THEY will have celebrated long into the night at the Holm on Saturday after Donemana clinched their sixth successive cup final place with a comfortable win over Brigade.
It was a collective effort this time- it usually is to be fair- but now the Holm men will train their sights on the title race with four weeks between now and the senior final.
In his pre-season interview, Ricky-Lee Dougherty made no secret of the fact that he felt Donemana hadn’t been at their best in the league in the past couple of years and there was a real feeling around the club that they wanted to put the record straight in 2016.
A recent defeat by fellow challengers Coleraine was hardly the start the cup holders were looking for but with plenty of competitive cricket still to play over the next two months it was hardly a disaster.
Tomorrow (Saturday), Dougherty brings his troops to Strabane Park where they will tackle a home side that has failed to fire thus far and whose need for points is great.
With last Saturday’s match at home to similarly struggling Drummond lost to the weather it is a crucial time for the Red Caps, however skipper Ryan Gallagher is confident that they can turn things around.
“It definitely hasn’t been the start we had hoped for but two of our four defeats have been against Brigade and Coleraine so we can’t get too down on ourselves. It isn’t getting any easier this weekend either but it’s always a good test playing against Donemana so we’re looking forward to it”.
Asked if he felt that the games were getting more and more must-win, the all-rounder said it was far too early for that. “We’ve only played four of fourteen league matches so there’s nobody panicking. We just need to play smarter cricket and that applies to all of us.
“The wins will come- I have absolutely no doubt about that- and hopefully when we get one we can kick on and move ourselves away from the foot of the table”.
Strabane’s problem in the first half of the season seems to be that they are struggling for runs in key positions however Gallagher wasn’t so sure.
“I wouldn’t say the batsmen have been struggling- there is plenty of talent in that batting order- but we do have to make sure we learn from our mistakes and not keep making the same ones.
“I think that if we concentrate on getting our own game right as players that we can turn it around. Every game is a big game in this league so while Donemana is huge for us on Saturday, the next match after that becomes just as important.
“There are 10 league games still to go and there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns in that time. The competitive nature of the eight-team league means that any side is capable of winning on their day and that is to the benefit of North West cricket.”
It seems to be the case that you’re likely to get kicked when you’re down and the Park side were certainly left feeling that way after losing in a bowl-out against current All-Ireland champions, Waringstown in the O’Neill’s Ulster Cup on Sunday.
Strabane hit with their first three attempts in the shoot-out but still ended up losing- the first time that has ever happened in the senior competition. It was gut-wrenching for the skipper, who was one of the successful bowlers himself; however he accepted that his side now have the decks cleared to negotiate their struggle for Premiership survival.
Elsewhere, Bready’s defeats in both the North West and Ulster Cups at the weekend means that they too can concentrate on league safety albeit they too will be smarting from their Ulster Cup exit.
The Magheramason outfit was given a bit of a roughing-up by Coleraine on Saturday- losing by a hefty nine wickets in the final reckoning- however despite travelling to Comber missing three first team regulars the following day they gave North Down a real scare before going out in the last over.
This weekend David Scanlon’s men have possibly an even more important game to negotiate as they travel to win-less Drummond where a victory would give the visitors some real breathing space.
That recent win at home to Strabane has given Bready the jump on the two teams below them and even at this reasonably early stage of proceedings a four-point buffer would take a bit of clawing back.
Incidentally, the start times for 50-over games now changes to no later than 12 noon from this weekend having passed the 30 June cut-off point.