Big weekend for NW clubs
Donemana get the ball rolling on Saturday when they entertain Merrion with a place in the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup final at stake but skipper Richard Kee doesn't have his sorrows to seek as he prepares for the contest without no fewer than five of his first team panel. Andy McBrine and Ryan Hunter are long-term absentees as both are in Australia at the under-19 World Cup but the Holm club are also without the McClintock twins, William and Gary as well as William McBrine, all of whom have been selected for the European under-15 championships being held in Guernsey.
Kee believes that the club's selection committee has a job on its hands trying to get a side together with enough quality to cope with the Dublin outfit who have players of the calibre of Tim Lang, John Anderson, Dom Joyce and Ben Ackland in their ranks. The visitors have history in this competition too, having beaten Railway Union two years ago to lift the trophy for the first time while the Tyrone men's only success was when Noel Dunn skippered them to a win over Limavady in 2000. The loss of half of Donemana's side probably makes the visitors favourites but crucially for the hosts they still have their big game players available and that could be pivotal.
It is Brigade's turn on Sunday when they tackle a strong looking Civil Service North side at Eglinton in the final of the Ulster Cup. Mark Simpson is back to skipper the team after returning from holiday and his presence will certainly add a bit of steel, and not just to the bowling.
It is difficult to know who will make way for Simpson given that Dale Culbert bowled reasonably well throughout the cup final despite a nervous start while Dean Curry and Chris Dixon did their bit to make sure Donemana had even a modest second innings total to chase. The Stormont side accounted for Donemana in the semi final of course and have the very dangerous Griffin Nieuwoudt among their number. The South African has a domestic average of almost 80 in the NCU this summer but it is no one man band with Nigel Jones, Charlie Beverland and Patrick Fisher who has shown a distinct liking for this competition all having to be watched very closely.
The Belfast side start favourites here no doubt about that but it depends which Brigade turns up. The reigning North West champions were in devastating form against North Down earlier on this summer but will need to find that level of performance again if they are to land the spoils.
Weather permitting, local clubs can start to make inroads into the league programme from here on in with four games down for decision over the weekend. Bonds Glen are running out of matches in their bid to stay in the top flight and Richard Hepburn will be well aware that his side needs to get a win on the board in their next two games or that will be that. The Bee Gees are at home to Strabane on Saturday, a fixture that they won on their way to survival last season and their fortunes surely rest now on the outcome of this and next week's match with Fox Lodge.
Batting has been the problem for Hepburn's side this year but if they could come off just once it might give them a bit of momentum. Strabane's own form has been in and out recently but they still have a chance in the title race and will be keen to keep their hopes alive. Faisal Iqbal has returned from International duty with Sri Lanka and will be hoping to pick up where he left off as the Red Caps attempt to stay in the hunt.
Glendermott host Limavady in a game that the points are equally important to either side but for vastly differing reasons. The Rectory side are now 4 points clear of the bottom two places but are locked together in the table with Fox Lodge so probably need a couple more wins at least to avoid the play off spot. Limavady know they can go joint top if they win and the quality in Andrew Riddles' side means that they start favourites for this one.
Fox Lodge meet Brigade and despite the home side's poor start to the season they are now just 2 points behind the reigning champions. The Foxies' winning run was halted last time by Gordon Montgomery's men and they look to have a difficult task against a Beechgrove team that will be looking for a bit of form to take into Sunday's Ulster Cup final. Coleraine are scheduled to host Bready, also on Sunday and this top-of-the-table clash could be a thriller as both sides look to press home their title claims.