Senior Two review and preview
The Saints had blown their opportunity to close the gap on Saturday when losing for the second successive week, this time at Sion Mills. Kevin Gallagher was in great form for the hosts as he top scored with 52 while there was good support all round from the likes of young Craig Alexander and Simon Galloway. Despite their problems in the last number of seasons the Tyrone side have been trying to re-build and introduce more youngsters from the village into the sport and their efforts have been rewarded with some big performances this summer. David MacBeth picked up three wickets for the Donegal men with David Lapsley claiming two more but not before Sion had posted a very competitive 229 for 9 in their 50 overs. Having come a cropper against Burndennett, last weekend St Johnston knew anything other than a win would all but end their title hops here and despite some of the top order getting starts, a steady fall of wickets wasn't helping the cause. David Lapsley top scored with 46 while the MacBeth brothers Ian (36) and Alan (30) chipped in but it was to be Gallagher and Sion's day as he followed up his half century by returning figures of 3 for 12 with the ball. Raymond Harpur was also on hand to claim two wickets but the Saints were to be left kicking their heels as they finished all out on 220 and a 9-run defeat.
Ardmore all but guaranteed their safety with a convincing win against a Drummond side that has now lost 4 of their last 5 matches. Ciaran Curley hasn't played as much cricket as Ardmore would have hoped this season but he was on song here with a typically aggressive half century. Damien Carlin with 4 wickets and Gordon Cooke with 3 meant that Ardmore didn't get too far away and at the half way stage their 154 all out looked modest enough. Skipper Cooke and Steve Moore have been among the runs almost every week for the Roe Valley men and Moore was again to the fore here as he made 44 in the reply. Unfortunately for him however there was to be little support elsewhere as Drummond had no answer to another man who hasn't played nearly enough cricket, Martin Gormley. The seamer was too hot to handle for the visitors, eventually finishing with 5 for 41 and backed up by skipper Lee Brolly with 3 for 34 the Bleachgreen side posted an impressive and very valuable win,
It's another big weekend upcoming for Division 2 sides and none more so than the league leaders who have the small matter of two cup finals in the space of as many days. On Saturday the villagers take on Drummond in the Sammy Jeffrey final and then on Sunday they head to Limavady to tackle Muckamore in the Ulster Shield decider. The Belfast side is by far the most successful team in the competition having won it 3 times in its 7 year history but that won't worry Eglinton unduly. Having pulled six points clear in the title race Karl O'Doherty's men certainly go into their double-header in fine form and the skipper was upbeat ahead of the challenge. “We set out at the start of the season to win whatever competitions we had entered and now that we're in these two finals we would like to finish the job. The Sammy Jeffrey is very poignant for us anyway but the recent death of Lawrence King gives it an extra edge this season and we would like to win it for him. Drummond will have their own agenda too of course and they are a very decent unit. Any team with Gordon Cooke and Steve Moore included will always be dangerous so we have to be on form if we want to win it. Sunday's game is obviously a different type of contest in that we haven't seen Muckamore at close quarters although by all reports they are having a fine season. That said we're having a decent time of it ourselves so there is plenty of confidence in the camp. It would be fantastic to be the first North West side to win it but we will need to be at our very best for that to happen”.
Turning to the league campaign the skipper was obviously delighted to seize the initiative in the race for the play-off spot but was well aware that plenty of work remained to be done. “Things have been going well for sure and we have been helping our cause in the fact that we seem to be scoring heavily against a lot of sides. Despite missing last week through illness Christopher Pierce has been in great touch while Andy Christie and Stephen Smyth are exceptional players at this level. Richard Wylie's form has been top notch however and he is batting with a real maturity which is helping our cause no end. If we get runs on the board we look to open with spin from one end (usually Richard) while Jonny Gardiner has been bowling really well with the new ball. Myself or Nigel Thompson would then take over and we have spin at the end as well from Ross Allen and Stephen and we find that we are able to strangle sides early and late. I thought we had blown all our good work up at Sion recently but the boys dug themselves out of a hole to keep our record intact. Much was made of the pitch after the game but it wasn't as bad as all that and while it was green and damp we should have batted better on it”.
So what happens if they do go on to clinch promotion this season- did he feel they were equipped to compete in an 8-team top flight? “The reality is that we struggled in a 10-team league last year so there is every chance that life would be tough if we were in that situation. On the plus side we have several quality players in the team who definitely wouldn't be out of place and with Christopher Pierce, Simon Olphert, Ross Allen and one or two others now with senior experience under their belts we could be OK. It's all hypothetical of course but the club wants to compete at the highest possible level whether that is next season or in the future”.
And while the villagers are in dual cup action there are a couple of league games to negotiate for the others. Killyclooney host Ardmore safe in the knowledge that defeat will condemn them to relegation from the senior ranks as Richard McMorris's side has failed to pick up a single point thus far. The home side has lost so many quality players in the past three years that it is an achievement in itself that they have kept going at all but the die now looks cast in the short term at least. Ardmore have had a well publicised poor season themselves but two points here means that they can look to re-group over the close season for a crack at the new-look league.
Burndennett had been due to play The Nedd while St Johnston were scheduled to meet Drummond so that pair have now agreed to pull forward their end-of-season fixture and play each other. It has been a reasonably solid season for both and maybe particularly Burndennett after finishing bottom last season however the proof of the pudding will be whether or not they can keep this side together after this summer. This could be a decent contest at the Boathole with both sides now realistically eyeing second place.