Andy McBrine injury woe for Donemana as season opens
Andy McBrine is the first high-profile casualty of the season and is out of Donemana's Premiership opener against Brigade at Beechgrove on Saturday.
The Irish international tore his groin in the warm-up to Ireland A's game against MCC at Lord's on Tuesday but is hoping to be back next weekend when Donemana go to newly promoted St Johnston and, two days later, he is due to lead the North West Warriors in their first inter-provincial Cup game against Northern Knights.
It promises to be a difficult start for Donemana who are desperate to get rid of their 'cup kings' tag. Since their third league triumph in six years in 2008, they have won the Premiership only once despite being in five Senior Cup finals, winning four of them.
But as well as McBrine, his legendary dad Junior has retired from 1st XI cricket and another former captain, Jordan McGonigle, is a likely absentee on Saturday with a back injury.
In contrast, Brigade start the season as favourites to win the title with the imports of Gareth Burns as opening bowler and Johnny Robinson from Strabane as a slow bowler. Ifti Hussain returns from Fox Lodge.
Coleraine, champions in 2013, are expected to chase Brigade, despite losing Burns, David Cooke and Johnny Ring. Ireland international Graeme McCarter could be the signing of the winter and he showed his talents last weekend in a friendly against Lisburn, hitting 40 off 16 balls after bowling an opening spell of 3-2-1-1.
The Bannsiders start out at Eglinton who must do without the retired Stephen Smyth, although international Stuart Thompson is raring to go.
Eglinton, though, seem set for another relegation scrap, most likely with last year's Championship winners, St Johnston, although the latter will see their game at Bready as a great chance to get off the mark straight away.
The Saints have strengthened with the signing of Kevin Martin and, most probably, his team-mate at Strabane last year, Ryan Patton.
Bready won the Ulster Cup last year but were only one win clear of a possible relegation play-off and if Irish international Craig Young returns to county cricket then it is difficult to see them improving.
The other opening day game is at Ardmore who welcome champions Strabane, but the home team will fancy themselves to claim the first 'shock' of the season.
Decker Curry, just three short of an astonishing 100 centuries, is back for another season along with Gary Neely.
Strabane have lost no fewer than five of their championship winning side, now including Mark Gillespie who has changed his mind about changing his mind and has retired.
Opening day fixtures: Long's SuperValu Premiership: Ardmore v Strabane, Bready v St Johnston, Brigade v Donemana, Eglinton v Coleraine.
Championship: Burndennett v Fox Lodge, Drummond v Newbuildings, Glendermott v Creevedonnell, Killyclooney v Bonds Glen.