Something of a change of tempo for the North West’s cricketers this weekend, with the first round of the Irish Senior Cup. Probably the single most coveted domestic competition, this one debars the use of resident professionals, although that doesn’t necessarily level the playing field, given that former pro’s, who have passed the residency rules can take part.
That law has benefited several of the Leinster sides in recent years, and of course will free up Brigade’s Iftikhar Hussein this time round. The local sides have a mixed bag of ties to contend with, and here we take a look at their prospects.
LURGAN v DONEMANA
The Holm side are on the road against their NCU counterparts, and will have to put Sunday’s bitterly disappointing collapse against Brigade to the back of their minds if they are to come through this one.
Jordan McGonigle’s men will hardly need reminding that their recent cup form has also been less than impressive, their win over Limavady in the first round of the Northern Bank competition ended a run of four successive cup defeats.
Lurgan would be considered a mid-table side themselves, but with players of the calibre of Ross McCollum and Paul Stafford in their ranks, are nobody’s mugs.
Donemana are capable of winning this one, but will need to up the ante considerably to do so.
RAILWAY UNION v BALLYSPALLEN
‘Spallen clicked into gear at the right time for this, warming up with a crushing defeat of Glendermott last Saturday, and posting over 300 runs in the process.
Gregory McDaid was in top form, scoring his maiden century for the Bridge side, but without Jaideep Narse this time, will find life altogether more difficult.
Union surprised a lot of people last year, eventually getting to the final of this competition, before being beaten by a strong North County side, and can boast players like Ireland bowler Kevin O’Brien, Roger Whelan, Adrian Murphy and Kenny Carroll.
Ballyspallen will need to produce the performance of the season if they are to make the hat for Round Two. Home win looks the safest bet.
CLONTARF v BRIGADE
Potentially the tie of the Round, two sides boasting squads with the required depth to make a major impact in the tournament, and yet one of them must fall at the first hurdle.
Brigade have an embarrassment of riches domestically, but will be meeting a side who can call on the likes of Ireland skipper Trent Jonhston, Greg Molins, and the in-form Alex Cusack, who scored a hundred in their defeat at North County last week.
As stated earlier, the visitors will be able to play Iftikhar Hussein, and he is likely to be central to their chances. The former Ardmore Pro has yet to hit form for his new club, but this would be an ideal time to do it. With confidence high following Sunday’s win over Donemana, we’ll side with Mark Simpson’s boys to shade it.
GLENDERMOTT v THE HILLS
Take two for these sides who met in a high scoring encounter at the Rectory previously, although fortunes couldn’t be more changed for the hosts.
Saturday’s defeat at Ballyspallen leaves the Rectory side hovering just above the relegation place in Section 1, and whilst their squad is obviously much better than that, the proof of the pudding isn’t in the baking.
Gordon Montgomery’s ton for Glendermott did little to hide the fact that there are still too many players not being counted at Bonds Street, and they know they will need to be much better.
They are capable of winning, but the confidence seems very low at present. This represents Gareth Watson’s teams’ only real chance of prolonging their season, and that in itself may give them enough to get them over the line.
BREADY v MERRION
Another clash of two well- matched sides, Bready having recovered from losing their first two league matches to win all the rest since.
Their victory over Strabane on Sunday was a real boost, and gives them a chance to move joint top of the league when they play Ardmore next Monday night in their outstanding fixture.
The home side are reaping the rewards of consistency now, having managed to keep the nucleus of their squad together over the past number of years, and have potential match-winners all over the place.
That said, their visitors are certainly no back number themselves, Ireland’s Dom Joyce, and Thinus Fourie just two of the players who will pose a massive danger to the Magheramason boys.
In a very difficult game to call, Bready’s bowling may just give them the edge.
NORTH DOWN v FOX LODGE
Most people would sum this contest up in four words or less, and at first glance it’s difficult to picture anything other than a home win.
The hosts, reigning NCU champions and current leaders read like a who’s who of cricket names, and in the likes of Ryan Haire, Peter Shiels (who is currently carrying a hand injury and may not play), and the very talented David Kennedy, will start as red- hot favourites.
After a solid start to life in North West section 1 for the Foxes, things have got a bit more realistic for them, and although they look capable of surviving comfortably, will find tasks like this just a little beyond them.
They’ll thoroughly relish it though, Johnny Heywood’s side, they’ve nothing to lose going into to the Lions den, but if they emerge from it, will have provided the biggest upset since David popped Goliath with a slingshot.
CARRICKFERGUS v STRABANE
The home side only survived the drop from NCU Section 1 by virtue of default last season, and are coming up against one of the most improved sides in the North West.
Terence Patton’s boys always had plenty of talent at the club, but habitually lacked a mental toughness necessary to carve out the big wins.
They’ve changed all that now, and if Peter and Mark Gillespie, Paul McNamee, Phil Eaglestone and the Patton boys are all in the mood, it’s easy to see them winning this.
Ryan Eagleson is probably the best known of the home players, but I’m reliably informed they are no one-man band.
Home advantage is also likely to make them difficult to beat, but the Tyrone side will surely be disappointed if they don’t make it through.
LIMAVADY v MALAHIDE
No-one, least of all skipper Des Curry, will need reminding just how disastrous a start Limavady have made to the domestic campaign.
Already out of the Northern Bank senior cup, and way off the pace in the league, the Roesiders are a pale shadow of the team so imposing in this competition a few short years ago.
Quite why that is the case is open to debate, but their bowling attack has been the subject of severe criticism, and was something we all thought they would have addressed this year.
A team containing names like Stephen Smyth, Curry, Ian McGregor, Chris Moore, Mark McDaid and Andrew Riddles should realistically be among the favourites to win this competition outright.
Their visitors have some excellent players too, John Pryor and all-rounder Damien Ryan are names to look out for in what should be a lively encounter, but a defeat for Limavady here is surely unthinkable?
ARDMORE v CIVIL SERVICE NORTH
A welcome distraction for the Bleachgreen lads this, their domestic form having taken a battering so far this season, and occupying bottom spot in the league.
Even the well renowned fighting spirit, epitomised by skipper Gerard Brolly has been sadly lacking in recent weeks, so maybe this will provide a welcome opportunity for them to find their feet, free from the struggle for points.
There are plenty of capable players at Ardmore, indeed if they were able to get Brian Brolly back to open the attack, backed up by the skipper, brother Paul, Lee Brolly Gerard McCauley and the underrated Martin Gormley, they could give their visitors plenty to think about.
Ardmore will unfortunately be without new boy Hasan Khan who has done well thus far, and with CSN being one of the emerging forces in the NCU, may feel his loss.
The visitors have quality aplenty, and will certainly start favourites.
EGLINTON v CORK COUNTY
What a pleasure to be able to talk about Eglinton as a top- of- the- table team, after their recent series of brushes with relegation.
They made a couple of influential additions in the close season, bringing in Bobby Rao, and of course, the classy Jeremy Bray, but possibly their best recruitment of all was to add the guile of Billy Henderson.
Rao in particular has really raised the profile of the game in and around the Village, and there are up to 50 kids and players around the ground on practice nights.
Bray has added the necessary class, and has brought out the best of the players around him, and although they’ll all be keen to ensure there is no let-up, these are definitely exciting times at Eglinton.
The visitors have had the worst of the draw, having to contend with a horrendous return journey, but will at least be travelling to a ground as good as any in the country.
Having beaten Limavady last week, it would be a major surprise if Eglinton let that good work go to waste now.