Neely staying focused as Ardmore reach crucial juncture
NEELY STAYING FOCUSED AS ARDMORE BEGIN CRUCIAL STAGE OF SEASON
We’ve reached the half-way point of the domestic cricket season now and there’s plenty of action over the coming days, and on a number of fronts as well. The North West T20 cups have reached their knockout stages with games coming thick and fast over the next few evenings while there are also some re-arranged league games to catch up on.
Several of those have been pencilled in for next midweek (Tuesday to Thursday) while in between times the semi-finals of the O’Neill’s Ulster Cup will take place on Sunday. The North West has two representatives still left- Brigade drawing the short straw with another away day to face North Down while Ardmore have at least got home comfort as they tackle All-Ireland Champions, Waringstown.
It has been a really impressive front nine from the Bleachgreen men albeit the second half of their summer looks a bit trickier, starting as it does with games against Coleraine, Waringstown and Donemana. And the programme wasn’t lost on captain, Gary Neely, either as he weighed up a crucial period in his men’s campaign.
The Ardmore skipper suggested that his side was enjoying life in the Premier Division at present but felt that the next ten days would go a long way towards dictating their fortunes this season.
“We’re very pleased to be in the semi-final of the O’Neill’s Ulster Cup and although I’d have liked something a bit easier than Waringstown, there’s nothing handy at this stage. A home tie is as much as you can ask for and we’ve got that and you have to beat the big teams if you want to win it.
“Confidence is high in the camp at the minute; we’re not doing too badly and thankfully the new players are bedding in well. We’ve put in a couple of really big performances but one or two where we could have been much better as well, so the thing will be to try to add consistency."
Asked if he felt they were capable of a top half finish the former Irish International said that was now the minimum goal. “We’re second in the league at the minute so I’d like to think we could push on from there and stay among the leaders. Much will depend on a very hectic schedule however and we’ll know more about ourselves in two weeks’ time.
“We play Fox Lodge tomorrow night (Friday) in the Faughan Valley, and then we’re at home to Coleraine in the league on Saturday. On Sunday we tackle Waringstown in that semi-final followed next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a trip to Donemana in the league. After that it is home to Strabane on the day of the Ardmore book launch (9 July) before hosting Bready the next day."
It is a really intense programme to be fair but Neely said the whole club was looking forward to it. Explaining the book launch he suggested that it has been in the planning for some time now and that it was important to him that they were playing well to coincide with that event.
“Billy Platt has written a book about the history of Ardmore Cricket Club and it was agreed that the home match with Strabane would be the ideal time to launch it as Strabane were Ardmore’s first opponents in North West cricket. A lot of people have put a lot of work into the day so we’re all looking forward to it."
For the skipper however, his priority is winning matches and he said he had set himself at least one goal over that difficult period upcoming.
“We want to give a really strong showing against Waringstown and obviously I’d be hoping to do well in the Faughan Valley too but it is essential that we take at the very least four points from those four league games to stay in touch. People might think we have little chance of upsetting Coleraine or Donemana but why not? We’ve already beaten Brigade on their own patch.
“The next ten days are very important for us in terms of our whole season. While the team is confident, we won’t be getting carried away with ourselves. It’s up to each player to do his job and if we do that we should be OK. There is no room for passengers when it comes to this part of the season."
Elsewhere this weekend there is a full programme in the Long’s SuperValu league before those two Ulster Cup clashes on Sunday.
Despite their excellent start it would still be something of a surprise if Ardmore were to lower Coleraine’s colours even with home advantage. The Bannsiders will be cock-a-hoop having reached the senior cup final after so many near misses but Scott Campbell can now concentrate all his efforts on the defence of their league title.
Coleraine didn’t even need help from their temporary overseas player, Shershan Naidoo, to get past Bready last time but he is likely to be called into action this weekend as they bid to stay top of the tree.
With the game between Strabane and Drummond washed out on Saturday both of those clubs are still searching for their first league points and the Red Caps in particular could hardly have asked for a tougher assignment. Ryan Gallagher’s men take on perennial cup finalists Donemana at the Park knowing another defeat would make it their worst start in many a year.
These are testing times for the 2014 Champions and while admittedly they will probably have their sights trained on other games for their safety points, that first win can’t come quickly enough.
The visitors have the scent of a league and cup double in their nostrils this year and despite losing to Coleraine in the title race a few weeks back they can ill-afford many more slip-ups. It’s going to take something special from the home team to keep Ricky-Lee Dougherty’s team at arm’s length here.
Drummond don’t have it all that handy this weekend either but you would think that if they are going to steer clear of the relegation scrap then they need to beat Bready at home.
The visitors do at least have a win over Strabane in their “points” column but Davy Scanlon knows he will need a few more than that as events unfold in the second half of the summer. They were well beaten at Coleraine in the cup on Saturday but then against the odds put up an excellent showing in defeat at North Down the following day.
On paper there is actually very little in this and although Drummond’s need is greater it is only marginally so. In a difficult game to assess the Magheramason men are a tentative pick.
The final game sees a Brigade side that are probably already drinking in the Last Chance Saloon take on an Eglinton team that has coped reasonably well with the continued absence of their skipper, Stuart Thompson.
With two defeats in their opening four league outings there is little room for error left if Andy Britton’s team are to be serious title contenders. They have been let down by their batting this season but more so by inconsistency- especially in that surprise home defeat by Ardmore.
Ulster Cup wins away at Instonians and Civil Service North would suggest that the quality is certainly there however this young Eglinton side will ask the question as well.
The villagers pulled off a stunning win at this venue last season as Thompson and Oraine Williams strutted their stuff but there’s no doubt the job will be much tougher without the Ireland International.
There is too much at stake for Brigade to fluff their lines again you would think.
Incidentally it is worth noting that with the end of the school term now upon us, domestic league and cup matches will start no later than 12 noon from here on in (excluding T20’s and Interprovincial cups).