Who will win the Irish Senior Cup?
It's Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup time again and just like last year we've asked the"experts" to see if they can predict who might lift the country's premier cup competition this coming September.
Ian Callender fared best last year but there are plenty of challengers queueing up this time looking to take the top tipster crown. Here's what they had to say:
Kevin O'Brien (Railway Union and Ireland)
"With most of the squad from the last couple of years the same we will have a very balanced and experienced side capable of going all the way in the BKISC.
"The first round tie away to Glendermott will be difficult as is any away trip to the NW. If we stay cool under pressure and commit to our game plans I feel very confident about round one.
"The cup is the best competition in Ireland and I look forward to it every year. The big players look to this competition as their Everest, so I'd be looking at the likes of Instonians, Waringstown, North County, Merrion. An outside bet to be in around the quarter/semi finals could be Leinster."
Emmet Riordan (Irish Times)
"Some of Leinsterís top sides face tricky away ties in the opening round, with YMCA facing the daunting task of taking on last yearís beaten finalists Instonians.
"With Trent Johnston and Simmi Singh added this year to a side containing proven match winners such as Reinhardt Strydom and Albert van der Merwe, YM certainly have the talent to make an impression in the competition if they can get past the first hurdle.
"Leinster, winners in 2009, have made a great to the season and in Joel Leacock look to have unearthed another Caribbean jewel following on from Carlos Brathwaite. "Merrion have also tasted success in recent years, beating Railway Union in the all-Leinster decider in 2010, and they look like challenging on all fronts.
"But after ending their drought last year, I believe an NCU club can hold on to the trophy, with defending champions Waringstown not likely to let it go without a fight. And if Jeremy Bray keeps up his blistering start to the season, CIYMS might be the new name on the Bob Kerr by the end of the summer."
Peter Shields (North Down and ex Ireland)
"I think Waringstown's win last year will give the NCU sides more belief that they can do well in this competition. We are due a decent run ourselves but need to put in the performances when they matter starting this week against Fox Lodge. If itís not us lifting the trophy then hopefully one of the other NCU challengers will, with the likes of Instonians, possibly CIYMS and once again Waringstown the most likely candidates."
Eamonn McLaughlin (Highland Radio)
"The NCU challenge looks strong again and Waringstown might have the edge with the quality of their bowling. If the North West big guns are to take a hand they would need to play a lot better than they did on Saturday but they are certainly capable."
Emmet Whaley (Pembroke)
"Itís still early but there doesnít seem to be much between the teams in Leinster this year. There are always a few upsets in this competition and depending on the draws and getting some momentum, any one of them could do well.
"At Pembroke we really enjoy the BKISC and weíre looking forward to a tough first round game against Donemana, a very talented side with a good mix of youth and experience. They have a great record in this competition but hopefully we can cause a surprise. The other stand out ties for me involve last years finalists, Warringstown v Strabane and Instonians versus YMCA Ė whoever wins those games would have to fancy their chances."
Iftikhar Hussain (Brigade)
"I think it could be very open this year and there is no reason why a North West side can't win it. At Brigade we would like to think that we can enjoy a successful run like we did last time but Limavady look strong also and I wouldn't be surprised if they did well."
Ross McCollum (Lurgan, Ireland and current Cricket Ireland Chairman)
"Lurgan have Coleraine away and I think this will be a good judge as to how much we have improved. If we have a full side I would be hopeful that we can give Coleraine a good game , unfortunately we are missing Derek Heasley for the first 6-8 weeks of the season which is a big blow. Who is going to win it? - Instonians."
Brian Daltom (Terenure)
"Terenure CC are looking forward to the visit of Limavady CC this weekend. As is the norm against any of the top teams from the North-West we expect a tough contest. Kenny McDonald is in fine form with the bat and Ken Brennan and Andre Botha are bowling exceptionally well at the moment so we are looking forward to the visit of one of the North Wests premier teams. The home draw has of course helped our prospects.
"We would view Limavady, along with Instonians, and Waringstown from the NCU, and YMCA from Dublin as the main contenders for the trophy. If however we were to put our money on someone this year it would be CIYMS.
"This will be the first time Limavady CC have visited Terenure since Decker Curry posted an individual score 260* against the club in 1998 so one way or another with Deckers suspension being lifted we expect an entertaining afternoon in Terenure Village."
Ian McGregor (Coleraine)
"I can't claim to know a lot about Leinster cricket other than there seems to have been a lot of moves there during the winter. I'd say that the balance of power is probably just still with NCU clubs and a potential winner might emerge from the Waringstown v Strabane game while North Down and CIYMS are also full of quality proven players. In the North West, Strabane if they get past Waringstown or Limavady if they get Stuart Thompson back would have a chance and keep your eye out for a dark horse from the north coast".
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
"Last year showed that the NCU clubs are ready to compete in the Irish Cup again, and if one of Waringstown, North Down and Instonians gets the luck of the draw. I can see them going all the way.
"Limavady look the best equipped of the North West sides provided they can get Stuart Thompson available. The first round tie between Instonians and Dublin YMCA could produce the winner. YMCA look to be fancied in Dublin this year, while for me Instonians are a team who always get themselves up for the big cup ties."
Conor Kelly (Phoenix)
"In relation to Phoenix we would hope to do well in the Bob Kerr ISC this year. We are realistic at the same time and winning the cup would be a huge achievement with the current squad. Nonetheless we will be going out to win every game and we are capable of beating anyone on our day.
"In my opinion the teams to look out for this year would be CIYMS, YMCA & Railway Union. CI & YM have strengthened their squads in the off season and look like they will be formidable opponents. Railway are always in the mix and if Kevin O'Brien is around for the whole season they will be tough to beat."
Richard Hepburn (Bonds Glen)
"The North West is due a win and there are a few sides here capable of doing it. Limavady and Donemana are probably the main pair; Limavady won't need much motivation and if they come through the first round Donemana will be very dangerous at The Holm now that the draw ban has ended"
Lawrence Moore (CricketEurope)
"The gap has definitely narrowed over the past couple of seasons and there are probably now at least three teams in each union with a realistic chance of winning it. I think (fear) that the NCU might just still have the edge this season however; CIYMS have strengthened considerably and I would have tipped Waringstown but I'm not convinced they'll get past a very good Strabane side.
"Despite not having made such a great start domestically I wouldn't be surprised to see a full strength CSNI go well but in a season where there is so little between the top sides North Down tick all the right boxes".
Joe Curtis (Top Irish cricket photographer)
"The successes of the last dozen or so seasons seems unlikely to visit North County in the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup this year as, at first glance, they seem weakened from last season. However they will not go down without a fight and if some of the young guns step up to the plate this year they might rattle a few cages.
"In the event that North County donít prevail then I would not pass my tip for 2011 when I plumped for Waringstown. So my choice for 2012 is North County with Waringstown as first reserve."
Brian Dougherty (Creevedonnell)
"The Club are looking forward to our first fixture in the Irish senior cup for 30 years and our first ever using coloured clothing.. Although North County donít appear to the force of old, they are still formidable opponents Ė indeed someone remarked when the draw came out that it was bit like Scunthorpe Utd drawing Man Utd in the FA Cup. Nevertheless we are delighted to be hosting them and are keen to provide them with a warm welcome, at least in the pavilion! If the sun shines Iím sure they will enjoy the views and the experience and we are hoping their driver has a Sat Nav!.
"They will of course be strong favourites but we expect them to afford us the same respect we will them. Gary Neely had a particularly devastating effect on them with the ball a couple of years ago when playing for Glendermott whilst Iím sure the likes of Nicki Cooke, Kyle Morrow and Jack Glenn and our other players can give a good account of themselves.
"In terms of overall winners I believe a North-west win is overdue. Our big three, Brigade, Limavady and Donemana I think have a chance. The latter two of course have a great history in the competition as well as some beef with the powers that be, which might give them an added edge. Brigade also have a point to prove after succumbing meekly in last years semi-final.
"Elsewhere CIYMS I think will be expected to be the NCUís main challengers, whilst in Leinster I have to pick North County, of course, providing they can find their way home from Curryfree next week-end."
Stephen Hughes (CIYMS)
"In our short history CIYMS have never been beyond the quarter finals of the Irish Senior Cup, and this year we hope to emulate this and maybe even go beyond if the draw is kind to us. "We have a tough match first up against Bonds Glen at their place, which is always a hard place to get a result. Waringstown, Instonians, Limavady and Merrion have done well in recent years and will have genuine ambitions again this year of progressing far."
Alan Lewis (YMCA, ex Ireland and TMS commentator)
"My view is that we have a very challenging first round draw but we have a good team well capable of going the whole way. Itís the one trophy that hasnít been in our grasp throughout my career which is a huge disappointment. If we can overcome Instonians it could give the club and the team real confidence for the rest of the competition. We will need to be at 100% to win and therein lies the challenge. Really looking forward to it now that I feel we are competitive."
Simon McDowell (Ballymena)
"Given our recent record in the Irish Cup our only focus is making it past the first round although given our draw that is going to be a tough ask. The one good thing is we are at home and hopefully we can make that advantage count.
"With regards to who might win it Ė Iím going to be biased to NCU and say I think Waringstown, North Down, CSNI and Inst all must fancy their chance of doing well in the competition this year."
Ger Siggins (Irish Daily Star)
"Waringstown and Instonians were very strong finalists in 2011 and could be back again. Merrion have turned into a very good cup side in last couple of years but will miss their U19 squad member(s) in the closing stages.
"YMCA have put together a very strong XI but I think the winners this year will come from the North West. If they can find a strong replacement pro Strabane would be my tip, otherwise Donemana."
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
CIYMS could be the cup team of the season. They have no history of success in the Irish Cup - this is only their fifth year in the competition and - because they have never had such a talented line-up with a strong top order batting line up and an under-rated bowling attack. With what should be a straightforward first round hurdle, the luck of the draw could take them to dizzy heights.Ē
Robert Duggan (Cork County)
"Cork County are going into this year's competition in a positive frame of mind after being handed a home draw for the first time in almost a decade. We have been drawn against Derriaghy from the NCU and we're expecting a tough match in order to progress to the second round of the competition for the first time since 2003. The Irish Senior Cup has been a competition that Cork County has often underperformed in throughout the years and this season the players are keen to progress and maybe cause an upset or two along the way.
"However, in Derriaghy we anticipate a tough game after they had an impressive campaign in the NCU Section 1 last season with a powerful middle order. One of our strengths is a strong bowling attack and if our batting unit led by captain and opener Ross Durity steps up to the mark then we hope we'll have enough to progress. Either way it promises to be a great day of cricket at the Mardyke!
"As regards potential winners of the competition, we came up against North Down, Merrion and Brigade in a pre-season T20 Tournament at The Green a few weeks ago and they all look like excellent and well drilled outfits so it wouldn't surprise me if a winner came from one of those three assuming we don't win it ourselves! Other sides I think you should look out for would be the holders Waringstown, YMCA and Railway. There are some quality club cricket sides throughout the country at the moment so there promises to be some great encounters."
Andrew White (Instonians and Ireland)
"Having reached last year's final there is now a belief in the camp that we are capable of beating anyone in the country when we perform to our best.
"It is the Premier Club competition in the country and we will be determined to go one better this year, however, standing in our way in my eyes is one of the tournament favourites - YMCA.
"They have a strong side which relies heavily on spin bowling and of course now have Trent Johnston in their ranks. If the pitches suit them they will be hard to beat."
Andrew Poynter (Clontarf and Ireland)
"Clontarf have been poor in the Bob Kerr ISC in recent years especially considering form in Leinster competitions. Our aim is the same as every year to win the biggest and most prestigious competition in the country.
"We have not had the ideal start to the league season and are looking to the Irish Senior Cup to kick start our campaign. There is a big day planed at Castle Avenue for the 12th May and the whole club is looking forward to the arrival of Cork Harlequins. Our side changes slightly as we have both Delany brothers available for selection who normally play for Trinity in the first half of the season."
David Simpson (Lisburn and Ireland A)
"I would hope we can have a run in the cup as its a competition that we haven't had an extended stay in over the past number of years. It also allows us to play against sides who we wouldn't normally come up against and that adds a little bit of extra interest/excitement. If we can't win it then maybe another NCU team can do it again - CIYMS have started well along with North Down and Waringstown."
The final say goes to Barry Chambers: "With my track record as a tipster, it's just as well I don't bet on the horses. Limavady at full strength will be a challenge for anyone, especially at home, but the depth isn't there if they run into any injury problems. The Leinster sides all look evenly matched, with Merrion maybe having the edge although Railway, Leinster and North County have excellent pedigrees in the competition.
"Waringstown if they can get past Strabane will be fancied to go all the way, while North Down are long overdue a decent campaign. Instonians and CIYMS will also fear no-one.
Who will emerge top of the pile? My money is on another Waringstown triumph - they have a well balanced settled squad, with plenty of options in all departments, and a decent professional in South Africa Glen Addicott."
The draw in full is as follows - all games start at 12:30pm: