All set for new Cricket season

Strabane Cricket club

THE 2014 domestic cricket season is up and running this coming weekend and not for the first time the race for honours looks sure to be very keenly contested.
The Tyrone based quartet making up the top flight endured very mixed fortunes last time out and some will be more keen than others to set the record straight. Bready came perilously close to losing their Premiership status and it took a determined late run and a nervy play-off victory over St Johnston to finally pull things around.
The Magheramason men have a new professional in the ranks this year in South African Ernest Kemm and the 23 year old all-rounder has a major role to play in changing his new club’s fortunes.
Even better news for David Scanlon is that Craig Young seems certain to play for him this season and his brother Ian has recovered from his horrific injury and will also feature this summer.
Speaking at the weekend the Bready skipper was looking forward to getting started on Saturday and was very hopeful of major improvement.
“We have to start a lot better that’s for sure,” he said. “But hopefully the unavailability issues we had last time were a one-off. We are very happy with the squad as it is especially if Ian and Craig are confirmed.
“We’ve enjoyed a testing pre-season to ensure the sharpness needed to hit the ground running and while it is an extremely difficult league that we play in I’m quietly confident of a decent showing.”
Just up the road at Ballymagorry, Fox Lodge have had to come to terms with the loss of the region’s highest wicket taker last year, and their former captain, Jonny Robinson, who has joined Strabane.
The Foxies have also brought in a new overseas player, 29- year old Pakistani pace bowler Tabish Khan and current skipper Iftikhar Hussain believes that despite the absence of Robinson his side are bang in the mix.
“We surprised a few people last season by finishing in the top three and I am more than happy with the squad we have this time. Tabish is a quality pro, very sharp at the head of the attack and he also hits a big ball. We have really strong all-round options in Jason Milligan, Andrew McGinnis and the incoming Dean Curry while Brian Allen, Dean McCarter and Aaron Heywood are also talented players. The boys are really looking forward to getting started now and we feel we have a really good chance in league and cups”.
Donemana are also looking to improve their league position despite winning the Senior Cup last July. Richard Kee’s side were never really in the hunt in the title race but with Andy McBrine likely to be available for the full season and their teenage trio of William McBrine and the McClintock twins all a year wiser, progress looks assured.
“We have the same first XI squad as before and I’m very pleased about that” insisted skipper Kee.
“As always Donemana will be going all out to win every competition we’re involved in. We seem to have an affinity with cup competitions at the club and while I’m delighted about that I feel we owe it to ourselves to be fighting for the title as well.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Andy McBrine back in a Donemana side after his World Cup performances in Bangladesh and I’m expecting big things from William and Gary as well. If everybody plays to their potential, believe me we’ll be fine”
Over at the Park, Tommy Barr will also feel that Strabane totally under-achieved in 2013 and he will be anxious to put that right now.
The Red Caps have strengthened considerably during the close season, bringing in Tawanda Mupariwa a Zimbabwean opening bowler as well as former Fox Lodge man Robinson.
Also returning to Tyrone is Ryan Gallagher and despite the loss of Peter Connell, this looks to be a decent Strabane team.
Kevin Martin stays despite interest from Ardmore and with Peter and Mark Gillespie joining Martin, Gallagher, Mupariwa, Robinson and another Zimbabwean Matt Bentley theirs is a quality top and middle order.
Strabane’s bowling attack is as strong as it has ever been- Mupariwa, Mark Snodgrass, Ryan Patton, Aaron Gillespie and a quartet of spinners in Robinson, Bentley, Gallagher and skipper Barr meaning a host of options at their disposal.
A spokesman for the club said that they were happy with the squad they had put together but their main aim was to improve on last year’s showing.
“Like everybody else our first challenge is to ensure we improve on last season and stay in the top flight. We found things difficult at times last year but we have worked hard in the close season to identify weaknesses and try to address them.
“We are hosting the Senior Cup Final at the Park this year so we are looking forward to the season generally. The players have put in plenty of work in pre-season and if they do manage to get off to a decent start this year then maybe we can compete again, but only time will tell.”
Reigning champions Coleraine have kept pretty much the same squad that took them to their first ever senior title last year and will be a force again under the leadership of former Irish international Gordon Cooke.
Brigade are relatively unchanged too with the exception of new professional Digvijay Amarnath and Gareth McKeegan’s men will be hoping to go one better than their second placed finish 12 months ago.
Newly promoted Ardmore have been the region’s busiest side during the close season with former Donemana and Irish international duo Decker Curry and Gary Neely both rocking up at the Bleachgreen.
Adrian Murphy’s team look like they ought to be competitive in their new surroundings meaning that teams like Eglinton will need to be on their mettle in the race to avoid the bottom places.
In the Championship, St Johnston will be hoping that they can go one better than last season and get another tilt at promotion under Ian Macbeth. Creevedonnell and Bonds Glen look likely to have to settle for a season of consolidation having lost key players over the winter while Burndennett again look capable of a top half finish. With a relegation play-off a distinct possibility at the bottom, both Killyclooney and Sion Mills will need to be on their guard from the start.
This year is a huge one for Sion- their 150th anniversary in North West cricket and they will want to celebrate in style. As always, we will have all the reaction from each set of fixtures in our weekly round-up.

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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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