Back in April, Fox Lodge captain Brian Allen vowed he wouldn't be paying any attention to the Championship league table "until at least the start of September", however the Ballymagorry side's skipper admitted to peeking a few days early as he headed to Sunday night's celebration party after the win at Ballyspallen that sealed their automatic promotion.

This was a job well done by the Foxies and although it was a team effort; the skipper deserves special praise for the way in which he handled the disappointments of 2015 and instead channeled them into a positive vibe for this season. Because while most people agreed that Fox Lodge were extremely unfortunate to miss out by fractions to Drummond in 2015, Allen himself wasn't ready to jump the bridge.

It was his unbeaten century that got the job done at the weekend however the North West Development Officer was only too happy to deflect the attention away from that and on to the fact that this was only the first stage of the re-build.

"Truthfully...we weren't ready to come up last year" began the Foxies' captain.

"Yes there were fine margins separating us and Drummond and while that generated a certain amount of frustration, it didn't last long. We felt when we were relegated at the end of 2014 that it was a 2-3 year rebuild and that's why we weren't totally devastated to lose out in the first year."

"We had a few young lads starting to come through and they needed to learn more about senior cricket before stepping up to the cut and thrust of the Premiership. They need time and the past couple of seasons have been a big part of the learning curve. "

"Now that we have secured promotion I expect we'll use our final three games to continue the development of players like Adam Walker and Jamie McIntyre among others. We did it in the T20's this season- blooding a handful of younger players alongside some more experienced guys- and it worked well as we held our own."

"I do have to say though that we really started to feel ready to come up this time and I know I personally would have been very disappointed not to have made it. That was the reason for talking about not looking at the table- we had to remember not to get too far ahead of ourselves and thankfully it worked out."

Asked if he felt that the Premier Division was more survivable these days the skipper pointed to the likes of Eglinton and Ardmore and suggested that in the main, that's how the eight-team league usually works.

"After a few weeks the division tends to split into two groups- those challenging for honours and those trying to survive. Ardmore and maybe even Eglinton have shown this year that it's possible for the unfancied sides to keep pace and we will go up hoping to do the same."

As of yet the club haven't engaged in any recruitment for the new challenge ahead and the captain was forthright in his appraisal of that.

"I know there will be names bandied about of players who are coming back to play here but the truth is that our policy has always been not to go asking. We'd love to have some of those guys back but as always it will be entirely up to the players themselves if they want to be here."

"We haven't even sat down to discuss things with Marco (Marais); I'm sure everyone wants to see him back next summer but that will eventually come down to Marco and whether he wants to come back."

On the subject of the South African was the skipper happy that the rest of his batting order had taken some of the pressure off this time after Marco had posted over 1400 runs in his first season?

"Again, believe it or not that was also something we looked at with a view to trying something different this season. Marco is a top quality player but at times last year we were happy to let him do the bulk of the work. We almost got lazy, so this year he batted one or two places lower in the order. He was there when we needed him but part of the process of being ready to go up is that everyone is ready."

So was the disappointment of last year a blessing in disguise?

"Probably yes. We suspected we'd be in the Championship for 2 or 3 years but 2 has definitely been the right number. We weren't ready to go up last year but we are now. I think this club, like most clubs, thrives on seeing the team play at the highest possible level."

"To be fair we didn't lose any support in the two years we were in the Championship but that's just the sort of club we have. They still want to see top quality cricket and that's exactly what we're going to be working very hard to provide next summer. We will be pushing to be part of the top group in 2017."


Bready have made something of a habit of becoming tangled up in the relegation race over the past few seasons but the Magheramason side escaped the clutches of the dogfight a couple of weeks early this time after beating Drummond on Saturday.

To be fair though it was far from emphatic and with the home team still needing 70 runs to win and just their lower order to bat; few would have wagered on them doing it here either.

The fact that the Roe Valley men had won the reverse fixture meant that had they lost, Bready would have been favourites to go into the promotion/relegation play-off for the third time in four years on the head-to-head rule. I was a situation that needed calm heads and the call was answered by skipper Davy Scanlon and Davy Allen who batted superbly to steer their side home without further loss.

In one of the most open Premiership seasons ever, the considered opinion is that the gap between the top and bottom is narrowing. The Magheramason captain is on record this season suggesting that his own team lost three games this season against sides of the quality of Coleraine and Brigade by paper-thin margins and but for that could have been looking at a title challenge instead.

One of the North West's major hopes when going to an 8-team league was that it would make the region's top league ultra-competitive.

Perhaps the weather has contributed to that this year, but it is little doubt they have got what they wanted in 2016.


One of the main drawbacks of a successful run in the cup(s) is the unavoidable fixture chaos it brings and when you couple that with the amount of rain to have fallen this summer there was almost certainly going to be a problem somewhere along the line. And this year it just so happens that it has unfolded at Donemana.

There's a lot of talk around at present as to how the cup winners still have 5 matches to play with only a week of the regular season left to go and there could yet be more to come on that topic. As for whether or not it is an unprecedented workload however, well, the truth is that it's not even close.

This week Ricky-Lee Dougherty's men are playing Drummond (due to finish last night) and then Strabane and Eglinton at the weekend with two more matches to negotiate after that.

At the same stage in their all-conquering 2012 season however, given their success in the cups, Donemana still had SEVEN league games to play come the final week in August. It was a mental run-in that saw them win at home to Limavady and away to Coleraine and Creevedonnell in the space of four days.

They lost by three runs at Fox Lodge later in the week before beating Strabane the next night, finishing their campaign with a home win over the Bannsiders the following Saturday. They still had one match left on the Sunday at home to Brigade but they had the league won by that point so there was no need.

For anyone who thinks they can't handle five- think again. Over to you Ricky-Lee.