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Strabane chasing holy grail of a Senior Cup final success

Strabane may have claimed a share of the league championship trophy last season for the first time since 1968 but the Northern Bank Senior Cup is beginning to prove just as elusive.

Their last success was 17 years ago when they beat Brigade, today’s opponents, at today’s venue, Eglinton (noon start) but the Red Caps are getting into the habit of being the bridesmaids in the two-day showpiece. Since they last lifted the cup, they have lost in all three final appearances, the most recent in 2006 to Eglinton.

Ireland international Phil Eaglestone will make a last minute decision on whether he is fit to play but even if he does, Strabane will have only five survivors from four years ago. Two of them, Mark and Peter Gillespie, can boast winners medals from 1993 and they are still scoring as heavily as ever at the ages of 40 and 36 respectively in the middle order. The arrival of Kevin Martin as opener and professional Jonathan Beukes at first wicket down should ensure plenty of runs but whether enough of them can do it twice could be the key to that long-awaited cup success.

But then Brigade have a batting line-up which if not as powerful on paper has certainly the ability to match them on the field and, much like cup finalists CIYMS in the NCU, they have found the money to attract the top talent.

Openers Chris Dougherty and Niall McDonnell have both played for Ireland A this year, Ifti Hussein has been a proven performer at number three for years, and this year’s other new faces, Richard Wylie, Johnny Thompson — on his day one of the best all-rounders in the North West — and Gareth McKeegan complete a top six which is the envy of many.

Mark Simpson is Brigade’s 40- year-old but could still walk into any side in the country as an opening bowler and Trevor Britton, on his day, is capable of literally turning any match. But the $64,000 question is which Brigade and Strabane teams will turn up?

Consistency in the North West this season has been a rare commodity — every Senior One team has already lost at least three league games — only one title winner has lost more in the last 14 years. The old saying is that favourites never lose a two-innings final — the North West remains, stubbornly but popularly the last — because the underdogs never have two good days in a row. The only problem this year is that no-one knows who the favourites are and that should make for a fascinating cup final.

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