Crucial games at both top and bottom of NW league
Weíre heading towards the dying embers of what has been a magnificent North West cricket season and in keeping with events of the past four months there are some cracking fixtures down for decision on this, the penultimate weekend. Things remain tight at the top but just as much focus will switch to events at the bottom as it is highly likely that the relegation issue will be sorted out this coming Saturday as the bottom two clash at Eglinton. Hereís a look at whatís in store as final battle lines begin to be drawn.
BREADY V BRIGADE
What a contest this promises to be as both clubs will be hoping now that Strabane slip up somewhere in their final couple of matches therefore will be aware that neither can afford to lose here. They are both alive in the title race of course but there is little doubt that the Magheramason men were totally tuned in the last time the sides met and it was real determination that saw David Leckyís side battle their way to a crucial win on that occasion Letís be realistic about this; the Bready skipper will hardly need a lengthy team talk as although itís not the be all and end all, the fact that two of their own will be in the home changing room planning to prevent the title going to Magheramason will be all the motivation they need.
Brigade had been transformed since that reverse before the Red Caps took their number on Saturday and had definitely moulded better in the second half of the season into the unit that many thought they were capable of from the start. Realistically they were out of the title race before the halfway stage but some strange performances elsewhere allowed Mark Simpsonís team to work their way back into it and they simply took advantage of that without ever being at their best. They will know that nothing less than a win here will do now and with home advantage they start very slight favourites.
COLERAINE V LIMAVADY
Itís been a case of solid seasons for this pair but both will probably reflect on lost opportunities when the curtain comes down after next weekend. The hosts hit the ground running; new recruits Ian McGregor and Stevie Dunn forming the backbone of a much more positive approach and early wins over Donemana and Strabane seemed to set the tone for what looked like being a very productive season at Sandel Park . The Bannsiders can take heart from a very respectable Irish Senior Cup campaign but will be aware that a spectacular collapse when in a winning position against Fox Lodge seemed to introduce a bad case of the jitters. By the time they had recovered their league challenge had ended but with another yearsí experience at this level they do at least have a talented crop of teenagers to build on.
If anything the Roesiders will be even more disappointed and in a year when the combatants for the title lost at least 13 times between them it seems strange that Limavady still failed to land a telling blow. There was little joy in the cups either apart from a final appearance in the Club Turf and for a side of their calibre that looks like an average enough return. With little at stake the visitors would be favourites but Coleraine might surprise them.
EGLINTON V ST JOHNSTON
Many believe that this is as important a game as there has been all season as the winners will surely cling on to their top flight status for another season at least. Whilst there hasnít been a lot between them in their games against the rest, the manner of Eglintonís win in the reverse fixture is bound to be fresh in the Saintsí minds. To be brutally honest about it the Donegal side has come into Division 1 with almost the exact same side that won Division 2 and it hasnít been anywhere near enough. Their batting has been letting them down of late but it is in the field that they looked up against it for most of the summer.
Eglinton have ticks in a lot of the right boxes ahead of this one; they have the all important experience in this Division, they have home advantage, they have the psychological advantage of that crushing win in Donegal and they have the benefit of a professional in their ranks. Adam Knezevic has been coming into a little bit of form in the past few weeks as well and if he clicks, the Saints could have a job on their hands. I can see this one being a lot closer than the first encounter but the hosts look just a notch too strong and should win.
FOX LODGE V DONEMANA
The Ballymagorry side are bound to be thinking that all things equal they should have been heading into this weekend competing with the top three for the title before fate dealt its hand. They may well be correct, we will never know, but the fact is that they havenít been able to put the loss of their professional behind them sufficiently to keep themselves in the race. They remain such a strong unit, the Foxes, and Brian Allen still has plenty of options around him but Brown made them tough as well. Despite that it has been a wonderful season for them and that is something that probably canít be said for the visitors.
Azhar Shaffiqueís team has looked low on belief for most of the year and that despite a plethora of youngsters who seem set to take the former champions into the next generation. Andy McBrine, Ryan Hunter, Ricky Lee Dougherty and more latterly Kyle Dougherty and William McBrine have all did their bit in the senior ranks whilst more experienced players like Graeme Boyd and Dale Olphert have also impressed. Surprisingly though it has been as a unit that Donemana have come unstuck; the batting in particular below par. Winter changes look assured and despite an end of season look to it, this could be entertaining.
STRABANE V GLENDERMOTT
What an occasion this now promises to be as the current joint champions can serve it up to the other two title combatants should they pick up the two points here. Whatís more, much could well depend on the outcome of a disciplinary meeting this evening following Glendermottís well publicised game at Brigade recently as it is believed that two players have been placed on report as well. Whether that affects the team that the visitors can put out remains to be seen but Strabane will start favourites either way.
Whatever happens, Jonathan Beukesí team has made a real bold bid to defend their title and having reached the final of the Northern Bank senior cup and the last four of the Club Turf the Red Caps can hold their heads high. Peter Gillespie has put in a wonderful shift as has elder brother Mark, and also the likes of Tommy Barr and Ciaran Patton. Kevin Martin and Ryan Gallagher have proved a really good opening pair in the second half as well and that has helped compensate for the loss of Niall McDonnell.
The fact that Strabane had very much the upper hand over Limavady, the other joint champions, this season will not have gone unnoticed but will mean little if they donít go on to win it now. Those defeats against Coleraine and particularly St Johnston will be banished from the memory should they go on to complete a magnificent title win. For their part the visitors have had a good season too without ever really threatening to win anything. Stephen Smyth has done what he was brought in to do whilst professional Hanke von Rauenstein has won us over after the dodgiest of dodgy starts. Should be entertaining this one with Strabane to win.