Ian Callender (Sunday Life)
ALL roads will lead to Coleraine on Friday night where Sandel Lodge hosts the first competitive cricket of the 2020 season.
The Bannsiders have the honour because they are in a group of three in the T20 Cup – the only senior competition in the North West this season as they take all precautions to ensure a safe programme.
The 15 teams have been put into four groups with Groups 2-4 playing each other once and Group 1 made up by first opponents Ballyspallen and Eglinton – the nearest geographically to Coleraine as the North West opt to cut down on travelling – playing each other three times.
The group winners will go through to semi-finals on the last weekend of August and play for the Senior Cup with the second, third and fourth place teams also playing for the other cups in knock-out games.
Newbuildings have been the busiest in the winter transfer window with Gareth McKeegan, the new captain, and Johnny Thompson joining from last year’s double winners Brigade, along with Ross Dougherty and Stephen McCloskey.
Brigade are in the same group and have only to wait until Saturday week to come up against their former team-mates who have been replaced by the returning Ryan Hunter and Simon Olphert.
Coleraine will have the only professional in Northern Ireland as Graham Hume is now living here, looking to qualify for Ireland in 2022, and joined by veteran David Cooke, the returning Gareth Burns and, from next month, Ireland under-19 international Will Smale, they seem to be a good place to vie for the top prize.
Donemana, who have William McClintock as this year’s captain, were last year’s representatives in the National T20 Cup, inflicting one of only three defeats on Brigade in the provincial final, and will not mind the exclusive T20 action.
They must wait three weeks for Andy McBrine to return from Ireland duty, however, the last current international standing in the North West after Boyd Rankin and Stuart Thompson joined Craig Young in the NCU.
Thompson will be a huge loss to Eglinton who will have two Jamie Millar’s – the latest having moved from Ballyspallen – and two S Dunn’s, Stevie and Simon. Could be fun in scoreboards!
Ardmore are the first visitors to The Holm on Saturday and likely to include their one newcomer, Dave Bezzant, an Australian grade cricketer who has emigrated, but they have lost the experience of Gary Neely and probably Decker Curry, although he has not announced his retirement.
Neely has moved to Burndennett who are in Group 3 with Strabane, Fox Lodge and Bready.
Opening fixtures - Friday: Coleraine v Ballyspallen. Saturday: Killyclooney v Bonds Glen, Donemana v Ardmore, Brigade v St Johnston, Glendermott v Newbuildings, Burndennett v Bready, Strabane v Fox Lodge, Eglinton v Coleraine.