STRABANE IN BOX SEAT AS TITLE RACES ENTERS FINAL LAP
This week's crucial rearranged league match with Bready notwithstanding, it is Strabane who lead the Long's SuperValu Premiership table going into the second half of the programme after the Red Caps routed Fox Lodge at Ballymagorry last Saturday. That made it six from six for Peter Gillespie's side- the fomer Irish International captaining the team once more in the continued absence of Tommy Bar with an ankle injury.
Strabane's dominance of the Foxies was almost total- Jason Milligan's brilliant century apart this was top versus bottom in every sense of the phrase. Brigade, and possibly one or two others as well remain very capable of serving it up to the 2010 champions between now and September but the Foxies' situation looks really nasty now. With seven games left the Ballymagorry side need to win an absolute minimum of three, but in reality probably more if they are to survive the drop this season. Confidence looks shot to pieces if Saturday's performance is anything to go by but the club will be hoping that the quality of Milligan, Iftikhar Hussain and Brian Allen can somehow force a way back in for them while there's still time.
MCBRINE'S WARRIORS STUN LEINSTER IN T20 INTERPROVINCIAL
It was a day to remember at Bready on Sunday as the North West Warriors earned their first ever T20 win with a comprehensive defeat of Leinster Lightning- the holders of the T20 championship. David Rankin and Stuart Thompson were the men who did the damage- their 116-run first wicket partnership setting the scene for a magnificent all-round display. Despite the Bready opener also scoring another half century in the Warriors' second game against the Northern Knights, an almighty batting collapse scuppered any chance of back-to-back victories. Andy McBrine's men lost their last 7 wickets for just 15 runs despite Rankin and Jason Milligan handing them another fantastic start and the Belfast side, with former Bready player Chris Dougherty scoring a half century for them, cruised to a 7-wicket win.
“MAC” STEPS BACK FROM WARRIORS “FAMILY”
Anyone following the fortunes of the North West Warriors will no doubt have noticed one absentee in particular from Bobby Rao's team's dressing room for the last couple of matches following the decision of Niall McDonnell to retire from Interprovincial cricket. The opening batsman has been an ever-present in the blue and green since the series started in 2013 and it was clear from talking to him at the weekend that the Warriors means an awful lot to him. “I would love to have been in our changing room in Dublin last Thursday because that was some effort to get so close to such a strong Leinster team. We are getting closer and closer and I have no doubt our time isn't too far away. The difference between us and Lightning in two three day games this season has been a last wicket partnership and given our respective circumstances, you can easily see how much the squad has improved”.
The decision to leave the camp obviously wasn't an easy one and the Coleraine man admitted it had been the toughest call of his career. “I can honestly tell you that the Warriors' changing room was a wonderful experience. It is like a family in there and I loved the camaraderie. They are a brilliant bunch of lads and although we all got on really well it was also an honest place. If you played a bad shot to get out or dropped a catch they didn't mumble behind your back- you got it right between the eyeballs and that meant that we kept each other on our toes”
“It was an honour and a privilege to be picked to represent the North West first and foremost. Bobby Rao could easily have ignored me as I had been in the wilderness for a year but him and Ian McGregor kept faith with me. Those two have very different natures but they are both invaluable to the Warriors set up. People from outside have their own ideas about Bobby but for me, and for very many others as well, Bobby Rao is the best one-to-one coach in Ireland bar none. The amount of time and effort that man puts in for his players is mind-boggling. Ian is a more composed figure but is really observant and misses nothing. At a time when I was struggling to make this decision he was the guy who talked me through things and he is a real ambassador for the Union”
Turning to his decision to retire from that level Niall accepted that his work and family commitments came into it but that there was much more to things than just that. “Yes I have a young family now and without that support and understanding behind me I wouldn't have been able to do any of this. Obvuiously time off work particularly for 3-day matches in midweek wasn't easy either but again, Strabane Academy were very good to me. Realistically however I needed to be honest to myself and to the coaches and squad. The efforts the squad puts in for training, fitness, strength and conditioning and then playing is absolutely phenomenal. I have been struggling for a while with back problems and if I couldn't give this absolutely everything then my decision was being made for me. Quite simply my body was telling me I couldn't play cricket to that standard five days a week. That was it in a nutshell.”
“I wanted to retire last season after we beat Leinster at Strabane but I still needed to prove to myself that I could bat against the best bowlers in Ireland. I got a score at the Park that day and have managed to get a few runs in the early part of this season so I felt that now was the right time. To be honest the reaction from the boys has been brilliant. I went to Donemana for the recent cup semi-final and Andy McBrine greeted me with ….”you're going to be really missed in the Warriors..” rather than worrying about getting me out. Ricky-Lee was the same and that is something I know I'm going to miss”.
And on the subject of club cricket did the Coleraine man feel that all the travelling was impacting on his game at that level now too? “In many ways I didn't really notice the travelling last year- I was preoccupied with my grandfather being ill (he has since passed away) and of course travelling is always much more bearable when the team is winning and you're doing well, which was the case then too. It is a lonely journey home after a defeat or if you haven't played well but I still feel I owe Coleraine Cricket Club as they took a punt on me last season which really worked out”.
“Going forward I really think that the Warriors are on track and I know they will continue to build from what is now a solid base. I would really like to see qualty players like Andy Britton back again because we do have good young players up here who could do with having that experience around them. If it was a results based approach we were looking to take I have no doubt that Decker Curry, David Cooke, Peter Gillespie and the likes- all excellent players by the way- would be in our squad but I really believe that Bobby Rao and the Warriors' selectors and committee are building something equally special”.
“I'm just glad to have had the opportunity to be part of it- playing for and captaining the North West is something I will always be fiercely proud of- and in finishing I would like to acknowledge the support from my family, my club and from Dean Bass at Vulcan Cricket”.
FLEMING- AGRI FAUGHAN VALLEY/ ERIC COOKE MEMORIAL PLATE DRAWS
The draws for the North West T20 competitions have taken place. In the Fleming-Agri Faughan Valley, Coleraine are at home to Fox Lodge, Strabane will host Ardmore, Eglinton entertain Brigade while Donemana have home advantage over Bready.
In the Eric Cooke Memorial Plate, Killyclooney are at home to Glendermott, St Johnston entertain Drummond, Creevedonnell take on Bonds Glen and Newbuildings play Burndennett.