This weekend the Royal Liver Irish Senior Cup takes centre stage with nine teams left in the competition after the early demise of Glendermott who were knocked out by holders North County in the preliminary round. Strabane now have the unenviable task of attempting to dethrone the champions, although the probable absence of Andre Botha with an ankle injury should make their task easier. The home side will have been bitterly disappointed by their batting display last Sunday against Brigade when they took over 40 overs to score just 63 runs. They showed signs of improvement on Monday night when they scored 241 for 4 against Sion Mills thanks to a century from their professional Jeevantha Kulatunga who will be ineligible for this tie. Peter Gillespie the skipper also scored a half century in that game and brother Michael made 49. Gary Wallace had a five wicket haul last week while Terence Patton and Martin Parkes were both economical. The North County side is packed with international players and in Paul and John Mooney and Conor Armstrong they have players of real quality. Strabane will be hoping to repeat their success of 1998 when they won this competition, but it will be a major shock if they manage to depose the champions.
Four times finalists and twice champions in 1997 and 1994 Limavady have had a stroke of fortune already in their tie against NCU side Woodvale. Originally drawn away the tie has been switched to Limavady as the Ballygomartin Road ground isn't ready to stage the tie. Limavady have been in tremendous form in the league brushing aside the challenge of Glendermott on Sunday. They now have the strength in depth required to challenge for major honours with the return of Roger Kerr and Geoff Lockhart to bolster the side. The major surprise has been the early form of their capture from The Nedd, Keith Burns who has picked up 10 wickets in their last two games. Ian McGregor, Mark and Richard McDaid have all been among the runs and the side is full of confidence. Woodvale aren't the strongest of the NCU sides but have strong bowling with Ian Cleland and David Cardwell useful performers. They have a number of young players in the side and will find a rampant Limavady too strong.
Another side in form Donemana make the trip to Dublin to play Clontarf. The Holm side sit proudly at the top of the Senior league and look to be in top form. They have a good blend of youth and experience with no fewer than four of their youngsters in the North West side. The McBrine twins still form the spine of their side and they will be hoping they can lead their team to another success in this competition having won the trophy in 2000. Clontarf have also made an unbeaten start having won their two opening games by comfortable margins. Their star player is Irish international all rounder Greg Molins. Donemana should win this one and advance to the next round.
Brigade are also in Dublin making the trip to YMCA. They will have been alarmed by the way their batting collapsed last week at Strabane when they lost 9 wickets for just 53 runs. However they were missing the key figure of Alan Rutherford and his return should have a galvanising effect on the side. Their real strength as shown last week is their bowling line up which is comparable to anything in Ireland. It has depth and quality and in Gordon Cooke and Mark Simpson they have two opening bowlers of real quality. Brigade have won the trophy twice in 1999 and 1996 and have also been beaten three times in the final. YMCA knocked Donemana out of this competition last year and will be aiming for another notable scalp in this competition. Their two major players are former Ireland captain Angus Dunlop and bowler N Bhandari who was successful last year taking wickets at Donemana. I expect Brigade to triumph but only after a real struggle.
A beleagured Drummond also make the long journey south to take on Leinster. They will be at a real low after having been bundled out for just 43 at Donemana on Monday night. Their batting is extremely fragile but in Gregory McDaid and Chris Moore they have players of real potential. Their bowling lacks depth but they have real triers in Brian Coyle and Alastair Montgomery. Their opponents Leinster reached the final twice in recent years but lost to North West sides on both occasions. Opener Mark Jones is their star performer and he should ensure a win for Leinster.
Bready too have been struggling this year and they are also Dublin-bound with a visit to a strong Malahide side. The Magheramason mensı best performance came in 1995 when they lost to North Down by just 1 run. Mark Olphert is their main hope for runs in a side which has found it difficult to score runs. Trevor Hamilton and Geoffrey McConnell will be hoping to be among the wickets. David Mcgeehan captains the Malahide side and he will hoping that home advantage proves to be decisive.
Fox Lodge have had some famous wins in this competition most notably when chasing over 300 to beat Saturdayıs opponents Instonians. On that occasion Mark Mooney scored a big hundred. Their other success came when skipper Michael Walker smashed 10 sixes in a knock of 83 to beat Lisburn by 1 wicket. Their bowling is a little weak since the loss of Robert Huey to Donemana, but Stuart Clarke will be hoping for early breakthroughs. Instonians best batsman is Neil Carson while Andy Rose is an all rounder who has performed well in the past two seasons. With home advantage Instonians should win.
On paper Eglinton have the most difficult task taking on NCU side North Down who are one of the strongest sides in the competition. They are unbeaten in all matches this year and are well clear at the top of the table. They have quality players throughout the side but most notably Andy White and Robin and Ryan Haire. Peter Shields is a class act and Moreland, Adams and Dale are all useful with the ball. Eglinton without Venkat Pratap will depend even more on Stephen Smyth. They welcome back Johnny Thompson from holiday and that should strengthen their bowling. North Down should win this one.
In the final tie Sion Mills have home advantage over Downpatrick. The home side have had a torrid time and havenıt scored many runs. Their bowling is also weak with them unable to make major inroads into any of the sides they have played this year. They welcomed back Johnny McCrea and Fergal O Doherty to their side at the weekend but will need a much improved performance if they are to have any hope. Downpatrick knocked Brigade out of the Club Turf Cup recently and with players of the calibre of Shilliday, Ferris and McCann they should have little trouble progressing to the next round.