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Ireland's main rivals make fast start to T20 Qualifiers

By Ian Callender

The Ireland squad watched Scotland and Afghanistan win their opening matches in the World Twenty20 Qualifiers yesterday and will hope to emulate the Scots' performance when they meet Namibia in their opener at Stormont this morning (10am).

Scotland hammered the UAE by nine wickets in Edinburgh, chasing down their total of 109 in just 10 overs to give the co-hosts the perfect start and in the afternoon match in Group B, Afghanistan defeated the Netherlands by 32 runs, impressively defending 162 for seven.

The last four overs of the Afghan innings proved the game-changing ones when they scored 58, despite losing three wickets in the final over.

While the Qualifiers take centre stage at both Stormont and Bready this weeknd, there is a limited league programme.

While all eyes have been on the 'Big Three' in the NCU's Premier League so far, quietly going about their business and now on a par with their rivals are North Down.

The Comber side have a new captain in Martin Moreland and he is leading a much younger team after the winter exodus of Ryan Haire, James Cameron-Dow, Johnny Terrett and the non-return of Nick Larkin, but albeit just four matches into the their league season, they are four points off the top of the table with a match in hand.

One of those games takes place tomorrow, the only Premier League game of the day, and if they win, they will have to be taken as serious title contenders. They meet Waringstown at The Lawn although it is, perhaps significant the three North Down wins have been against bottom three Lisburn, Carrickfergus and Ballymena. Their sole defeat came against CIYMS, one of the 'Big Three'

Next weekend they are at home to defending champions Instonians so the next two games will give a truer reflection of North Down's position and prospects for the season.

There are three games in the North West Premiership which IS witnessing a three-team fight for the title, although leaders Coleraine and Brigade both received a boost last Sunday with the surprise defeat of Donemana by Ardmore.

It means that the Bannsiders will be installed as title favourites if they win the match of the day, at home to Brigade, to establish a four points (two wins) lead at the halfway stage of the season, a significant advantage.

Eglinton, who will meet Donemana in the two-day Senior Cup final, can make a significant move away from the bottom of the table with victory over St Johnston while it is also a massive game at Strabane Park where Bready are the visitors and the losers will be left at the bottom of the table, although the Magheramason side have played one match fewer.

Fixtures - Today: World Twenty20 Qualifiers: Ireland v Namibia (Stormont, 10am), Nepal v USA (2.15pm)

Tomorrow: Hong Kong v Jersey (Bready, 10am); Nepal v USA (2.15pm, Stormont)

Ulster Bank Premier League (11.00): Waringstown v North Down

Section One: Cliftonville v Bangor, Downpatrick v Muckamore, Holywood v Dundrum

Long's SupValu Premiership (12.00): Coleraine v Brigade, Eglinton v St Johnston, Strabane v Bready

Championship: Burndennett v Creevedonnell, Drummond v Bonds Glen, Killyclooney v Glendermott, Newbuildings v Fox Lodge

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