Numerically it was a case of honours even for the participating North West sides in Saturday’s Irish Senior cup, with five out of the ten making it through to the next round.
That statistic only tells half the story though, given that Brigade and Donemana were both among the early casualties. The joint league leaders had difficult enough ties to encounter at Clontarf and Lurgan respectively, but will be bitterly disappointed to have come unstuck so early.
The world and his wife know just how big a season this is for Mark Simpson’s team, and with last weekend’s excellent win over Donemana under their belt, would have travelled to the picturesque Dublin suburb in fine fettle. Indeed their total of 193 looked for a long time as though it was going to be enough, and but for Trent Johnston’s unbeaten 75, it would have been.
The Ireland skipper’s knock was the deciding factor in a tense game, but at least everybody got home safely. (Bertie knows I’m kidding). With league and cup matters still very much in their own hands though, it might not be the worst defeat in the world for Brigade.
The Donemana show was an altogether different story, the Holm side’s batting falling asunder for the second week running.
The past seven days have been instantly forgettable for Jordan McGonigle, and a total of 89 runs at Lurgan was a very poor return, although the hosts did lose 5 wickets reaching their target. The one bright spot was a superb hat-trick, claimed by young Andrew Britton, all three of them lbw’s. The bowlers certainly played for their pride, but that’s not what we have come to expect from the Tyrone side, indeed their recent cup record must easily be the worst in the club’s history.
I’m not sure what the problem is, but a bit of fight with the bat wouldn’t go amiss.
And speaking of a bit of fight, Carrickfergus gave an alternative display in their tie against Strabane, when two of the home side’s players made a case for appearing on the under-card of John Duddy’s next bout.
Having got off to a flyer, reducing Strabane to 40-4, it was all downhill for Carrick after that, as the Gillespie boys, Mark and John put on over 200 for the next wicket, Mark leading the way with a superb century. A few unwelcome jibes between two fielders then led to a bit of nonsense, usually referred to by football pundits as "handbags".
Once the sparring was finished, the home side only had ten men standing, and the heart knocked out of them, as Strabane progressed comfortably.
Elsewhere in the Senior Cup, a couple of "oul hands" were making their mark for their respective clubs, and steering them into the next round.
At the Rectory, The Hills posted another 300 plus total, as Glendermott continued to struggle in this poorest of seasons for them. The Bonds Street boys were coasting in their reply mind you, reaching 163-1 courtesy of good knocks from Mark Mooney and Bob Robinson, before the wily Matt Dwyer intervened.
Instead of using their allotted 50 overs, Glendermott seemed intent on trying to blast their way to victory, but only succeeded in shooting themselves in the foot.
From what should have been a match-winning situation, the evergreen Dwyer finished with 2-30 from his 10 overs as Glendermott came up 24 runs short.
At Eglinton, the even more evergreen Bobby Rao continued his magnificent start to life at his new club, as he scored 45 not out, to help the Villagers to a match-winning total of 261. Bobby’s contribution wasn’t the biggest though, that honour went to Nigel Thompson, only a boy by comparison, who hit a very valuable 55 on his return to this competition. It wasn’t to be the stroll in the park that many expected though, the Cork men posting a very respectable 211 in reply, although the hosts always had matters fairly well in hand.
Eglinton’s Irish International opening batsman Jeremy Bray was in the side for the game, but amazingly was run out for the fourth time this season already. He’s a wonderful cricketer, Mr Bray, but maybe he should just hit fours and sixes for the moment.
And at long last, something to smile about at the Hunter Memorial Grounds, as Stephen Smyth showed his undoubted class with a century, as Limavady thumped Malahide.
The home side racked up 244 runs, which given their bowling performances this year, could have been a vulnerable total, but there was to be no mistakes as the attack did more than what was needed.
We said last week that this competition is tailor-made for Decker’s team, given the squad they have available, and certainly the likes of them, North County, North Down, Malahide and Strabane are separated by very little.
Maybe you could add Bready to that list too, the Magheramason boys without doubt the form team in the North West at present.
Save for two below-par performances in their first two games of the season, they haven’t lost since, and accounted for a very useful Merrion side on Saturday.
Such is the depth of talent available to Trevor Hamilton, it was young Chris Dougherty who was the hero with a superb unbeaten 75.
Man-for-man, Bready could compete with any team around, and with confidence surely now at an all-time high, it will be interesting to see if they can go on from here and actually win something.
Kinda get the feeling the next pot isn’t far away.
Further down the Road, well 150 miles further down it actually, Ballyspallen made a tremendous fist of things, before going down to last years’ beaten finalists Railway Union.
Ricky McDaid hit 61 for the Bridge side as they scored 232, but Irish International Kevin O’Brien scored a half century to get his team home with four wickets to spare.
‘Spallen though lost nothing in defeat, and will be hoping that they can now use that performance as a platform for the rest of their league campaign.
Rather more expectedly, Fox Lodge were no match for NCU hotshots North Down, ending up a hundred and plenty runs short of their unlikely target of 314.
The home side only lost three wickets in posting their big score, but it’s all a learning curve for Jonathan Heywood’s side, and they had nothing to lose here.
Predictable that one may have been, but hands up who would have forecast Ardmore to thrash Civil Service North?
One thing we have habitually drawn attention to in this column throughout the season is the undoubted strength of Ardmore’s bowling attack.
Gerard and Brian Brolly are as good a new-ball combination as is around, especially in the bottom half of the league, and Paul and Lee Brolly, Martin Gormley, Gerard McCauley and George Brolly are no mugs either.
Still, it was some effort to restrict their visitors to 146, and then to easily chase those down, courtesy of 41 from David McAllister, well supported by his skipper, and the hard-hitting Ciaran Curley.
You just never know what a win like this will do for a teams’ confidence, and there will surely be anxious glances cast from Bonds Street to the Bleachgreen over the coming weeks.
Mind you, Ardmore were in dire need of a win like this, because shoulders had dropped alarmingly out there of late, none more so than the skipper himself, so maybe this is the spark they required.
Sunday’s second round draw then threw up some intriguing ties, Bready securing home advantage for a second time, when they were paired with Ballyspallen’s conquerors The Hills. Eglinton will have to travel to Dublin to take on Phoenix, whilst the tie of the round sees Limavady host Clontarf, in a game sure to attract a big crowd.
What an opportunity for the Roesiders to get their season back on track, but for North West supporters, the most interesting of the ties sees Ardmore rewarded for their win, with a home game against Strabane. There ought to be plenty of cars down the rocky road for that one as well.
Away from the Irish Cup, there was a full league programme in Senior Two on Saturday, and a first defeat of the campaign for Killymallaght.
Again, it was a side flagged up here at the start of the season as one to watch, St Johnston, who did the damage.
The Saints, having lost to Coleraine early on, have now recovered that ground again and are mixing it with the leaders, proving in Saturday’s win that they’re ready for all-comers.
Still, Burndennet lead the way in the league now, Aiden Boyle’s team not extended to account for North Fermanagh at the weekend. The Dennett skipper himself, along with Ski McCay, John and Colin McGettigan and Mark Roulston are all having very productive seasons, and would now be considered favourites for the title.
Coleraine are still handy themselves, they picked up another two points against Sion Mills on Saturday, and Bonds Glen overcame Killyclooney in a high scoring encounter.
Creevedonnell have at long last got going, Brian Dougherty’s team doubling their points tally with a straightforward win at the Nedd.
There’s still a lot of work for them to do if they are to get back into contention, but you just never know.
Finally, it has been suggested on the ever-popular cricketeurope website that there may soon be changes afoot in terms of youth development of the game in Ireland, and in particular in the North West.
Apparently an announcement is pending, and we hope next week to elaborate further, with input from a number of individuals with a vested interest in that area.