Ahead of the penultimate weekend in August you would usually expect to be talking about the closing stages of the North West Premier League season.
However, given the miserable weather of July and early August, and the baffling scheduling of interprovincial fixtures on Saturdays, most the contenders in the North West have almost half of their matches still to play.
When Brigade take to the field on Saturday against Eglinton they will taking part in their first cricket match in the best part of a month and captain Gareth McKeegan admits it’s not ideal preparation for a key double header.
“I’ve nothing against the Warriors, the Knights or the intepros, but any time the Warriors play the weather seems to be good!” said McKeegan. “It’s affecting league cricket. Our games have been pushed back and now we are under pressure to get games in. If there are more games washed out we could be right back to September 13 and you could have play-offs to get in after that.
“We have three double-headers to come over the next three weekends and that’s not ideal at this stage.”
McKeegan is taking nothing for granted against either opponent this weekend. Eglinton have dangerous cricketers in Stuart Thompson and Stephen Smyth while on Sunday Fox Lodge, the visitors to Beechgrove, really could be drinking in the last chance saloon.
McKeegan said: “Eglinton have come into a bit of form and then if Fox Lodge beat Ardmore on Saturday they are going to think they still have a chance of staying up. Having said that if they lose to Ardmore it’s virtually all over for them so they could be depleted on Sunday or come to us with nothing to lose.”
It is hard to gauge form with so few teams having had cricket recently. On paper Strabane, lying in second place, should also emerge with two weekend wins with a home fixture against Bready to be followed by a trip to Eglinton.
Should both Brigade and Strabane emerge with two wins each from this weekend, McKeegan identifies next weekend, when they face Coleraine and Donemana, as the games that could define the season.
“I think it’s between ourselves, Strabane and Coleraine. Coleraine are definitely still in it because if they beat Strabane and ourselves that’s them right back in there,” he said.
McKeegan remains confident in the potency of his bowling attack but it could all come down to whether the Brigade batting line-up fires.
He added: “It’s just a matter of getting our batting right. It’s the batting that worries me at times, our bowling is very consistent, but our batting will need to click.”
As McKeegan said, it is situation critical for Fox Lodge. After nine consecutive defeats they simply have to beat Ardmore at The Bleachgreen to retain any hope of survival. A win for Ardmore would make the battle to avoid seventh place and an end of season play-off against the runners-up in the Championship a really intriguing prospect. Eglinton and Bready will both badly want points this weekend to pull clear.