Eglinton captain Chris Pierce has predicted that this year’s North West Premiership could be the tightest top flight in many years.
After two just rounds of matches, Coleraine and Donemana are the only unbeaten teams in the eight-team division and along with Brigade, seem the likeliest front-runners.
But as Pierce points out, none of the three favourites have looked impregnable so far with Coleraine and Donemana both going out to disappointing Irish Cup defeats and Brigade struggling for consistency.
This Saturday Eglinton face one of the other teams striving to finish in the top half, Bready. Both clubs have started the summer promisingly, with Eglinton winning an extraordinary Ulster Cup tie against Muckamore last season.
Pierce was at a family function but was aware of the unfolding drama through text message.
“When I heard we were 80-odd all out I thought it could get embarrassing, but we kept taking wickets and it was a great win in the end,” he said. “I’ve been pleased with how we’ve started. We had a bad start at Coleraine, when no-one seemed to click, but it’s gone well since then. Apart from two or three players, we are all under 30 and there’s a good team spirit.”
Eglinton have broken with recent tradition this season and gone with an overseas professional. Orlaine Williams, the West Indian all-rounder, has made a positive early impression. After a flirtation with relegation last summer, Pierce hopes William and Stuart Thompson can combine with the young talent to drag Eglinton away from any potential danger.
“Cricket wise we expected him to be a batsman who can bowl, but he is more of a genuine all-rounder,” said Pierce. “When he came over we were thinking he was going to be a gentle medium-pacer but when he bends his back he can bowl quite sharp, especially for a short man.
“With the bat he is a typical West Indian, he likes to hit the ball, but while he is aggressive he likes to play straight too and has a good technique.
“Off the field he has a great energy about him. He has a great enthusiasm for practice and he is driving the lads on to get better.”
Pierce is targeting a run in the cup competitions - an away draw against Drummond has given them an achievable route to the Senior Cup semi-finals - but predicts a season of unpredictable results.
“Coleraine, Brigade and Donemana are favourites but if you look at their results, they have been inconsistent,” said Pierce. “We should be able to finish in the top half, I think every team is beatable.”
One fascinating aspect of Saturday’s clash at Magheramason is a potential meeting between Ireland’s Craig Young and Stuart Thompson.
“Stuart has been showing a great attitude,” said Pierce. “He is going to be unavailable later in the summer at times so we want to make the most of it while we can.”