THEY could not avoid each other. North Down and Donemana were the only teams left in the hat in the draw for the first round of the Royal Liver Irish Cup and the NCU champions and North West runners up will meet at Comber in the first "match of the season" next May.
The teams were drawn together in the semi final of the Ulster Cup this year and North Down won that game by five wickets but Taimur Khan, who was the game's top scorer, will not be available for the NCU side next time as overseas professionals are still banned from the Irish Cup. For those with longer memories, the game is a repeat of the 1989 Irish Cup final at Rathmines, which produced the first of North Down's three successes in the competition.
Donemana won the cup in 2000 but lost in last season's semi final to Malahide, who went on to win the first ever all-Leinster final. Malahide, who did not have to play outside Dublin this year, will begin the defence of their title in Northern Ireland but must await the winners of the first round tie between Cliftonville and Strabane to learn their destination.
All three preliminary round ties, on the second Saturday of the season, are NCU v North West clashes. Fox Lodge, who reached the semi finals in 1999, are the only North West side at home, against last year's beaten semi finalists Downpatrick while Belfast Harlequins meet Glendermott and Cliftonville host Strabane.
North West cup holders Limavady, who have not won a match in the competition since their 2000 semi final, face a tricky assignment away to Rush, last year's beaten finalists, and NCU cup holders Lurgan could not have asked for a more difficult first hurdle, against North West league champions Brigade, at Beechgrove.
Bangor's first match in the competition since 1996 will be in Dublin, against YMCA. The current score between the teams is 1-1 with YMCA victors in 1994 and Bangor won a bowl-out nine years earlier.
The breakdown of the 16 games gives seven first round games to Dublin, five in the North West, with a possible two more, depending on preliminary round results (only Limavady and Donemana have been drawn away) and, at the moment, only two in the NCU although if Downpatrick and Cliftonville win their preliminary round ties they will also be at home on May 24.Preliminary Round (Saturday May 3):