LOCAL SIDES BID TO REACH ALL IRELAND SEMI FINALS
After last weekend's cup semi finals the attention switches to the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup on Saturday as three North West teams look to book their place in the last four of the country's premier cup competition. You would have expected sizeable odds for predicting that Glendermott, Fox Lodge and Coleraine and would be the last trio of local sides left standing and with the first two clashing at the Rectory we know that at least one of them will make the semi finals. There is action too in what is turning out to be a thrilling championship campaign as the domestic season heads towards the halfway stage. Strabane have already played their scheduled game at Glendermott earlier this week when they beat third placed Glendermott in a thoroughly entertaining match to keep the pressure on the leaders. The big game of the day on Saturday is at the other end however as St Johnston host Eglinton in a contest that weather permitting, will see one of them take a huge psychological advantage in the race to avoid the drop. The following then is a complete list of the upcoming fixtures-
BOB KERR IRISH SENIOR CUP
GLENDERMOTT V FOX LODGE
What a day it promises to be at the Rectory on Saturday as two of this season's surprise packages go toe-to-toe looking to book a place in the semi-finals of the country's most prestigious cup competition. There are plenty of sub plots thrown in; Gary Neely had captained the Ballymagorry side for the past couple of seasons before returning to Bonds Street whilst Foxes' all-rounder Mark Mooney has also been on the books at Glendermott. Both men could have pivotal roles to play and particularly Neely who is in the form of his life with the new ball at present. The former Ireland paceman leads the North West bowling averages after a string of superb performances and looks set to provide a very stern test to his former team mates at the top of the Foxes' order. The visitors are currently joint top of the table with Limavady having lost just once all season in the league and their batting has been the backbone of that magnificent run. Jason Milligan, Brian Allen, Johnny Heywood, the aforementioned Mooney and Andrew McGinnis are all very capable in the middle whilst Darryl Brown and Johnny Robinson have been brilliant for them in both disciplines, the latter in particular enjoying a season to remember. Andy Britton, McGinnis and Gareth Heywood have provided the new ball spark as the Foxes have shown no sign of wilting.
Glendermott have their big players too of course; Gordon Montgomery's side boasting a batting order headed by Craig Averill and David Barr and boosted by the quality of Stephen Smyth, Bob Robinson, Montgomery himself and the increasingly impressive Hanke von Rauenstein. The fact that they will have home advantage and a big, boisterous crowd behind them will make this a real test although the visitors will no doubt bring a substantial following of their own. Much depends on the top four for Glendermott and you get the feeling that two of them need to score heavily. Anything else would make Brian Allen's side very difficult to beat.
COLERAINE V RAILWAY UNION
It's been a strange sort of season for the Bannsiders thus far; flying out of the traps in the opening weeks before finding life altogether more difficult in recent times. There's no knocking their performances in this competition however and the Leinster kingpins will head northwards taking nothing for granted. Ireland 's sojourn to The Netherlands will mean that the visitors will be without Trent Johnston and Kevin O'Brien for this game and that point has not been lost on Coleraine. The hosts though will also be aware that there is still no shortage of talent across the hall as players like Kenny Carroll, Tom Fisher and Tariq are sure to give them plenty to think about.
Where Wilson Torrens' side needs to improve is their middle order and change bowling options. Ian McGregor, Tim Chopra and Mohammed Salman will shoulder a lot of the responsibility as usual but if they want to prolong their interest beyond this weekend, more support needs to be forthcoming between 5 and 8. The bowling too hasn't been at its best just yet and Stephen Dunn has stood out so far. Rory Knox has shown signs of coming back into something like his old form whilst the options need to be a bit more obvious after the left arm seam combination has done its bit. Despite their poor recent form Coleraine really believe they have a big chance here and it's difficult to argue that if there is a good time to play railway then this could be it. The prospect of an all-North West final still lives on.
BILLY HENDERSON PROPERTIES DIVISION 1 (Saturday)
BRIGADE V BREADY
The Beechgrove side has enjoyed mixed fortunes in the past few weeks; a damaging league loss to Strabane last time followed up by their win at Eglinton in the cup on Saturday and an excellent victory in the Club Turf at Civil Service North. In between times the club had their pitch damaged as well although hopefully they will still be able to hosts games as normal despite that reprehensible action.
Mark Simpson's men now have to put the senior cup to the back of their minds as they cannot reasonably afford another league reverse for the rest of the season if they want to challenge for the title. Much was expected ahead of this campaign given the quality of their new signings but three losses in seven outings hasn't augured well for those hopes. It isn't difficult to point to where the problems have lain either; a misfiring middle order combined with a bowling attack that has surprisingly lacked potency contributing heavily to those early losses. Brigade's quality cannot be disputed however and whilst the side hasn't fully gelled as yet they will be extremely difficult to beat when it does.
The visitors' recent record at Beechgrove isn't too bad but Trevor Britton and Chris Dougherty were in the “away” changing room last season and the Magheramason side was a more solid looking outfit then. To their credit however, David Lecky has them playing good, confident cricket and the benefits are there to be seen in the recent performances of players like Ian Young and Jack Glenn. Despite what many suggested would be doom and gloom around the club this year, Bready are one of the sides in there pitching behind the leaders. They travel to the Waterside on Saturday knowing that all the pressure is on the home team and whilst Brigade will start favourites, the visitors are a long way from being out of this.
ST JOHNSTON V EGLINTON
The first of the much anticipated showdowns at the bottom of the table and whilst I personally suspect that one of these sides has to beat somebody else other than each other to survive, neither team has come remotely close as yet to pulling off a win.
Much could yet depend on availability; Heasley Robson has given St Johnston real options with both bat and ball but there has been talk that he is to return to New Zealand in the near future whilst Eglinton were believed to be trying to bring in one more player before the registration deadline passes. As with most of the weekend's fixtures, this one is notoriously difficult to unravel. The Saints probably boast a stronger batting line up than their visitors whilst the villagers win the bowling stakes and are more experienced in the field. Skipper Andrew Fleming has been in good touch for the Donegal side at the top of the order culminating in his magnificent century at Fox Lodge last time but whilst their batting looks some way stronger than Eglinton, the one criticism would be that the Saints really need to let the handbrake off a bit earlier in their innings especially with the fielding restrictions in place. Despite posting 280 at Ballymagorry that was probably fairly par in the circumstances and with limited bowling resources the Saints are beginning to find that they are hampering themselves with slow starts.
For their part, Andy Christie's side will be well aware that they can ill afford to lose here. Dealt a hammer blow with their start of season defections, Eglinton have not been able to recover so far and have looked a pale shadow of the side they were. Defeat won't necessarily mean relegation but it will look a long way back for them if that happens. They will know they must be at their very best in the field and with the ball to give themselves a decent chance of winning and then hope that Adam Knezevic, Karl O'Doherty, Mark Averill, Neal Stewart and skipper Christie can find the runs to get them over the line. The reward for the winners will be a massive shot in the arm to their survival hopes.
LIMAVADY V COLERAINE (Monday/ Tuesday)
With the league title very much at the top of their agenda now Limavady will be keen to keep the pressure on the chasing pack as they entertain a Coleraine side that has struggled in the league recently after that wonderful start. The Bannsiders won't need me to tell them that their Achilles heel is a batting order that looks distinctly brittle some way from the bottom and they have been trying to strengthen that department in recent days. Wilson Torrens' side fairly hit the ground running at the start of the season but the competition has worked them out a little since then and knows that Salman, Ian McGregor and Tim Chopra are the players they need to keep relatively quiet. McGregor of course is coming up against his former team mates and although the opener has nothing to prove that won't stop him being keen to remind them of what they're missing. To be fair to Coleraine they have kept faith with the younger players and although Stevie Dunn is relatively experienced, he, Rory Knox, Scott Campbell, Rishi Chopra and Andrew Douglas all have youth on their side.
Limavady are certainly much more experienced of course and with Decker, David Cooke, Andrew Riddles and Mark McDaid all in good form of late they will expect to be able to keep their league challenge going. The Roesiders have so many options with both bat and ball but despite that, defeats to Strabane in the league and Donemana in the cup show that they aren't infallible. With the championship so high on the hosts' agenda however it would be something of a surprise if they lost the initiative here.