Tyrone village set for its day in the sun with T20 finals
From the four proud provinces of Cricket Ireland they'll come, answering the call of the Sunday Independent All-Ireland T20 finals day, which takes place in a Co Tyrone village next Saturday.
Magheramason may be the smallest settlement to host an All-Ireland final in any sport - 474 people at last census - but as home to Bready cricket club, it deserves its day in the sun.
One of several clubs on the 14-mile road between Strabane and Derry, it has become one of the strongest and best-appointed in the land, but its team missed out on the All-Ireland after losing to Brigade in the North-West final.
Next Saturday, the Derry city side takes on Waringstown at Beechgrove at 11am, when Clontarf face Cork County in Bready. The winners meet in the 4pm final. It's a competition and format that the holders, Clontarf, take very seriously, as fast bowler, David Delany, explains.
"We do lots of special preparation. Joe Morrissey, our captain, is a great strategist and he's lots of experienced guys around him, like Obus Pienaar and Andrew Poynter, who've played professional cricket. We work hard in training, it's very intense. We don't hold back from using all the balls we would in a game, trying to replicate match situations."
Clontarf played Cork in the semi-final last year, as County's batsman, Robert Duggan, recalled. "We had them in a little trouble early on, but a fine innings from John Mooney got them to 134, which proved too much in our run chase."
They know their opponents well, too. "In 2015, we had some memorable encounters in the Irish Senior Cup (two-wicket loss) and Leinster Senior Cup (one-wicket loss), so there has been some exciting cup history."
When T20 came into vogue a decade or so ago, some clubs struggled to adapt, and even now play it as a shorter version of 50 overs. The best clubs see it as a new sport, which needs a new approach.
"We approach T20 in a way that ensures players skills are used as much as possible," says Delany, "so Conor Kelly comes up the order to open and smash the ball, and Shariful Islam bowls brilliant yorkers at the death."
Cork, too, have T20 specialists, and others well-suited to the format, such as Cormac Hassett, Jeremy Benton, Abubakar Saddique, Aaron Cawley, Diarmuid Carey and Morne Bauer. The club is unbeaten in Munster T20 for three years and many of the above starred for Munster Reds in the interpros when they beat North-West Warriors and Leinster Lightning in Dublin.
"Cork County will be very competitive", says Delany. "Benton is a class pro and we have to show them respect. Overall, you have to see Waringstown as the main threat, they've a top-class outfit with Greg Thompson, Adam Dennison, James McCollum, Gary Kidd, James Hall, all very experienced.
"Brigade are a threat to everyone - we beat them in the Irish Senior Cup and it was the best we played all season. They've some very good bowlers in Andy Britton and Johnny Thompson, and a nice pro in Iftikhar Hussein. They're dangerous with the bat - Garth McKeegan hits it from the off, and Johnny Thompson can turn a game."
Delany will warm up for Saturday with Ireland Wolves as the only uncapped player in the 13-man T20 squad to play Bangladesh A on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the first two at his home ground. A good show there - and in the Sunday Independent All-Ireland T20 finals - and he could be asked to stay on next weekend for the Ireland v Afghanistan series, which starts in Bready on Monday week.
Sunday Indo Sport