Brigade and Coleraine set for crunch clash

Brigade's Johnny Thompson
Brigade's Johnny Thompson

The combination of indifferent weather and the fixture calender have contributed to a stop-start beginning to the North West season.

But assuming the rain stays away the campaign should be given some fresh momentum with heavyweights Coleraine and Brigade set to clash in the league at Sandel Lodge.

It’s a particularly important weekend for Brigade. Last season’s nearly men also face a trip to Phoenix in the Irish Cup on Sunday with captain Gareth McKeegan only too aware of the importance of successive victories.

Given what McKeegan has seen so far, the wicketkeeper-batsman predicts a tight title race, with Saturday’s opponents likely to be joined by an improving Strabane.

“From what I saw on Sunday Strabane are going to be up there as well. They look a good side so it’s not just going to be between Brigade and Coleraine. Donemana seem to be a bit weaker but you can’t write them off and Fox Lodge will be hard to stop if their pro gets going.”

The weather certainly hasn’t helped Brigade’s new professional, the Indian all-rounder Digvijay Amarnath, get into his stride. However, there have been flashes of promise and his presence could help the Beechgrove men improve on 2013.

“He is finding it very hard to get used to the temperature,” McKeegan laughed.

“The lads have been looking at his hands and they are like ice and it’s going to be hard to spin the ball when your fingers are so cold. It’s the first time he’s been overseas.”

McKeegan knows little about Phoenix, but the Dubliners will be a more formidable prospect on their home ground than they might have been at Beechgrove, where they were set to be without a number of key players.

“They looked a very young side when they came up to our place. But we will go down there and respect them, because they play in Dublin where the cricket is so strong.

“We have a full squad available and with Graeme Moore and the pro coming into squad we are stronger than last year. We have seven bowlers there who are capable of bowling 10 overs. Against Fox Lodge Johnny Thompson was seventh change!”.

Brigade’s season may hinge on the form of their batsmen. The suspicion is that they could still be a quality player light.

“I would probably like to have another batsman in there,” McKeegan added. “I’m hoping it won’t turn out that we are a batsman light.”

There are seven Irish Cup replays on Sunday. In the NCU Instonians host one of the competition favourites Railway Union, who included Ireland all-rounder Kevin O’Brien. Inst are controversially without Andrew Forbes who instead plays for the NCU under-17s. Waringstown have home advantage against Terenure.

In the North West Ardmore host North County, Strabane face Lurgan and Civil Service North travel to Championship outfit St Johnston.

Fox Lodge are the only Ulster team in Dublin as they face Leinster at Rathmines.

If no results are possible a bowl-out will be used to decide who reaches the second round.