Cricket: Championship title chasers clash at Roe Valley

The Eglinton ground team try their best to get last weekend's Danske Bank North West Senior Cup Final up and running again
The Eglinton ground team try their best to get last weekend's Danske Bank North West Senior Cup Final up and running again

There are just three games in the Championship this coming weekend as Glendermott had asked for the weekend off before the start of the season, however all eyes will be on the battle above the third placed Rectory outfit as the top two lock horns in the Roe Valley.

This is pretty much it for pre-season favourites, Fox Lodge, because as they already sit two points behind the leaders, defeat on Saturday would leave Drummond four points clear and with a better net run rate with just two games to play.

It has been a phenomenal season for Steve Moore’s men and having spoiled Burndennett’s promotion party at their place last September they now stand on the verge of promotion themselves.

They have won all 11 of their league games this season and most of them have been by some distance.

The exception to that rule was the reverse fixture with the Foxies in mid-July when a seismic batting collapse from the home side somehow allowed Drummond to sneak a narrow, five-run win.

We thought at the time that it may have been a telling blow and it will certainly look that way if the hosts manage to make it a straight 12 this weekend.

Moore’s men can certainly point to the fact that they are top on merit and have carried all before them without the help of an overseas professional. They did however add Simon Dunn from Brigade as well as Neal Stewart and Andy Christie from Eglinton and all three have proven to be pivotal signings.

There has been no standout in the ranks if truth be told, and certainly no-one close to opponents’ Marco Marais’ 1000 runs for the season. Chris Moore has fared best so far with the bat, making around 500, but they have all chipped in after that and that has been the key.

Steve Moore, Ricky McDaid, Kyle Morrow, Adam McDaid and Jamie Millar have all contributed a knock here or there while Christie has been really solid at the top of the order.

The bowling has been good too- McDaid and Moore giving support to Stewart who has been excellent all season as has Jonny Martin and of course spinner Dunn.

In any other year Fox Lodge would be a shoo-in from here and Brian Allen will be livid that a thoroughly avoidable defeat last month could well be the difference between automatic promotion and a play-off. He will however be drumming into his players that they have a chance to make amends, but it has to happen now.

The Foxies’ problem has been their middle and lower order - the reason they were relegated in the first place - and those old wounds are still not healed. Marais of course has been brilliant and has gone flying past the four-figure mark already but taking Jason Milligan’s 500 plus out of it after that, the figures tell a story.

Young Jamie Huey has done well since coming in but the Ballymagorry side would struggle really badly in the top flight with those sorts of numbers.

And when you consider that Marais heads back to South Africa before the end of August - long before any potential promotion play-off - you get the feeling that their best shot at promotion is going straight up.

To do that they will have to end Drummond’s winning streak and although they are more than capable of beating anybody in this league, the pressure is squarely on the visitors.

Elsewhere Creevedonnell still aren’t safe and they host Newbuildings, their opponents in this month’s Sammy Jeffrey final, in another decent looking clash.

The visitors have really hit their straps in the second half of the season and Jean Symes has played a massive part in that.

The South African has joined fellow Protean Marais in the 1000 club and looks every inch the quality player that his stats suggested he was.

That said, Peat Salmon looks no back number for Newbuildings and the West Indian could make this a really interesting day up the Curryfree Road.

Wes Ferguson’s side has made good inroads in the past few weeks and if they can keep this side together and bring Salmon back next summer, could well be a factor in the race then.

In the day’s other game, the two sides at the bottom of the table, Burndennett and Killyclooney, fight out what could be a telling battle. It has been a really disappointing campaign for both of these teams especially after such promising summers in 2014.

The home side have been badly hampered by availability this season with several players working in England from week to week. Skipper Mark Roulston only returned to duty at Drummond in the Eric Cooke Cup last midweek as well after two months out following surgery and the absences have taken their toll.

Killyclooney started the summer reasonably well with Darren Moan proving particularly threatening but it hasn’t happened for them of late.

A good run in the Ulster Shield will count for little if they end up finishing bottom of the table so it’s an important fixture for both of these sides.