Big cup dates as Fox Lodge face Railway Union
BIG CUP DATES FOR FOXES AND LIMAVADY AS LEAGUE RACE RE-STARTS
It can hardly be described as after the Lord Mayor's show this weekend as following last week's Northern Bank senior cup final there is a plethora of top action lined up over the coming days as well. There are two Division 1 games (Strabane v Bready and Brigade v St Johnston) due to conclude this evening before some quality contests this coming Saturday and Sunday. Fox Lodge will bid to make it through to the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup final when they host Dublin side Railway Union on Saturday whilst 24 hours later Limavady will attempt to reclaim the Club Turf Ulster Cup when they take on Belfast side Instonians at Eglinton. Here we take a look at what's in store over the next few days.
FOX LODGE V RAILWAY UNION (IRISH SENIOR CUP SEMI FINAL)
What a season it has been for the Foxes; joint top of the table as the season enters the last third and one game away from the final of Ireland's premier cup competition. The world and his dog will be aware by now that the hosts' professional, Darryl Brown, has returned to South Africa and whilst his loss is a serious blow to the Ballymagorry side, it has been far from a one-man show thus far. Brian Allen will have his side fully focused for this and Brown will be forgotten as they attempt to overcome a Railway side littered with talent. The visitors were in the North West in the last eight as well when they accounted for Coleraine, that without the services of Ireland duo Trent Johnston and Kevin O'Brien who both look sure to start here. The Bannsiders were unable to cope with the likes of Kenny Carroll, Tariq and Tom Fisher on that occasion and the Foxes will be wary of the whole quintet now.
That said, skipper Allen has a few in-form players of his own, and several who will relish the opportunity to test themselves against this quality of opposition. Johnny Robinson has been enjoying an excellent season with both bat and ball whilst Jason Milligan, Jonathan Heywood, Andrew McGinnis, Andy Britton and Gareth Heywood will all get their chance to shine. Home advantage won't do the Foxes any harm either but whilst I would expect them to cope without a professional in the league, this looks really tough without one.
BILLY HENDERSON PROPERTIES DIVISION 1
BREADY V EGLINTON
Depending on how their game at Strabane Park finishes this week Bready could well be going into this looking for outright leadership of the table as the season enters a critical stage. The Magheramason side has responded magnificently after losing key players in the close season and if they are able to keep their first choice side off the beach for another month it isn't difficult to see them involved in the run in. Their professional Viraj Perera has been quietly finding his feet as the season has progressed and with David and Robert Rankin, Steven Clarke, Brian Scanlon and both Ian and Craig Young all involved in recent weeks they have more than enough quality to send them into this one as favourites.
Things are getting a bit tight at the wrong end of the table for the visitors following St Johnston's win over Strabane but Andy Christie will be quick to remind his charges that they pulled off a surprise win here last season to burst Bready's bubble at a key stage in the league race. He will also know they will need to be a lot better than they have been for a while if they are to upset the odds.
DONEMANA V GLENDERMOTT
Sunday's defeat against Limavady was Donemana's sixth in twelve league games and all but ended their remote title hopes but this still has all the ingredients of an intriguing tie. Azhar Shaffique hasn't really sparkled this season for them although he was something like his old self with the bat in that defeat and Ricky Lee Dougherty also impressed. The usual suspects of James, Junior and Jordan McGonigle as well as Andy McBrine, Richard Kee and Dale Olphert have done well for their side at various stages of the season but the consistency has been lacking for the most part.
The visitors have had a pretty mixed bag themselves although they are still very much in the title race. Gordon Montgomery will be a relieved man that their overseas professional, Hanke von Rauenstein has fulfilled his potential and both he and Stephen Smyth have given the Rectory support plenty to shout about for much of the summer. David and Ryan Barr have been excellent for Glendermott at times this season as well and whilst maybe disappointed to have been edged out in the cups this has marked a major improvement on the past few seasons at Bonds Street. If they are to keep their season alive though, Glendermott have to be strong here.
LIMAVADY V BRIGADE
It's looking like some weekend for the Roesiders as they host the newly crowned cup winners on Saturday in a game vital to both sides' title winning chances before turning their attention to Instonians in Sunday's Club Turf final. Limavady ended a run of three consecutive league defeats with their win over Donemana at the weekend but will know they can afford few more slip ups from here on in if they are to take the senior crown. Once again their batting has been their forte, runs from David Cooke, Andrew Riddles, Stuart Thompson and Curry, senior and junior, aiding the cause in recent weeks but their bowling hasn't been as potent as it could be.
Brigade of course will be buoyed by their weekend win over Strabane and you can't fault them for having their sights set now on making it a double. Mark Simpson's side was well beaten by their opponents in the reverse fixture but could argue that they have steadily improved since then. The Beechgrove side certainly has plenty of options in their line up with Chris Dougherty, Iftikhar Hussein, Gareth McKeegan, Niall McDonnell and Johnny Thompson all in decent form at the minute. They will be aware that this is another cup final for them as defeat here surely ends their title ambitions. In one of the most difficult games of the whole season to call, Brigade's confidence may have been boosted at just the right time.
It's another big day at Eglinton on Sunday as Limavady aim to reclaim the Club Turf Ulster Cup when they lock horns with NCU kingpins Instonians. Eugene Moleon's side has been in the North West several times this season and was mightily impressive in seeing off Brigade at the start of their Irish Senior Cup campaign. Their professional, Davy Jacobs has since left these shores but there is an abundance of talent lying in wait for Limavady; particularly in the shape of Rory McCann, James Shannon, Rory Sheard and John Stevenson. The Roesiders though will have noticed that the Belfast side hasn't been particularly impressive in recent weeks and will look to capitalise on that. Decker Curry, David Cooke and company bring plenty of experience to matches like this and the Roesiders are notoriously difficult to beat when there's a cup on display. They have taken a real shine to the pitch at Eglinton as well but their chances probably hinge on batting first and being able to dictate.
Elsewhere, there are two league games in the North West on Sunday and St Johnston will have a chance to heap real pressure on Eglinton when they travel to Coleraine. The Bannsiders have been having a lean time of things lately but had accumulated enough points in the first month to keep them away from any relegation problems. They too boast plenty of quality in Ian McGregor, Mohammed Salman, Tim Chopra, Scott Campbell and Stevie Dunn and this is one of those games where you feel that St Johnston may be just a professional light.
The final game of the weekend could be a thriller depending on earlier results as Brigade host neighbours Glendermott in what could also be by then a top of the table clash. Matches between the two are always keenly contested regardless of what's at stake but there could be plenty of spice added if top spot is up for grabs. The sides have met twice this season already with the scores all square but Brigade will be hoping to make home advantage count this time.