It may have been cold, wet and windy during July, but the heat will be on the pitch for many clubs before the month of August has ended. Tight finishes are expected in all the leagues, as there are no runaway winners apparent, although the relegation candidates looked very clear.
Who would have expected North Down to be top of the league table in mid-August? Their young team in transition was tipped by many people to be in the lower section of the league table come September, but they have punched above their weight and now their weekend of truth lies before them. On Saturday North Down travel to Stormont to face Civil Service North and on Sunday they return to east Belfast to face CI at Belmont. These two daunting tasks may determine their league ambitions and while league favourites CI should win on home soil the Stormont game is less predictable. Last Sunday the home team was bowled out for a meagre 50 against Lisburn, who had been bowled out by CI for 65 on the Saturday. To add further confusion to an already screwed up formbook, Civil Service North beat Waringstown the previous day. This merry-go-round of results makes life hell for the tipster, but I expect North Down to win and Lisburn to win a basement battle at Carrick and escape relegation woes.
Waringstown play Lisburn on Friday and Ballymena on Saturday, two games they should take in their stride with such a formidable team. However, their defeat against Civil Service North and a semi-final loss to North Down in the Ulster Cup last Sunday means they have some work to do to restore faith with their supporters.
It’s also a huge weekend for title favourites and cup winners CI. Before they host North Down on Sunday they have to travel to Instonians on Saturday in another top of the table clash. The Old Boys have been inconsistent this season and will have to be at their best to win, but I expect CI to come through in both games.
Downpatrick’s win over Derriaghy has opened up Section1 again and given hope to the challengers. Derriaghy remain in pole position and should strengthen their lead with a home win over bottom club Cliftonville, while Downpatrick face a tricky journey to Bangor. Despite losing at Lurgan last week I expect Bangor to bounce back with a home win. In the other three games there should be wins on the road for Lurgan at Academy, Woodvale at Templepatrick and Muckamore at Donaghcloney. The County Down team had an impressive 9-wicket win over Templepatrick last Saturday, but beating Muckamore is a much more daunting task. The Moylena season has not gone as planned, but they are still in contention if they can win their outstanding four games and haul back Derriaghy. If they gather the momentum it promises to be a terrific finish.
Junior Cup winners Armagh remain top of the Section and should win promotion from such a strong position, but Holywood and Saintfield will have a major say if either can finish unbeaten in the run-in. The leaders should not have any problems this weekend as Holywood should win at Cregagh and Saintfield at struggling Larne, while Armagh travel to Dundrum and won’t want to slip up in the shadow of the Mournes. Elsewhere I expect Laurelvale to win a close tussle with Drumaness and
Victoria to win at home against BISC.
Donaghadee continue to upset the formbook in Section 3 and their four-wicket win over Cooke-Collegians has added extra spice to this week’s top of the table clash. A few weeks ago everyone was looking at the Millpark versus Cooke-Collegians clash on Saturday as the league decider, but just below the radar Dunmurry have been moving steadily up the table and if they can pick up wins from their outstanding games they will also be in the promotion battle. I expect Millpark to win the big standoff and Dunmurry to win at the ‘Dee on Saturday and at Monaghan on Sunday.
I’m sure the high-flying ‘Dee men will think otherwise!
Ards hammered Dungannon last weekend with their all-rounder and captain Conor Sims scoring an excellent 123 and taking three wickets. This week they host Newforge and will want more of the same and should win. Poor Dungannon have a derby game at Monaghahan, and they won’t be favourites in this game.
Let’s hope the weather is kind and the cricket lives up to its expectations.