The 15 senior clubs have been split into groups of seven and eight with teams playing each other once on a round-robin basis. The top four in both groups at the end of that phase will then go into the Premier Trophy while the remainder will compete for the Championship.
Saturday’s first series of matches has thrown up some quality action with the ‘tie of the day’ at Magheramason where Bready entertain Brigade.
The visitors are the region’s form side at present having won all six of their T20 group games but this is probably their toughest ask so far.
Bready have been playing well themselves and but for an unfortunate washout when seeming set to win comfortably against Burndennett, might also have gone into the game with a similar record.
In Irosh Samarasooriya they have a player for the big occasion and while both sides will be keen to lay down an early marker in the group, home advantage for Davy Scanlon’s side makes this one very difficult to call.
St. Johnston will be delighted to be back at the Boathole having been forced to play their T20 games in the north and their match against Fox Lodge could be another close encounter. The Ballymagorry side start favourites but have blown hot and cold so far this season. The Saints are notoriously difficult to beat in their own back yard and will be well up for this.
Ardmore also finished the T20 groups with a rattle and the Bleachgreen team, along with Saturday’s opponents, are one of few to have their overseas player available. Tyrone Koen has hit the ground running and much will be expected of the South African and fellow countryman, Jarred Wilson, as they travel to Bond’s Glen.
The Bee Gees will have their own overseas player, Rehan Afridi, available and the Pakistani all-rounder certainly looks like the longer format of the game will suit him. They’ll compete this season, that’s for sure but Ardmore will definitely fancy their chances at the weekend.
Strabane finished second behind runaway winners, Brigade in their T20 group and although the impressive Shami has returned to Leinster, they still have a bit of quality about them. Tom Harpur is developing into a very fine prospect at the top of their order and the Red Caps could have a surprise or two in them this year.
Glendermott have been there or thereabouts in most of their matches so far and have the players to make this an interesting afternoon. The Rectory side are unlikely at this stage to have their overseas player on board but should still have enough about them to push the home side all the way.
In Group B, Donemana versus Coleraine is always an interesting clash and it is unlikely to be any different this time. The Tyrone side have held the upper hand in recent years, especially at home and with William McClintock’s men eyeing a good start, they will be most people’s pick.
The Bannsiders have a great mix of youth and experience this year, especially now with the Cooke boys back at Sandel Lodge, and they would certainly enjoy making a bit of mischief for the hosts if they get the chance.
Eglinton will start warm favourites against a Burndennett side that hasn’t really got out of the blocks yet. The Villagers looked very impressive in the T20s with Craig Averill back to something like his best in recent weeks.
’Dennett definitely do have a chance of springing a surprise and in the likes of Marty Mehaffey, Mark Doherty and the Roulston boys, can never be written off. They would however need to pull out their best performance of the season so far to win you would think.
The final contest sees Newbuildings host Killyclooney in a game not unlike the previous one. The home side has looked really impressive so far this summer with both runs and wickets being shared right throughout the team.
’Clooney have yet to find any kind of form, however they do have several players capable of changing the game. Once again however it would require a big effort for the visitors to spring an upset.