FOR a club like Donemana, five years without getting their hands on the Northern Bank North West Senior Cup must have felt like a lifetime.
They had expected the toughest of challenges from Bready as they sought to end that famine, but from the moment Stephen Dunn took the wicket of Chris Dougherty with the first ball of the match on Friday morning, the famous trophy was destined for The Holm for the first time since 2004.
Persistent rain meant the two-innings final at Eglinton wasn’t finished as scheduled on Saturday, but when play began yesterday morning it was a question of when, and not if, Donemana would close out the match, boosted by the comfort of a huge first innings lead of 81.
Bready managed just 169 for seven in their second innings, probably around 50 runs short of presenting Donemana with a testing target on a turning pitch, and requiring just 89 for victory, Azhar Shafique’s side got home with almost 19 overs to spare.
The decisive blows in this final were definitely landed on Friday, and with just six 6.2 overs possible on Saturday, Donemana never relaxed their firm grip on the match during a final day which was played underneath belated warm sunshine.
For the briefest of periods yesterday morning it seemed that Bready might just have been able to make Donemana sweat in their fourth innings run chase. They promoted the experienced Mark Olphert to open the innings with Chris Dougherty, and for a while the ploy worked as they raced to 33 without loss in seven overs.
Bready weren’t exactly ahead of the game, but at least they were displaying the aggression they desperately needed to make this a contest. However, in the 10th over, just four balls after being introduced into the attack, James McBrine found unexpected bounce from the Eglinton track and Dougherty gloved the ball to Junior McBrine at slip.
From that mom ent onwards, Bready, who had been so positive, rather lost their nerve in the face of some tight Donemana bowling and surprisingly energetic fielding.
Con de Lange, Bready’s South African professional, took 22 balls to get off the mark and the scoring almost ground to a halt once Olphert (26) tried to work Jordan McGonigle’s first ball to the on side and only succeeded in getting a leading edge back to the bowler.
Bready, who had scored 39 runs in the first 10 overs, managed just 71 in the next 30. All the pre-match talk had been about the potential influence of Bready’s three spinners, but in truth it was Donemana’s slow men who dominated. McGonigle conceded just 16 runs in 10 overs on Friday and yesterday he was scarcely less parsimonious, claiming three for 24 in another excellent spell.
Again, Bready pinned their hopes on a big contribution from de Lange but after labouring to 26 in the 28th over, he was the third man out, excellently caught standing up by wicketkeeper Richard Dougherty off James McBrine.
Crucially, Bready were not even yet ahead, and unnerved by the prospect of having to set a target in just 21 overs, the Mageramason side lost another three wickets for 16 runs in the space of seven overs.
There was a real danger they would fold completely, but at least David Rankin and Trevor Hamilton had stomach for the battle, adding 58 runs for the seventh wicket to take them from the despair of 96 for seven.
Rankin, after an understandably slow start, hit impressively down the ground in a fine 30 while Hamilton, for the second time in the match, battled against the odds in reaching an unbeaten 32.
Hamilton was Bready’s leading run scorer over the two innings, and that in essence was their pr oblem. None of their leading batsmen came to the party and in both innings it was left to the tail to dig them out of trouble.
It would be easy to claim Bready froze under pressure, but the credit should go to Donemana. They came out of the traps firing on Friday morning and crucially their big match performers, man of the match Junior McBrine and Shafique in particular, delivered on the North West’s biggest stage.
When it came to knocking off the runs, Richard Kee released what little pressure there was with a flurry of early boundaries off Craig Young, though there was a wobble of sorts as he and then Shafique fell to de Lange’s left-arm spin within the space of three overs.
With youngsters, Ricky-Lee Dougherty and Andrew McBrine at the crease and playing in their first cup finals, Bready had a semblance of an opening with 68 still required for victory, but despite de Lange and Britton bowling well in tandem, they had nothing like enough runs to play with.
At least they made Donemana work hard to get over the finishing line, claming five wickets and forcing them to grind it out over 31.1 painstaking overs.
Bready have the talent to come again, while Donemana, once the celebrations have died down, can make this a fairytale season. They have a Bob Kerr Irish Cup semi-final to look forward to on Saturday against Pembroke and still retain an outside chance of retaining their Senior One crown.