TOUGH DRAWS FOR LOCAL SIDES AS IRISH SENIOR CUP BEGINS

It's a quick break from league commitments for Division 1 sides this coming Saturday as the country's premier blue riband competition, the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup takes top billing. It's obviously a big occasion for most and in particular for Coleraine and St Johnston, two clubs who will use the occasion to officially open new facilities at their grounds. Another side that will keen to do well is Donemana, the Tyrone side hoping to reach the final for the third consecutive season. As always there are five local sides playing at home and five away and here we take a look at their chances this weekend.

PHOENIX V GLENDERMOTT

It's been a mixed start to the new campaign for the Rectory side as they were given a bit of a hammering on the opening day at Fox Lodge before last Saturday' equally convincing win at home to St Johnston. Their new signings will have to be given time to settle in of course but it has always been these sort of occasions that have brought the best out in Stephen Smyth. The stylish left hander came good in some style on his Rectory debut last Saturday and if he carries that sort of form with him to Dublin he would give his side a big chance. Professional Hanke Van Rauenstein hasn't exactly enjoyed a dream start to competitive duty with Glendermott but there is sure to be a lot more in the locker, while Craig Averill by contrast has hit the ground running and looks in good touch. A trip to the capital is probably not what the Bonds Street boys needed in the third week in the season even though their hosts are now plying their trade in the second division of the Leinster league. The Southerners still have plenty of quality despite their surroundings and they must still start favourites to progress.

NORTH COUNTY V EGLINTON

It's usually the way that when you're down nothing seems to go right and Andy Christie has certainly drawn the short straw with this challenge. The North West side did well enough at Beechgrove on the opening day but followed that up with a bit of a drubbing at home to Donemana at the weekend and whilst this is a big occasion for them it's hard to believe that minds will be fixed on anything other that top flight survival this season. A trip to Balrothery is a big ask for any side but the depleted villagers haven't had their sorrows to seek this year and could be vulnerable. On the plus side of course they will be meeting a County side minus several key players of their own; Andre Botha and John Mooney among those missing as they enjoy the warmth of the Caribbean sun. If there is a good time to play the Leinster kingpins it could be now, however you would have to say there have been few better times to play the North West side in recent times either. With their overseas man in tow you wouldn't imagine that Eglinton will be embarrassed but conversely it would probably also rank as the biggest upset in the tournament's recent history if they won.

BRIGADE V INSTONIANS

What a game this could be with the title favourites in both regions clashing at Beechgrove. Brigade have made a good start to the domestic campaign but were badly found out at Comber in a pre-season friendly prior to that. Friendlies count for nothing of course but the manner of that defeat hardly inspires confidence and the Waterside club has it all to do against the NCU league and cup winners. The Belfast outfit boasts a magnificent batting line up that includes Rory McCann, John Stevenson, James Shannon and professional Davy Jacobs and their skipper Eugene Moleon is eyeing a sustained challenge in this tournament. The local side will be hoping that Andy White is still away on International duty as this is one player really capable of hurting teams with both bat and ball. Mark Simpson can justifiably point to the array of talent in his own corner which makes for what should be a thrilling contest. There will be very few occasions that Brigade will forfeit the favourites tag at home this season, however as strong as the visitors' batting might be, their bowling is not the strongest around and Brigade can exploit that and win..

BREADY V YMCA

Another difficult assignment as Bready host Dublin YMCA at Magheramason in a game the home side would need to be at their best if they hoped to progress. Bready have started with a win and a loss so far but of course are another team coming to terms with the loss of key personnel this year. Steven Clarke looks to be in good touch but against a side boasting real quality quite a few of the home based players will need to be at their best. The Leinster side is skippered by Reinhardt Strydom and he is joined in the trenches by the likes of Paul Beacroft, Etesham Ahmed and James Parkinson. With the Dublin leagues starting behind ours Bready may have a slight edge in terms of match fitness and they will want for nothing in terms of commitment, but although there seems to be a pattern emerging here, the visitors might just shade it.

STRABANE V MERRION

The North West champions have a chance of bucking the trend as they entertain Leinster Division 1 side Merrion, captained these days by former Ireland International Dom Joyce. Strabane have made an indifferent start to their season, accounting for Limavady in Week 1 before succumbing to the new, improved Coleraine on Sunday but with Jonathan Beukes now safely settled in they will be hopeful of a bold showing in all competitions including this one. On their day the Red Caps are capable of beating anyone as they proved against Limavady and at full strength they would certainly fancy their chances here. The visitors have quality themselves with the likes of Mike Tichband, Angus Fleming and Jeff Short on the books and are sure to travel north thinking they can pull it off. The Anglesea Road lads will be competing in the top flight of Leinster cricket in 2010 so they certainly can't be taken lightly but Strabane should have enough about them to make home advantage count.

COLERAINE V CLONTARF (SUNDAY)

What can you say other than it's another big day for the joint league leaders as they welcome a crack Leinster side down the coast on the day they officially open their new changing facilities. The club has come on bucket loads since their reprieve from relegation at the back end of last season and the addition of Ian McGregor and Stevie Dunn have proven to be very shrewd moves. Coupled with their marvelous blend of youth and experience Coleraine have made it perfectly clear that they intend to make their mark on the domestic scene this summer and they will be pumped up for this and no mistake. The visitors of course are reigning Leinster champions and when you consider the quality of sides like The Hills, Railway Union and North County that is no mean feat. Joe Morrissey will lead a full strength side on Sunday and Coleraine will be especially keen to keep a close eye on Andrew Poynter. Weather permitting it could be some day for the hosts and after another huge win in Strabane at the weekend they will be buzzing. The visitors will probably nick it but at the minute Coleraine probably feel they can beat anyone.

ST JOHNSTON V MALAHIDE

It's a big day for the Donegal club as well this weekend as they too unveil improvements at their ground ahead of the visit of another Leinster side. There is one or two familiar names on the visitors' team sheet including Johnny Pryor and wicket keeper/ batsman Fintan McAllister, but then Andrew Fleming's side aren't renowned for their fear of reputations. The Saints are making their bow in this competition in its current format having been out of the top flight for 15 years but they were of course winners of the tournament in its previous life. Like Eglinton, the hosts will be more concerned about their league placing this season than harbour any ambitions about the Irish Senior Cup but you can be rest assured that won't get in their way of giving it a real go. The visitors could find the setting taking some getting used to but you would still fancy them to progress to Round 2.

LISBURN V LIMAVADY

The Bob Kerr cup has been proving something of a thorn in the side of Limavady over the past few seasons and there can be little doubt that they blew a serious chance of winning it when falling foul of Duckworth Lewis in 2009. With Decker Curry back at the helm this competition is once again sure to be on the Roesiders' radar and despite being drawn away from home, and an opening day blot already on their card, Limavady have a decent chance of progressing. They could certainly do with finding a settled opening partner for the skipper in McGregor's absence but have several viable options to choose from. The hosts haven't started all that well but with professional Yasas Tillakaratne expected to line up on Saturday they could be a tougher proposition now. David Simpson and Ryan Ervine are other home players capable of a bold showing but Limavady can boost the number of North West sides making it through to the next phase with a win here.

CIYMS V DONEMANA

Most of the gloss was taken off Donemana's All Ireland feat last season with the off field problems and subsequent ban after the 2009 final. The result is that Donemana will have to play all their games in this competition away from home for the next three years and it's hard to believe that that won't affect the Holm side's approach to this year's tournament. Azhar Shaffique again takes charge of a side that surprisingly lost their opening day league clash at home to Coleraine before taking it out on Eglinton and he will notice one or two familiar faces in the opposing dressing room. The Belfast side is skippered by Barry Cooper and also has Derek Heasley and a talented new recruit in Ben McCord in their ranks, however it is almost certain that former Test star Craig McMillan will be on duty for them as well. The New Zealander took part in both games for CIYMS last weekend and could prove quite a handful for the Donemana attack if he has his sights set. This could be really interesting; not least to see how the visitors react to their ban but the Kiwi factor gives the hosts the edge.

BALLYMENA V FOX LODGE

This is possibly the hardest game of the day to call; the hosts being totally outclassed by a strong Instonians side on the opening day of the season whilst the Foxes have started well here. Ballymena will be back to full strength by the weekend, David Kennedy and professional Kaushik Aphale missing the start of the season however the Braidmen's bowling attack is widely believed to be quite suspect. Michael Glass will probably get through plenty of work for them but a strong Foxes batting line up will exploit any weakness. The Ballymagorry men have an abundance of free scoring players and in Brian Allen, Darryl Brown and Jason Milligan a top three capable of causing their hosts a multitude of problems. It's hard to know which of these sides would start favourites but we fancy the Foxes to make the journey home looking forward to the second round.

And finally our Week 2 Team of the week. There was no shortage of candidates this time so we have included a few more all rounders!
Ian McGregor, Craig Averill, Iftikhar Hussein, Stephen Smyth, Peter Gillespie, Mohammed Salman (one professional allowed and although Darryl Brown hit another century, Salman's innings contributed heavily to a huge win for his team- and he keeps.), Andy McBrine, Johnny Thompson, Junior McBrine, Chris Moore and Stevie Dunn.