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Donemana and Brigade left waiting on professionals

By Ian Callender

Donemana and Brigade, last year's top two in the Long's SuperValu Premiership, will be without their overseas professionals for at least the first two weeks of the season.

Primarily due to a change in Home Office regulations, every club in the top section in the North West has had to change their professional and Imran Butt and Faisal Iqbal, both from Pakistan, have yet to get a visa.

Brigade are expecting Faisal, who played 12 games as Strabane professional in 2012, to be here in time for the Irish Cup first round game against Leinster on May 13 but first they must negotiate a tricky opener away to Fox Lodge tomorrow.

Chris Campbell is the other player missing from the Beechgrove side's line-up, as he has one match of a suspension to carry over from last season, but they still have a formidable line-up which is expected to be in the thick of the title race for a third successive season.

Indeed, Brigade will argue that they could have been champions, rather than runners-up, in each of the last two years, after being "forced" to pull out of a play-off with Coleraine in 2015 because four members of their team were on holiday on the play-off date and last season they were aggrieved that Donemana were able to win the league by beating Ardmore on September 17, "when the rules stated that all games should be completed by the first Saturday in September".

Brigade have lost experienced all-rounder Ifti Hussain and batsman Ryan Hunter to the NCU, but have snapped up former players Johnny Thompson and Niall McDonnell, both direct replacements and certainly shouldn't weaken the batting line-up.

McDonnell is set to be No 3 after openers Gareth McKeegan and David Barr, who has already hit 90 in a friendly against NCU champions Instonians, with Thompson batting at second wicket down tomorrow, keeping that place warm for Faisal.

With the exit of Hussain, the spin bowling will be in the hands of Johnny Robinson but a pace attack of Thompson, Mark Simpson, Ryan McBeth and skipper Andy Britton is one that any team would be jealous of.

Fox Lodge's new professional is Cebo Tshiki, a 27-year-old South African, but back in the top flight for the first time since 2014, it is likely to be a year of consolidation for the Ballymagorry side.

Donemana start their defence at home to Eglinton who have replaced West Indian Oraine Williams with Zimbabwean Trevor Garwe and they are big shoes to fill. They have also lost Mark Averill to Ballyspallen and Ardmore are hoping to entice his brother Craig, so a lot will depend on the performances and availability of skipper Stuart Thompson between his Ireland commitments.

Coleraine may have lost McDonnell and Jarred Barnes but Stephen Dunn is back along with new signing Steve Lazars from Lisburn so David Cooke will expect his side to be contending for the title once again. Graham Hume, another South African, is their new professional.

If Ardmore want to improve on their encouraging fourth place last season then victory over the Bannsiders tomorrow would be a big statement while Drummond, again going without a professional, will hope to take advantage of their first game being against notoriously slow starters Bready although they do have Sri Lankan Irosh Samarasooriya available for the opening day.

Belfast Telegraph

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