AFTER a very indifferent 2015 season Strabane’s players and officials were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief on Saturday afternoon as a narrow victory at St Johnston finally put an end to any suggestion that the reigning champions would be involved in this year’s relegation scrap.
Such has been the turnaround in the club’s fortunes that the win, their fourth in succession, lifted Strabane into the top four and safety with two games to spare. It has been a tough ride for a team that lost over half of the players that led them to the title last season, but who then seemed to get caught up in their own plight.
An excellent campaign from Peter Gillespie coupled with the timely return to form of Tawanda Mupariwa, Ryan Gallagher and Aaron Gillespie however means that all’s well that ends well for the Red Caps.
Down at Magheramason it’s a very different story as Bready look likely to need a second play-off in three years to retain their top- flight status. Unless Davy Scanlon’s men can beat Brigade this Saturday and then Strabane on the final day, and hope on a favour or two elsewhere, they could now be tackling either Drummond or Fox Lodge for a spot in next season’s Premiership.
The issue is complicated by the fact that if Bready are beaten on Saturday the game at Ardmore then becomes a double-edged sword. The Bleachgreen club host St Johnston and should the Saints win that, Bready would go joint-bottom of the table with one game to go.
If Ardmore win, it sends Scanlon’s men into the play-off with the Saints almost certain to be relegated automatically.
The outcome of the Championship will also be confirmed on Saturday with Drummond entertaining Creevedonnell. The Roe Valley club need to win first and foremost otherwise it will be the Foxies who go up but they will also need to win in very good time as well as net run rate currently favours the Tyrone club.
Drummond won’t want reminded that this time last year the Championship trophy was at their ground on the final day of the season but had to be rushed very quickly to Donegal after Burndennett failed to win it at the death.
With professional Marco Marais already back in South Africa, Brian Allen’s men will be hoping to get up without the need for a play-off, but the ball is now firmly in Drummond’s court.
Sion senior bid thwarted Sion Mills’ attempts to return to the senior ranks have been thwarted for the foreseeable future at least after Simon Galloway’s men were beaten by Ballyspallen earlier this month. The defeat means that the local side cannot now catch ‘Spallen in the table and although both are behind Donemana 2nds who are on course for the double, the highest-placed finisher between the two first teams will get a play- off against the bottom side in the Championship.
That position is currently held by Creevedonnell who were rocked by the fact that their prolific overseas player Jean Symes had to go back to South Africa much earlier than planned and their weekend hammering by Newbuildings in the Sammy Jeffrey Shield is the sign of a side currently struggling.
As it is though, Sion will now have to hope that the North West rethinks the 8-team league set-up, or, more likely, regroup for 2016 and go again.
For their part, Sion have maintained throughout that they have enjoyed their season in Qualifying 1 but that the goal remained to return to the Championship as soon as possible. A spokesman for the club said that they were badly hampered by a number of factors in 2014 and had paid the price with their senior status but that things had been steadily improving.
“This year has been something of an eye-opener if truth be told but the boys have definitely enjoyed the fact that we’ve won more than we lost. One of the positives is the fact that we’re playing on senior grounds like Bready and Donemana but one of the drawbacks is that second XI’s are always much stronger if you meet them on a day when their 1sts have no game.
” That’s just how it is and you have to get on with it but it takes a bit of getting used to. We’ll just keep trying until our opportunity comes and if we have to wait then so be it. The fact of the matter is however that it isn’t always a level playing field and for the struggling clubs it makes things a lot harder to compete over the course of a season.
“ We have enjoyed a very good year all told, but the drive goes on. We intend to continue working hard over the winter to secure our long- term future in whatever division that may be, ensuring that cricket is still played in the village where it has been part of the fabric for 150 years.”
T20 finals rescheduled
The North West Union has said that it looks more than likely that the postponed T20 finals will now have to be split over two different dates following Sunday’s washout at the Rectory. A Union spokesman confirmed that a number of dates had been considered and offered to the clubs involved but that there were difficulties tying down a day that suited everyone.
“We have scheduled fixtures up until 6 September and then a couple of play-offs to factor in after that but we offered the four competing clubs dates including the upcoming Bank Holiday Monday, the 12th and 13 of September and also the
following weekend, the 19th and 20th but we couldn’t find a compromise.
“At this point therefore it looks likely (but not yet confirmed) that the Eric Cooke final between Brigade and Killyclooney will be played on Sunday 13th September while we look for a suitable opportunity to play the Donemana v Eglinton Faughan Valley final. To be fair, Donemana had requested a free weekend over the 12th and 13th since before the season began as there is a family wedding taking place there so we have no issues with that whatsoever.”