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Fox Lodge in relegation peril

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MORE bad weather put a dampener on events around the North West last weekend with Bready’s big date with Waringstown in the Ulster Cup final and Strabane’s crunch league match at Coleraine both falling by the wayside on Sunday. The match between Fox Lodge and Donemana did go ahead on Saturday at Ballymagorry but there was to be no change of fortune for Jason Milligan’s side as they fell to a ninth consecutive league defeat.

With just five games to go now the Foxies’ Premier Division status is hanging by a thread and it looks more a case of when they are relegated rather than if. Bready lost out at home to Eglinton but David Scanlon’s side are probably safe enough on the 8-point mark although they will look for one more win to be sure. What little league action there was last weekend is followed by none at all this time as Interprovincial and cup matters are to the fore over the coming days.

We begin with the North West Warriors taking on Leinster Lightning at Strabane Park on Saturday as Bobby Rao’s men close out a dsappointing 50-over campaign.
Although the Warriors stunned both Lightning and the Northern Knights to pick up this season’s T20 Championship earlier this month they have continued to struggle in the longer forms of the game and go into Saturday without a win in this one.

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Worse still they will take on the Dubliners without four regular first choice players- Andrew Riddles, Ricky-Lee Dougherty, Brian Allen and Andy Britton all unavailable for various reasons. Bready’s young wicket-keeper batsman Andrew Austin takes over behind the stumps while Gary McClintock, Ross Allen and Rishi Chopra all come into the squad.
The same fixture last season saw the Warriors shock a star-studded Lightning outfit, depriving Kevin O’Brien of completing a clean sweep of the Interprovincial series’ but the home side are very much the underdogs this weekend.

Despite that however there is unlikely to be any shortage of effort from the young squad and one man in particular will see to that. Just about anyone you talk to around the North West these days would happily extol the virtues of Warriors’ skipper Andy McBrine.The 21-year old always had loads of potential but the last two seasons have seen him gone from a serious prospect to a seriously talented cricketer. His unbeaten 112 against Fox Lodge on Saturday was both chance-less and calculated but it bore the mark of a young man at the very top of his game. And why wouldn’t he be- the Donemana all-rounder very much a part of the Ireland set up these days and obviously reveling in the role of Interprovincial captaincy as well.

Speaking during the match at Ballymagorry the Warriors skipper said he was happy with things at present but much work remained to be done. “There are a lot of very good players competing for places on the Ireland team at the minute and I have seen at first hand the level of commitment that is needed to get into the side and then to stay in it. Being involved has definitely helped me focus and I would like to think that my overall game has improved as a result of that. You can’t help but get better training and playing against players of that quality”.

And with places on the plane for the autumn trip to Australia and New Zealand up for grabs ahead of next year’s World Cup, did the spinner feel that he was in line to be in the travelling party- “That will be a decision taken by others so it isn’t for me to comment on. If you’re asking me do I want to be part of it then the answer is definitely yes but as I’ve aleady said there are plenty of players in contention so I’ll just keep working hard in the meantime”.
It is also clear that Andy enjoys captaining the North West Warriors although there was one monkey he was keen to get off his back- “I’m hoping to win the toss at Strabane on Saturday because my record at present is 0 from 9. I’ve heard it said that it’s better to be lucky than good so I don’t know where that leaves me.
“Despite that, yes, I have to say I have always enjoyed my time with the Warriors and there is an even better buzz now as skipper.
“Bobby Rao took a gamble by asking me to captain the team and I want to repay his trust.
“Winning a first trophy was a massive boost for all of us but while we celebrated the win for a night we are fully aware of how much remains to be done before we are competing with the other two on a regular basis.

“I know some of the lads have given interviews before and talked about how hard we have worked and that is it in a nutshell. It was a long winter of nets, fitness and general work and the first signs of improvement have now been seen. It is only the first step though as we are still some way short of competing regularly in the one day and three day games. It is a close knit squad however and we are confident that season by season we are getting better.

“There are a couple of new faces have come into the squad recently and one or two more will be at Strabane on Saturday but that’s the way we want to go. The average age of our side is early 20’s and I have no doubt if we keep working hard it will come together”. And while the Warriors take centre stage on Saturday there are three big finals to negotiate on Sunday.

Ulster Cup

In the Ulster Cup, Bready and Waringstown will try to go again after last week’s washout; this one also scheduled for Strabane Park.
If the weather intervenes again this week before a result is possible the competition will be decided by the dreaded bowl-out.
Skipper David Scanlon expects a clean bill of health ahead of that one which gets under way at 1pm.
Elsewhere, the big T20 finals day at Ardmore is expected to draw a good crowd to see St Johnston take on Glendermott in the Eric Cooke Memorial Cup final while Donemana play Coleraine in the Fleming-Agri Faughan Valley decider.
Action gets underway at noon with the Championship’s top two clashing for the second time in two days as they are scheduled to lock horns at the Boathole on Saturday in the semi-final of the Sammy Jeffrey Shield.
Admission for the whole day at the Bleachgreen is £5 (£3 concessionary) with all proceeds going to charity via the Dairy Midweek League.
And finally to Championship matters generally, it is big day Take 2 for Killyclooney on Sunday as they host Woodvale hoping to bag a place in the All-Ireland National Cup final.
Mark Gordon’s men have lost a bit of their early season sparkle in recent weeks but they can be very dangerous on their day and the rest of the region will be hoping they can squeeze through to the decider.
In the league, St Johnston have taken over at the top of the table courtesy of two weekend wins against Drummond and Creevedonnell.
The Donegal men are now two points clear of Gordon Montgomery’s Glendermott although the Waterside team have two matches in hand.
The sides are due to clash at the Rectory in the league on Saturday week- their third meeting in a fortnight- with the likely prize a chance to play in the Premier League in 2015.

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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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