mills v St Johnston II.
QUALIFYING THREE (all games Sunday)
Bready IV v Donemana; Eglinton III v Donemana III; Fox Lodge III v Ardmore III.