BIG GUNS ON GLORY TRAIL AS "JT" CHECKS OUT BOB KERR PROSPECTS

It is a big weekend looming for clubs both in Division 1 and 2 of the North West league as top flight sides start their quest for glory in the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup while second tier teams set out on a new adventure in the RSA National Cup.

After a very interesting round of matches last Saturday some will be relishing the chance to pit themselves against the top sides from around the country while for others it will feel like going into the lion's den without either whip or chair.

This week running his eye over the task faced by local sides is Brigade's Johnny Thompson, a man who has started the season in good touch with both bat and ball and the all-rounder was realistic about his team's own start to the campaign. "We had a good win against Fox Lodge on the opening day but our bowling let us down at Bready on Saturday past. We batted well enough and I felt that the partnership between Iftikhar Hussain and myself had set us up nicely. With the quality of our bowling attack we were confident of defending 251 on a big pitch but we didn't get it in the right areas often enough. Agha Sabir batted superbly but we put down three chances to get him out and you can't afford to do that with players of Agha's quality".

Given the results over the weekend we asked Johnny if he felt that confidence in the Brigade camp would be affected by the reverse and he was in no doubt that it wouldn't. "Personally speaking I believe there are six teams in with a chance of winning the league this season. Strabane's win over Limavady has opened things up as well and this year more than any, those sides are all capable of beating each other. Most people are saying it will be either Brigade or Limavady but Strabane look really solid and from what I've seen of Bready they won't be far away either. Donemana can never be written off and I don't believe for a second that Coleraine won't be in the mix either. They have some excellent young players who they've kept faith with over the past couple of seasons and when you add in Ian McGregor, David Cooke, Jayasinghe and the likes of Craig Averill and Stevie Dunn they have a really balanced look about them. I really think Coleraine have a big chance of winning it as much as any of us".

With the All-Ireland competition starting on Saturday we asked the Brigade man if this competition was high on the club's wish list this year having lost out narrowly in the semi final last time "Of course we would like an extended run as it is the country's main cup competition but I'd have to say the league and the Northern Bank senior cup would be our priority for now. We want to do well in all the competitions but in such an open year it would be a massive achievement to come out on top in our own region again".

Turning to Saturday's games Johnny admitted that there were some really tough ties for local sides but that he felt there may be a surprise or two in the air. "I fancy Strabane to edge out Waringstown even though the Belfast side is stacked with quality. Strabane's batting line up is strong and their new professional, Faisal Iqbal is the talk of the North West. Their bowling isn't as potent as some of the top sides but if they get among Waringstown they could surprise them".

"Donemana have a difficult job too as they go to Dublin to take on Pembroke but Donemana are a side who thrive on the big occasion and in the McBrines have players who know how to win matches like this. They ought to be at full strength and while it will be a very difficult game for them they will fancy their chances. Donemana will of course be renewing an old acquaintance or two as Pembroke's professional this year is former Strabane player Jonathan Beukes. The Leinster side has a good mix about it with Theo Lawson and Barry McCarthy( from the Ireland under-19 set up) joined by the likes of Alan Eastwood , Rohit Bahl and Paul Lawson. Now that they can go into an open draw however, Richard Kee's side have all the motivation they need and they can nick it".

"Limavady can also book a second round place when they travel to Terenure. Even forgetting about their experiences last season Andrew Riddles' team will be back to full strength with the return of Stuart Thompson and with Decker starting the season in good style Limavady look good enough to go there and win".

"Bready have also been drawn away, in fact all in all the draw has hardly been kind to local sides, but the Magheramason men look to face a tough job away at The Hills. The Leinster outfit features Max Sorensen, Luke Clinton, Mike Baumgart and Naseer Shukrat and although Bready have hit the ground running domestically, this looks a tough ask for them".

"The sides currently in the bottom four of our league have been handed seriously difficult draws and it would be a major surprise if any of them made it through. Bonds Glen will host a CIYMS side that includes Chris Dougherty and Jeremy Bray among others and while the Bee Gees have made giant strides at their ground in the close season they don't look to have much chance in this".

It appears no easier for Glendermott who host Railway Union and with the Rectory's generous batting track likely to be in good shape you would have to think that Gordon Montgomery would need to win the toss and use if first. Creevedonnell are also at home, North County the visitors there and despite their win at Bonds Street at the weekend Stephen Scroggie's men are sure to find this a lot tougher. The Creevies won't mind the challenge of course but with their illustrious visitors having won this tournament more than any other team in its history, an away win looks the obvious call. Fox Lodge have lost their first two league matches but could easily have pulled Coleraine's massive 346 with a bit of luck. They are better than a bottom of the table team but even allowing for that they won't be looking forward to taking on North Down in their own back yard. The Comber side have the in-form Neil Russell, Peter Shiels and Ryan Haire among others for the Foxies to contend with but this is one the Ballymagorry boys might not mind as there is absolutely no pressure on them"

"The other two North West sides could enjoy better luck though; Coleraine with home advantage and a team possibly starting to click into gear should have enough about them to see off Lurgan. Hopefully the same thing will apply at Beechgrove as well where Brigade will be looking to put the Bready result behind them and get back to winning ways. We expect to have our new signing on board for that one and while Ryan Eagleson seems to be in good form for Carrick we would hope to be in the draw for the second round come Saturday night".