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Coleraine turn on the style for first title win

By Ian Callender

The party was in full swing at Sandel Lodge last night as Coleraine won the North West Premiership for the first time.

The Bannsiders completed back-to-back victories over Brigade, their nearest challengers, to win the league title with a game to spare.

After bowling out the Beechgrove side on their own turf for 51 on Saturday, Coleraine came home and amassed 288 for six in their 50 overs with Niall McDonnell, a former Brigade player, scoring a century.

Ian McGregor, a former Coleraine player, was out third ball when Brigade started their reply and they never threatened to take the championship race to the last day, and were bowled out for 174.

But it never was a race. Coleraine led from the front all season and, unlike last year when they faltered at the final two hurdles, this year, older and wiser, they proved their championship credentials and completed their greatest ever season.

Don't forget, three weeks ago they also won the Ulster Cup, beating Waringstown on their own ground in the final, so they can rightly say they are the best team in Northern Ireland.

Coleraine have never been afraid to throw their youngsters into the heat of battle but yesterday, all the big guns went up front and the destination of the title was never really in doubt once McDonnell and professional Ray Silva had put on 158 for the second wicket, after Ireland Under-19 international Scott Campbell had shared an opening stand of 53.

David Cooke, content all season to come in at No 6 and see the job through, this time came in at No 4, albeit in the 37th over, and added another unbeaten 37 to his impressive tally of runs this season.

Jarred Barnes, a wonderful replacement for the seemingly irreplaceable Simon Dunn got the early breakthrough but it was his opening bowling partner who claimed the big wicket of Brigade's most consistent batsman, Johnny Thompson, and finished with four, his last finishing the match and winning the title.

There were celebrations at Stormont as well yesterday but not for the reason most of the crowd turned up. Civil Service North players made it three wins in a row and prevented Instonians getting their hands on the Ulster Bank Premier League trophy.

And they can do it again on Saturday because the teams meet in the return at Shaw's Bridge when Instonians will still need at least a tie to win the title, but it has given a lifeline to both Waringstown and North Down who can share the trophy if they win their remaining games and Instonians lose.

In a remarkable match yesterday, played on a poor pitch, CSN made only 120, bowled out in the 43rd over with Carleon Brome taking five wickets.

But, the Instonians innings never got going and when Andrew White and Nicolai Smith were bowled by successive balls from Nigel Jones, the league leaders found themselves 40 for five.

James Shannon and Eugene Moleon tried to rally but both were back in the pavilion with 43 still wanted for victory – and now only three wickets left.

Still, the strongest batting line-up in the league would back themselves and Jordan McClurkin and Ben Wylie seemed to be winning it, with a partnership of 26 for the eighth wicket. But no, there was another twist to come as Allan Coulter held a return catch to dismiss McClurkin, five runs later Chris McMorran had Wylie leg before and it was left to the last pair of Zach Rushe and Andrew Forbes to score 12 runs to win the title.

With 10 balls remaining and six runs wanted for the tie, Forbes pulled McMorran towards the deep mid-wicket boundary, patrolled by Coulter. It just was not hit hard enough, the catch was held and Rushe fell to his knees.

But Instonians live to fight another day.

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