Brigade aim to force play-off in North West title race

Even the most creative writer could barely have prepared a better script.
Andy Britton in action for BrigadeAndy Britton in action for Brigade
Andy Britton in action for Brigade

The final day of the North West Premiership season and the destination of the title on a knife-edge as the top two prepare to clash.

The equation is simple for Coleraine and Brigade at Beechgrove. Coleraine, the leaders, can clinch the trophy for the second time in three years with a victory.

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Brigade, without a league title since 2011, know that if they beat the Bannsiders they will force a play-off at a neutral venue on Saturday, September 12.

It simply couldn’t be set up any better with the weather - apparently - set fair.

Andy Britton, the Brigade captain, says his team are relishing the situation.

Coleraine would have had the title sewn up but for an unexpected stumble against Ardmore a fortnight ago, and perhaps more pressure is on the visitors.

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“It’s a must-win for us,” said Britton. “Coleraine might be thinking they only need to win one of two matches, but I’m sure they won’t want to go to a play-off.

“We are playing good cricket, there is a good feeling about the club and we’re confident.”

There has been minimum opportunity to prepare the pitch and Britton suspects it could be a low-scoring thriller.

He and the veteran Mark Simpson lead Brigade’s fine all-round attack while Graeme McCarter and Jarred Barnes, Coleraine’s seamers, blew away Donemana last Saturday.

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“At the minute Beechgrove probably isn’t playable but with a couple of days’ drying it should be fine,” Britton said. “We haven’t been able to get too much sun on the pitch because the weather hasn’t allowed it.

“I think the two teams are bowling sides. The weather hasn’t been there recently to help people produce good wickets.

“It’s maybe going to be a good toss to lose. I prefer bowling first, but we have been chatting about it and we will just have to see how the wicket plays out. I can’t see it being a high-scoring match and if we can get their batters out cheaply I would back our lads to chase it down.”

Britton has watched with interest the recent changes in Coleraine’s batting order.

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Niall McDonnell, the prolific opener, has dropped down to six in recent weeks.

“I don’t know what’s happening,” Britton added. “I was chatting to him and he said he hadn’t been getting any runs, but it’s not for me to talk about what Coleraine are doing.”

Brigade are still in the running for the North West Twenty20 Cup competition, with the finals day currently scheduled for next Saturday. That date will change if Brigade do force a play-off.

“We still have a chance of winning three trophies, we still have to play the charity final against Donemana which has been put back from May,” Britton added. “It was great for the seconds to win the Ulster Plate last week, it creates a good feeling around the club.”

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There remains interest at the other end of the table. Bready once again are involved in a relegation scrap. They are two points ahead of bottom-placed St Johnston. However, their superior run-rate means St Johnston must beat Eglinton by a wide margin at The Boathole and then hope Bready lose heavily to Strabane at Magheramason.

Even if, as expected, Bready survive, it is a stay of execution because the seventh-placed club will find themselves in a play-off against Championship runners-up Fox Lodge.

There is nothing at stake in the other fixture as Donemana, their title hopes now over, entertain Ardmore, who are safe, at The Holm.