Ian upbeat as Saints prepare for the visit of champions
IAN UPBEAT AS SAINTS PREPARE FOR VISIT OF CHAMPIONS
There seems to have been a plethora of cup action for the region's cricketers over the past few weeks and it's another big day this coming Saturday with the quarter final ties in the Northern Bank senior cup taking pride of place. Unusually there are a couple of Division 2 teams in the line-up this year and while both have been handed very difficult draws, they do at least have home advantage.
Helping us out this week to look ahead to those games then is St Johnston's Ian MacBeth as the Donegal side prepare to welcome Brigade to the Boathole with a place in the semi-finals at stake. Ian is of course one of three brothers who have been part of the fabric at the club for the past 20 years and he acknowledged that the Saints' season has started brightly after a mediocre 2011 campaign.
I asked him if their difficult season in the top flight a year earlier had affected morale at the club or the desire to seek promotion again but he felt that that wasn't necessarily the case. “It was a tough year, no doubt about that but playing at the highest possible level is always something we want to be doing at St Johnston. Obviously it can be very disheartening when you're getting beaten nearly every week but I believe we're stronger as a team for the experience. We've made a really good start this time and we look as though we will be in there pitching but I personally think that with several talented youngsters coming through it will do us no harm to give them another year or two at this level”.
Being the middle of the three siblings I asked him if there was still a buzz playing alongside the other two- Alan, and David who is skipper this year, and if there was competition between them. “I love playing in the same team as them and believe me competition is fierce and bragging rights are very important. One of the other two (no names mentioned) likes to protect his averages so its always good to keep up the challenge. I think my 79 not out last weekend will keep the older boy quiet for a few days at any rate but it's even worse now that my own son, Ryan, is in the first team as he's not shy when he does well either!”
And talking about the young lad there seems to be a few new faces emerging at the club so I asked if the emphasis was on bringing them into the first team as early as possible. “Ryan is 14 and he and Michael Rankin have been in the senior side all season. There are more coming through as well; David and Ethan Lapsley and Andrew McElhatton are other youngsters who could have a big future and that's why I think it's important to give them time at this level. It would be foolish to just throw them all in at the same time so they will be introduced gradually and the more experienced players will be able to look after them”.
And turning to the forthcoming cup games is there a chance that the Saints can serve it up to the champions on Saturday? “Why not?” was the instant reply. “We played them here in the cup a few seasons back but we didn't do ourselves justice that day. There is no pressure on us here but we have a really decent blend of youth and experience in the side these days and we're thoroughly looking forward to giving them a run for their considerable money. Thanks to the efforts of Stuart Lapsley and James Robinson in particular our ground is in terrific shape so if we get in and set them a target you never know”.
It seems a real family affair at St Johnston and there are always plenty of familiar faces to greet you at the Boathole and Ian's wife Gail is fully supportive of both him and Ryan. Gail is the face behind the club's online service and is another who deserves immense credit for the work that is ongoing in Donegal. Whilst the temptation was to let Gail cast her eye over the other three quarter final ties, Ian decided to go it alone and this is what he expects-
Burndennett v Bready- “This might not be as straightforward as folk may think. Home advantage coupled with the form of Mark Doherty, Ski McCay and Gerry McAuley could be the boost that Burndennett need. They had a bad year last season but look different this time and with a few returning players in the team to support the younger lads they look better balanced. Bready have a touch of class though- a good professional and two sets of brothers (David and Bryan Scanlon and Craig and Ian Young) and David Rankin who are all top players. That might be enough to put them through but they will be found out if they go there expecting it to be easy”.
Coleraine v Limavady- “On paper Coleraine are every bit as strong as Limavady and there are plenty of interesting side battles here with Ian McGregor and David Cooke taking on their former team mates. Young Scott Campbell is having a fantastic season as well and with their professional, Jayasinghe in good nick the Bannsiders will be looking at this and thinking they can go all the way. Their win at Brigade earlier in the month was massive and there will be no shortage of confidence. In the home camp. Everybody knows how good Limavady can be on their day even though the batting hasn't really clicked yet. I just think though that Limavady's bowling is a little bit stronger and that might just be the difference between them this time”.
Donemana v Glendermott- “Donemana all the way in this one. You have to be impressed with their strength in depth and their professional Kamran Sajid has been scoring loads of runs all season. Glendermott have recovered a bit from an awful start and apparently should have beaten Strabane a fortnight ago but despite a good cup tradition they're right up against it here. They seem to be relying on their professional Silva a lot and they just don't look as strong as they have been lately. What a brilliant start for Donemana though, that last ball defeat by Bready was just the first loss in their opening ten matches. Donemana never know when they're beaten and any one of the eleven is capable of being a match-winner for them but I think this is set up for one of the best young players in Ireland in Andy McBrine. He looks to have a massive future in the sport and I expect him to take this match by the scruff of the neck and his team to win it”.