At one time, the Irish Cup had almost permanent residence in the North West.
It’s strange to think of it now, in an era when clubs from the most passionate cricketing region of Ireland have become almost bystanders in the top club knockout competition, but the North West once dominated the rest.
The golden era began with the great Limavady team, a swashbuckling Dekker Curry at his peak as the Roesiders won their first ‘All-Ireland’ in 1994.
Bready lost to North Down in the final by just one run a year later and there followed six consecutive seasons when the Irish Cup travelled over the Glenshane Pass. Limavady won it again, and there were triumphs for Brigade (twice), Donemana and Strabane.
The last hurrah was 2004, as Limavady and Curry won an all-North West final against Strabane, and not a single North West club has won the competition since.
Bar Donemana’s glorious failure in the finals against all-conquering North County in 2008 and a Leinster side inspired by West Indian World T20 star Carlos Brathwaite in 2009, the North West has barely got a sniff of the trophy.
It’s four years since a North West club - Donemana - reached the semi-finals (they lost to Merrion), Brigade suffered the same fate to eventual winners Waringstown at Beechgrove in 2011 and Fox Lodge to Railway Union a year earlier,
The trend over recent years has unequivocally been a downward one - not a single North West club even reached the quarter-finals last year.
This summer barely looks more promising after last Sunday’s day of disaster. Donemana, Brigade and Coleraine were among five casualties, leaving Fox Lodge and Eglinton flying the flag in the last 16, and both will be underdogs tomorrow against YMCA and Waringstown respectfully.
So the big question is why? The drought comes as the North West is still producing star quality individual cricketers. Potentially at least, Andy McBrine and Stuart Thompson are comparable with the greats of any era, Craig Young is good enough to lead Ireland’s seam attack, and the NCU would dearly love a nucleus of talented cricketers in their early to mid-twenties like Ricky-Lee Dougherty, the McClintock twins, David Rankin and Andrew Britton.
North West pundit Lawrence Moore says many clubs don’t believe they have the depth to challenge Leinster and NCU opposition in either the National or Irish Cup and ‘prepare’ accordingly.
“The fact is that apart from the big three of Brigade, Coleraine and Donemana, and probably Strabane, there’s not the same positive mindset anymore around the Irish Cup competition,” he said.
“Some of the clubs look upon it and the National Cup as a jolly boys’ outing. Not everyone, Dekker wouldn’t have Ardmore thinking like that, but it is an endemic problem.”
Worryingly, Moore claims the North West’s struggles are indicative of cricket’s battle to remain relevant. He has identified a growing trend of young men who no longer have the tolerance for a seven or eight-hour day at a cricket ground.
“Young lads don’t have the enthusiasm for 50-over cricket. T20 has taken over the one-day game. There is not the same number of young lads playing. Donemana don’t have four or five teams out on a Saturday anymore, it’s only three. There are fewer people playing and that’s going to affect the North West more than the NCU or Leinster, because we have fewer people to choose from. There’s not much difference between the top 30 players in the North West and the NCU, but it’s underneath that we start to struggle.
“We are a match for the NCU in terms of professionals and top regional players, as you can see in the games between the Knights and the Warriors. But in strength of depth the NCU have the advantage and Leinster too have so much to choose from. Because of that, most of our clubs will struggle in the Irish Cup and now most of them see it as a day out rather than a cup they can win.
“That’s the way it’s been going for a few years now and I don’t know how we will get it back.”
Moore didn’t say it but the migration of North West talent to the NCU isn’t helping. Chris Dougherty, Graeme McCarter, Johnny Thompson and Phil Eaglestone wouldn’t half help a North West club.