Brigade juggernaut rolls on
There seems no stopping the Brigade juggernaut, and it now appears a matter of not if but when they will be crowned Premier league champions. The Beechgrove side are unbeaten and it would be a major surprise if they werenít to record their 10th straight league win when they take on Coleraine.
Brigade have that elusive ingredient which is lacking in so many of their rivals Ė depth. They have a squad of 13-14 players who all have contributed to their successful run. There has no questions over their bowling unit which has been one of the strongest in the country for the past five years. Their close season signings added further quality with the signings of Ross Allen and Rachit Gaur.
Those pair joined proven performers in skipper Andy Britton, Ryan MacBeth, Ifty Hussain, Johnny Thompson, and Johnny Robinson, meaning they have seven quality performers giving the opposition little respite.
The batting unit has really fired this year too following a few seasons of inconsistency. The top order has taken responsibility with four of the top six making hundreds. Ifty Hussain has made three hundreds in a season to remember, while opener DD Barr (two) has forged an excellent partnership with the swashbuckling Gareth McKeegan. Teenager Kyle Magee has continued to mature and it all adds up to an excellent all-round side who will be deserved champions next month.
Looking to tear up the script on Saturday are Coleraine, who are in desperate need of points at the other end of the table, involved in a relegation dogfight with Strabane, Glendermott and Ballyspallen. The Bannsiders have struggled with availability problems all season, and rarely have managed to get their strongest XI on the park.
South African overseas player Graham Hume is their only player to feature in the top 20 of either the bowling or batting averages, and that in itself tells its own story. It will take a major push in the final season by the whole squad if the campaign isnít to end in tears.
Strabane are the side looking upwards at the rest of the league after another demoralising loss to Bready last weekend. They didnít help their own cause by dropping five chances which could have made such a difference to their target. They looked weak and lacklustre, but tomorrow is another day and no doubt there will have been much soul-searching in the Red Caps camp ahead of a fixture against Glendermott, which they will be marking as must-win.
Itís been a tough week for the Rectory side following the death of club legend John Watson, and the way they were dismantled by bitter rivals and next monthís cup final opponents Brigade will have given cause for concern. However, with places at the two innings showdown on offer, there will be a determination to put things right and hopefully improve their league standings before the showdown at Eglinton. This game is a real 50-pointer and will go a long way to determining their final standings.
Defending champions Bready take on Eglinton with both sides enjoying comprehensive wins last weekend. The Magheramason side are playing with great confidence and freedom, with a nice spine of experience helping the younger players embed in the set-up. None more so than Irish international David Rankin who scored another century against Strabane, while skipper David Scanlon impressed with both bat and ball.
Eglinton will be missing the services of Stuart Thompson, who will be off to Lordís as Ireland prepare for their historic Test clash with England next Wednesday. His loss is a huge blow to the villagersí chances as he brings a much needed balance to their line-up. Still, they have quality performers in Mike Erlank and Stephen Dunn Ė who is only behind Glendermottís Sri Lankan professional Keshan Wijerathne in the leading wicket taker stakes in the division. Home advantage might just be the deciding factor here in Breadyís favour.
It hasnít been the happiest of campaigns so far for Donemana, whose title hopes quickly evaporated with three losses in the first half of the season. They too have suffered from availability issues which has hampered their hopes of gaining any sort of momentum.Andy McBrine is on Test duty with Ireland, and it was he along with his father Junior who led the demolition job on Coleraine, with four wicket hauls apiece.
Thereís no doubting the quality on offer at The Holm, but hopefully skipper Andrew Riddles can gel the squad to finish the season strongly and pick up the Faughan Valley trophy.
Ballyspallen travel needing points after they were soundly beaten at Eglinton. They have been inconsistent this season after their promotion in the Championship. Their batting has become increasingly fragile in the past month and it will take a major improvement if they are to get anything from their trip to Donemana.
In the Championship, Burndennett will be strongly favoured to take the first step towards the title and a first appearance in the Premiership as they take on Bonds Glen. In the other two games, St Johnston entertain third placed Fox Lodge, while Killyclooney entertain Newbuildings.
Bready v Eglinton
Donemana v Ballyspallen
Strabane v Glendermott
Brigade v Coleraine
Killyclooney v Newbuildings
St Johnston v Fox Lodge
Burndennett v Bonds Glen