Brigade on the cusp of the title
It has been a case of when rather than if Brigade secure the Premiership title, and if results go their way then the Beechgrove side could well have the league trophy in the cabinet this weekend ahead of the senior cup final.
Recent weeks have seen them grow stronger and stronger with a series of very comprehensive wins, and this was again the case at the weekend when Ryan MacBeth took six wickets in their eight wicket demolition of Coleraine.
Brigade’s squad have all chipped in with solid match winning displays throughout the campaign, and they have that quality which most NW sides find elusive – depth.
They will be wary though of the threat posed by their opponents on Saturday as they travel to a Ballyspallen side in desperate need of points as they are embroiled in a four-way relegation dogfight. They ran Donemana close, before eventually going down to a two-wicket loss.
Graham Kennedy and Brendan Louw are their two stand-out performers, but it will need more of a squad effort if they are to take anything from the game. They can draw inspiration though from their victory at Beechgrove in the T20 group game earlier this season – to date the only domestic defeat for Andy Britton’s side.
The biggest game of the day is at Strabane Park, where the home side take on Coleraine in a match will go a long way to deciding which team is automatically relegated. Defeat for either would leave them with an uphill battle for survival, with only three rounds of games left after the weekend.
Strabane looked rejuvenated in their win against Glendermott after a horror show against Bready. There were wickets early for overseas professional Chathura Peiris and Aaron Gillespie, who was also in the runs as they chased down 163 to win by eight wickets. The return of Kevin Gallagher following injury has also helped with the balance of the team, and his runs at the top of the order undoubtedly helped,
It’s been a miserable season for the Bannsiders as they have struggled with player availability and form. Graham Hume has been the notable exception, but teams seem content to adopt a low risk strategy against the South African seamer and score their runs at the other end. They know that last chance saloon is approaching fast and will be targeting this fixture as must-win. It should be an intriguing clash.
Donemana and Eglinton still have slim outside chances of pipping Brigade if they experience a ‘Devon Loch’ run-in, however unlikely that scenario seems. On their day, Donemana are more than a match for anyone, but this season has seen a series of uncharacteristically sloppy displays. They were back to their dominant best in the T20 thumping of Eglinton in midweek, buoyed by the fighting win over Ballyspallen, with Levi Dougherty top scoring with an excellent half century. They will be missing Andy McBrine who is on Ireland Test duty at Lord’s, but have enough squad depth to compensate for his absence.
It’s been an excellent season for Eglinton who even without the services of Stuart Thompson for the majority of the campaign have managed to occupy a top four berth well clear of the relegation scrap.
They have in Mike Erlank one of the best all-round professionals in the country, while the majority of the squad have chipped in with vital contributions when needed. The emergence of teenager Tommy Orr at the top of the order has added quality and dynamism, and this was never more evident than at the weekend when they swept aside defending champions Bready by 9 wickets.
Cup finalists Glendermott go into the final looking over their shoulder after being dragged right into the relegation more with their poor showing at Strabane. That defeat means they badly need to pick up points and where better than at The Rectory against Bready. They knocked Bready out of the cup and that win will give them undoubted confidence for this fixture. Their overseas player Keshan Wijerathne is the leading wicket taker in the region and in the Cooke brothers have two of the most consistent players around.
Bready have blown hot and cold and skipper David Scanlon will be unsure just which side will appear. David Rankin has been among the runs in recent weeks and likes the Rectory ground, having bludgeoned a rapid century in their T20 win. They will be missing their two U19 players, with Marcus Poskitt and Gregory McFaul at the Ireland World Cup Qualifiers in The Netherlands. This one is hard to call, with Glendermott’s need more than Bready’s plus home advantage maybe swinging it marginally towards them.
In the Championship, Ardmore travel to Newbuildings needing a win to keep the pressure on leaders Burndennett. Fox Lodge will look to beat Bonds Glen as they too have outside hopes for promotion, while St Johnston take on Killyclooney.
Sunday sees the semi-finals of the Sammy Jeffrey Shield, with Ardmore entertaining Burndennett, and St Johnston hosting Newbuildings.
Finally, this year’s Ladies Cup final will see Killyclooney taking on Fox Lodge after both sides emerged victorious from the semi-finals against Newbuildings and Burndennett. The date and venue are still tbc by the NWCU.