New Coleraine captain Gordon Cooke has identified Donemana and Brigade as the champions’ likeliest rivals as they bid to retain the North West Premier League title.
Former Ireland international Cooke, who has inherited the captaincy from his brother David, acknowledges that the other seven teams will have their sights set on upstaging the Bannsiders.
“It’s going to be harder this year because of the expectations after what we did last season,” said Cooke.
“When you win the league the other teams up their game against you the following season, that’s the way it works in all sports.
“It’s going to be difficult but there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.
“Brigade will be hard to beat and along with Donemana and ourselves, they will be the main challengers.”
Cooke is pleased with the squad at his disposal. There is a change of professional with South African all-rounder Kyllin Vardhan replacing Sri Lankan Roy Silva while the Averill brothers, Craig and Mark, have joined Eglinton.
John Ring, the English batsman who once played alongside opener Niall McDonnell in the Liverpool League, is expected to play the entire season while perhaps most crucially Coleraine received clearance to play Jarred Barnes, the towering South African seamer, as a local.
At one stage during the winter there seemed to be real doubts about Barnes’ eligibility and Coleraine were facing the reality of him being classified as an overseas player.
However, those hurdles were overcome and Barnes has been joined by his compatriot Vardhan, who plays for North-West in first-class cricket.
“The pro bats at number four for North West in South African and the year before last in England made 1,400 runs and took 50 odd wickets,” Cooke continued. “Ring will bat in the top order and bowl decent medium pace.
“But we have plenty of young players coming through. Rishi Chopra and Scott Campbell are still young while Rishi’s younger brother Varun, who is only 14, is a very promising leg-spinner. I’m hoping we will play him this year and get him overs.”
Coleraine have been handed a tricky assignment in their opening match of the campaign on Saturday. Newly-promoted Ardmore promise to be quite a proposition this summer with veterans Decker Curry and Gary Neely joining captain Adrian Murphy and Andrew Riddles.
“On their day any of those players can win a game on their own and I think Ardmore will be capable of beating anyone in the league,” added Cooke. “They have good youth in their side and they’ve been practicing hard over the winter.
“It’s a difficult game first up but we will be confident because of the players we have. We have a great mix of youth and experience.”
Donemana, the reigning Senior Cup holders, start their campaign with a testing home game against Bready, who have often given them trouble in the past. Strabane hand a debut to off-spinner Johnny Robinson, the North West’s leading wicket-taker in 2013, at home to Eglinton while Fox Lodge face Brigade.