It is one of the biggest weekend's in the Irish cricket calendar this coming Saturday with the first round of the country's premier knockout competition, the Irish Senior Cup, taking centre stage. That means a host of difficult challenges for North West clubs in a competition that local sides have struggled in over recent years, with some getting it tougher than others.

Premier Division new boys Ardmore have drawn one of the short straws as they travel to Balrothery to tackle multiple All-Ireland winners North County. Conor Shiel's men were beaten by YMCA in their opening league game but are notoriously difficult to get past in this trophy, especially on their own patch. The southerners have a new professional in Australian Tim Affleck and despite maybe not being the force they were 5 years ago, the presence of players like John Mooney and Conor Armstrong still gives them a really solid look. Ardmore will travel without Decker Curry who has a broken wrist while Andrew Riddles continues to struggle with a shoulder injury. Skipper Adrian Murphy returns to his old stamping ground for the first time with the Bleachgreen boys who are very much the underdogs here.

Donemana are on the road too, Richard Kee's side with the longest journey in Irish cricket as they travel the length of the country to play newly promoted Cork County. The Mardyke men have a new professional in South African leg-spinner Stephan Grobler; while Rory O'Keefe and Chris Banon are others that the Holm outfit will need to keep an eye on. Having lost out narrowly to Bready in their opening match the Danske Bank senior cup holders will be keen to progress here and with a full squad to choose from the visitors will start favourites.

Gordon Montgomery won't have been overly enamoured with the draw either- relegated Glendermott have arguably the most difficult tie of all as they travel to the "Vineyard" to tackle current Leinster champions The Hills. The Dubliners have a quality professional in Nicolaas Pretorius, while Ireland bowler Max Sorensen will be a real handful for the Waterside team's batsmen. Manu Kumar and Paddy Byrne have both returned to the home side's squad this year making the visitors' job even tougher, but Montgomery, along with professional Roy Silva, Charlie Elder, Bob Robinson and company know they have nothing to lose. The more rain the better for the away team here.

Strabane will feel they have a chance as Tommy Barr takes his side to Lurgan to take on the NCU Division 2 outfit. Stephen Chambers' sides lost their season opener to Derriaghy and will have to improve against the Red Caps who seem to have much more quality in the squad this year than in recent seasons. The North West team has depth to the order despite the fact that they may well still be missing opener Kevin Martin for this one. Matt Bentley returns giving Barr a plethora of bowling options and on a day when the North West teams look up against it, Strabane are one of our big hopes to progress.

St Johnston are in the senior cup this time courtesy of their second-place finish in the Championship in 2013 and Ian Macbeth's team have a toughie away at Stormont. CSNI have been in the news recently with their surprise signing of Shane Getkate and his addition adds quality to an already impressive line-up. They have claimed the scalp of joint champions Instonians already this season and skipper Nigel Jones will be hopeful that Getkate along with professional Griffin Nieuwouldt and Jason van der Merwe can lead his side through to the next round. The Saints look set to be without Alan Macbeth amid suggestions that he has retired but this tie will give their very promising youngsters a chance to see what is required to play at the next level. A good fighting performance from the visitors without doubt but the home side should have too much power.

Fox Lodge renew rivalries with a Leinster side that knocked them out in 2010 however the visitors have since been relegated last season to the LCU second division. It's an intriguing tie this one, the Dublin men with Australian all-rounder Adam Ward their new professional while skipper Craig Mallon also introduces Vivek Iyengar to the side. The Foxies looked solid enough despite their defeat by Brigade first up and much will be expected here of their new opening bowler Tabish Khan. Iftikhar Hussain, Brian Allen, Andrew McGinnis and Jason Milligan are others who can have a say in the outcome with the home side maybe just nicking it.
Brigade too can progress- Gareth McKeegan's men hosting a young looking Phoenix side on Saturday with a definite chance of making the next round. The visitors have started well in their league, beating Rush first up and have quality players such as Tom Anders and Richie Lawrence in their ranks. An in-form Johnny Thompson combined with skipper McKeegan to set up the Beechgrove side's win away at Fox Lodge that started their season and with their all-round quality throughout the side they will take the beating in this.

Eglinton's job looks much more difficult as they play host to a smart looking North Down team and the villagers will do well to take anything from the game. The Comber side's new professional is CJ Muir, a quality opening bowler, while skipper Ryan Haire, Taimur Khan, Andrew Sutherland, Nick Larkin and James Cameron-Dow are among a host of players that Chris Pierce and his men will need to be wary of. The North West side boast their own potential match-winners in Stuart Thompson, Stephen Smyth and a quartet of emerging youngsters but they will need to bring their A-game and then some to win this.

Game of the day could well be down the north coast where CIYMS have a few familiar faces as they visit the reigning North West champions. Former Bready batsman Chris Dougherty is the Belfast side's new skipper while their squad also includes Steven Clarke, Trevor Britton and of course a man they signed from Coleraine, Stephen Dunn. CI have a new South African professional in Rassie van der Dussen, while Zimbabweans Nathan Waller and former Eglinton player Ryan Butterworth could also be included. The Bannsiders aren't short on quality themselves however and Gordon Cooke will be determined to get a good run in one of the few trophies they missed out on last season. He and brother David, along with the prolific Niall McDonnell, new signing Adam McDaid, Scott Campbell, Rishi Chopra and new professional Kyllin Vardhan will ensure that this is a keenly contested affair.

The final North West team in action are Bready who are at home to a Ballymena side struggling with absences at the minute. The Braidmen have brought in 19 year old student Ronaka Ahengamage however their overseas professional Yogesh Takawale is still tied up in the IPL and will take no part in the game. The visitors still have quality in the form of Fergus Taylor and the Kennedy brothers but they take on a Bready team buoyed by their opening day win at Donemana. David Rankin is a big loss as a broken thumb rules him out so David Barr will have to lead the line, however he has proven well capable of doing so. With professional Ernest Kemm among a number of good options at his disposal, home captain David Scanlon will be confident of progressing from the tie.