Ricky-Lee Dougherty had a big pair of boots to fill when he accepted the opportunity to captain Donemana after Richard Kee decided to step down this season following several years in the job.
Kee skippered the Holm side to what is now the Bank of Ireland Senior Cup for three years on the bounce and it would have been four but for the 2015 decider being abandoned due to rain and played a week later while the batsman was on holiday in Barcelona.
Kee had lined Dougherty up as his replacement some time earlier but would have had mixed emotions as he watched on from Catalonia as his deputy picked up the blue riband trophy 12 months ago in his absence. This year, Dougherty lifted the trophy again, and very much on his own steam too, when his side beat Coleraine in the final at Strabane Park. And on Saturday the former Institute striker piped the icing on the cake as Donemana beat Ardmore by four wickets to add the Long’s SuperValu Premier Division title to their earlier cup success.
Had this been a hands-down title decider it would have made for some spectacle in front of a huge crowd but with the waters muddied by head-to-heads and Net Run Rates, much of the tension had already been lifted. Neither was the contest helped by the fact that the visitors bowled Ardmore out for just 90, after which the home side were really only playing for pride; and of course for Brigade.
Had Gary Neely’s team won after that, the title would have gone to Beechgrove but the Ardmore skipper clearly wasn’t thinking about that as he ripped into Donemana’s top order. A Neely-inspired home team reduced the cup holders to 6-4 and then 27-5 as the batting side threatened to implode before Kyle Dougherty and a couple of the more established players calmed things down.
Junior McBrine has come back into the Donemana team this season any time that Andy is away on representative duty and the all-rounder, who celebrated his 53rd birthday on Friday, certainly made his presence count. McBrine and Dwayne McGerrigle shared six wickets early in the day to ensure that Ardmore’s batsmen never got going and it was the same pair who brought it home with the bat.
As Neely’s overs ran out, Junior showed all his experience to nudge the ones off Decker Curry and Ryan Brolly while McGerrigle’s raw power blasted Donemana towards and beyond their target.
The final margin was 4 wickets but it was a fitting way in which to end what has been by and large a disappointing local season. The awful weather of the past three months has taken any momentum out of the whole campaign and the fact that this is the first time ever that a team has claimed the league title having won just 8 matches pretty much tells its own story.
Nonetheless, that will have mattered little in one Tyrone village on Saturday night with the party in full swing well into the small hours. In truth, Donemana are probably as surprised as anyone that they got there in the end because up until a fortnight ago it looked as if they wouldn’t have time to get their five outstanding matches played.
With the benefit of hindsight, Coleraine, Brigade and even Eglinton and Ardmore must surely be wondering the difference that one session of play over the whole season would have made. And the fact that when they let their collective guards down for a second, the one team you don’t want closing in, came and picked their pockets.
Just two points separated the top five teams in the Premiership race, with the top three tied on 16 points apiece- Donemana winning it by virtue of a better scoring rate over the campaign. It was just that kind of season.
As North West President, Connie McAllister, said as he handed the title trophy over to Donemana on Saturday afternoon- “..they say that a lucky team usually wins the cup, and the best team wins the league- but we all know what kind of team wins them both…”.
At The Bleachgreen, Ardmore lost to Donemana by 4 wickets
P McDowell b W McClintock 18
K Martin b McGerrigle 12
R Brolly c K Dougherty b McGerrigle 19
D Curry b W McClintock 4
P Harrigan b Jun McBrine 6
C Curley c&b Jun McBrine 0
G Neely c&b Jun McBrine 5
C Brolly c W McBrine b McGerrigle 0
S Dunn st RL Dougherty b McGonigle 6
S Gormley st RL Dougherty b McGonigle 10
Ger Brolly not out 1
Total (all out, 29 overs) 90
Fall: 1-29 2-39 3-51 4-65 5-65 6-71 7-71 8-73 9-78 10-90
Bowling: G McClintock 2-0-17-0; W McClintock 7-0-33-2; D McGerrigle 10-3-16-3; Jun McBrine 7-3-10-3; J McGonigle 3-2-9-2
W McClintock c&b Curry 4
T Riddles b Neely 1
G McClintock run out 0
RL Dougherty b Neely 0
A Riddles c Martin b Neely 10
K Dougherty c Dunn b Curry 27
Jun McBrine not out 14
D McGerrigle not out 25
Total (6 wkts, 32.2 overs) 91
Fall: 1-6 2-6 3-6 4-6 5-27 6-59
Bowling: G Neely 10-4-11-3; D Curry 9-2-33-2; Ger Brolly 4-0-12-0; S Dunn 2.2-0-14-0; S Gormley 1-0-4-0; R Brolly 6-1-15-0