Big weekend for Division 2 sides as Ulster Shield begins
BIG WEEKEND FOR DIVISION 2 SIDES AS ULSTER SHIELD BEGINS
It turned out to be a pretty good day for Division 2 teams in the Northern Bank Senior Cup on Saturday and while there was only one minor surprise in the final count the rest did their division proud. There was always going to be one team at least in the quarter final line up as Burndennett hosted Ardmore but few would have anticipated just how tight a game that was going to be. Adrian Murphy was again the key man for the Bleachgreen side as he and Paul Brolly helped them recover from losing both openers without a run on the board. The West Indian certainly found conditions to his liking as he stroked a superb century, his third wicket stand of 133 with Brolly helping Ardmore to an imposing 292 for 8. This time last year Burndennett were down and out, bottom of the league and hanging on a bit but the addition of John McGettigan, Aidan Boyle and Gerard McAuley has put a completely different perspective on things this year. The latter pair in particular were in commanding form on Saturday, Boyle and skipper Mark Doherty both posting half centuries as Burndennett's chase gathered momentum. The outcome was to be decided by McAuley however and the man brought in from Ardmore in the close season was to haunt his former team mates with a match-winning knock. With one ball left of their 50 overs McAuley was on 99 and his team 2 runs short of the win but the all-rounder wasn't going to miss out on either count and sent the ball sailing towards the Burndennett clubhouse. Ardmore were left deflated; this has been a poor start from Lee Brolly's men but Burndennett can now look forward to hosting cup holders Bready for a place in the semi finals.
St Johnston also made it through to the last eight after they overcame top flight opposition in the shape of Creevedonnell, Ian MacBeth's side beating the Division 1 side for the second time in a month. Star of the show here was Alan MacBeth, the left hander back to his very best and sharing in a 120-run stand with Sachin Dixit as the Donegal men amassed 284 for 9 in their 50 overs. MacBeth was undefeated on 92 at the end of their innings while Dixit's contribution was 66 and although Creevedonnell openers Kyle Morrow and Nicky Cooke got them off to a superb start with a 124-run stand they lost their way. Ian MacBeth did for both of them to finish with 3 wickets and Andrew Fleming claimed 3 more at the other end as the visitors were strangled out of it. The Saints were rewarded with another home tie in the next round, Brigade the visitors to the Boathole in the last eight.
Eglinton came unstuck at home to Donemana but not before Karl O'Doherty's men had winded the Division 1 leaders. A brilliant early burst from Johnny Gardiner left the visitors struggling on 57 for 4 but the Tyrone side always seem to find willing volunteers to dig them out of trouble and more often than not it is one of the McBrine twins. It was Junior's turn this weekend and not content with just posting a match-winning score, the all-rounder did it with a runner by his side having aggravated a hamstring injury early on. Ricky Lee Dougherty kept his senior partner company long enough to drag Donemana over the 200-mark but even then the villagers had a chance. Christopher Pierce and Richard Wylie were giving the former cup winners plenty of anxious moments as the reply reached 93 for 2 but a spectacular lower and middle order collapse eventually put paid to any hopes of a shock.
Sion Mills, buoyed by a brilliant knock from skipper Ryan O'Neill racked up 184 at Bready as Andy Lucas and Simon Galloway chipped in with cameos but the cup holders were in no mood to give up their trophy and sauntered past the target. David Rankin with an unbeaten century and Bryan Scanlon with 49 not out saw to it that there would be no slip ups. With Burndennett standing in the way of another semi final David Scanlon will have his players focused on the job in hand while Sion can take comfort from the fact that they put up a real fight against a top-notch side.
A visit from Coleraine was hardly what Killyclooney would have wanted after a very indifferent start to the senior season and despite the fact that they certainly weren't overawed it was clear that the club was happy to let that one go and concentrate on more pressing matters. Speaking after the game former skipper James Colhoun who is currently out of the side with a back injury was forthright about the match itself and indeed the season ahead for his club. “Let's be honest, we could do without a day like that” he smiled ruefully after Coleraine had taken just ten overs to record a 10-wicket win. “We have so many good, positive changes going on in North West cricket at the minute but without wanting to sound defeatist there has to be a better way. It might even up a little when we go to an 8-team league fair enough but the likes of ourselves and Sion were way out of our depth today. A solution might be to restrict the senior cup to the Division 1 sides plus the top three in Division 2 and the Sammy Jeffrey winners, but that's not for me to decide”
Killyclooney have certainly been unfortunate with injuries and absences at the start of the season but James suggested that the structure remained in place despite the short term problems and the club would continue to grow regardless. “I'm seeing a specialist on 13 June and despite the fact that I've played a couple of times for the thirds I've only done so to try to work with the youngsters coming through; it certainly hasn't been for any major contribution that I've made. I don't expect to play senior cricket this year and its pretty much the same for Mark Gordon who was injured in an accident just before the season started. He's a big loss to the senior side and with Mark Snodgrass having gone to Brigade as well our bowling has really suffered”.
Killyclooney of course have struggled to keep hold of their players coming through the youth set up and Colhoun accepted that that was the case. “It's been like that for some time now but we are where we are. Players want to move on and younger players come in to take their place- we don't have the wherewithal of the top clubs so that will happen. Our under-11 and under-13 teams continue to flourish but the problem with promoting players of that age is that you become loathe to ostracise boys or their parents by selecting some and not others; it becomes a fine balancing act”
Turning to the rest of the season and the Killyclooney man was under no illusions about the task ahead. “One team will be relegated from Division 2 this season and we're in a scrap to avoid being that one. We have to try to find Gordon and Snodgrass's 50 combined wickets from somewhere and we have struggled to do that so far. The batting isn't as problematic and the recent Sperrin Springs win over a strong Burndennett side did help the confidence levels which is why the cup game against Coleraine did little for us. Jordan Connor is progressing well but is still only 16 and Ashley Buchanan coming back from Donemana also adds to the cause but it looks like being a tough season ahead”.
Turning to action this week and confirmation that there is a programme of league cricket on Saturday while the Ulster Shield games will be decided on Sunday. We asked James to give us his take on the league games and while he was hopeful of a bold showing against Drummond he was aware of the strengths of Gordon Cooke's title-challengers. “Gordon and Steve Moore have assembled a good side at present but those two alone are capable of hurting teams. They have just lacked a little consistency at times but there are several young lads shaping up nicely down there which augurs well for them”.
“Ardmore host Eglinton in what could be a tight enough game and despite the fact that they haven't started well Lee Brolly's side could come good at any time. It's actually a tough match to call especially at the Bleachgreen but the Murphy factor will again be critical. Ardmore's performances are usually dictated by what he does so Eglinton will need to keep him quiet. They have big players of their own of course, none more so than Stephen Smyth and the head-to-head between that pair could be interesting. Eglinton would be favourites, but only just.
“Burndennett travel to Sion in good form after their cup win and playing at the top of their game right now they will be hard to beat. Both sides have improved this year to be honest and Ryan O'Neill's young team are definitely learning the ropes at this level. Burndennett's new players have bags of experience on top of their talent however and I just think they will be too strong here”.
Sunday sees Killyclooney head over the Glenshane as the first round of the Ulster Shield takes place, Richard McMorris's side away at Downpatrick in what looks another big ask for them. Eglinton will hope to bounce back from their defeat by Donemana and should be too strong for Academy while in-form Burndennett will have a chance away at Muckamore. Newbuildings and Ballyspallen have both been invited into the competition to replace Drummond and The Nedd and both have tricky looking ties, Newbuildings away at Cliftonville and 'Splallen at home to Holywood St Johnston will fancy their chances at home to Templepatrick and likewise Ardmore who host Bangor but the Bleachgreen side needs to put a disappointing start behind them if they are to progress.