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The title race is still wide open, says Gavin Rodgers

By Ian Callender

North Down coach Gavin Rodgers insists North Down are taking it one match at a time and they have not given up on the race for the Ulster Premier Bank League title. The Comber side have their biggest match of the season, so far, on Sunday, when they host The Hills in the rearranged RSA Irish Cup semi-final, but tomorrow they are at home to Muckamore, a match they will expect to win even without three first choice players.

Taimur Khan is suspended, Peter Eakin, still with a heel problem, is being saved for Sunday and Alistair Shields has left for a charity walk up Kilamanjaro. But it will still be surprising if they do not have enough strength in depth to account for a Muckamore side which has lost all 10 games on their return to the top flight.

Selection for tomorrow's game did not take place until last night but one player certain to make a comeback is former Ireland pace bowler Gavin McKenna, who is home from work in England and, having played a couple of games in the Seconds, will take his place tomorrow.

Peter Shields and Andrew Sutherland, two other players on the injury list, were due to make their comeback last Sunday and will play both games this weekend.

Waringstown, who play CIYMS at The Lawn tomorrow, on the same pitch which played "like a road" in the inter-provincial this week, have an eight points lead at the top of the table, but North Down are one of four teams locked together in joint second and Rodgers, the only survivor from the club's last Irish Cup final, in 1995, says the league race is still wide open.

"With uncertain weather about and some of the remaining games having to be Twenty20 games, anything could happen," he said.

"We all need Waringstown to drop points but it is up to us to keep winning every match we play and see where it leaves us.

"There is no point concentrating on Sunday because if we lose that and lose another league game, we will have nothing left to play for this season. We can't start thinking about the Irish Cup match until Saturday night."

Instonians, who are at Muckamore for a Twenty20 match next Tuesday, are the only one of the chasing quartet with a match in hand. They are at Lisburn tomorrow while Civil Service host Ballymena.

Fixtures, Today: Ulster Bank League Section Two (2.00pm): Donacloney v Academy

Saturday: Newstalk inter-provincial Cup (10.45am) North West Warriors v Leinster Lightning (Strabane Park)

Ulster Bank Premier League (12.00): Civil Service North v Ballymena, Lisburn v Instonians (11.00), North Down v Muckamore, Waringstown v CIYMS (11.30am)

Section One: Bangor v Templepatrick, Carrickfergus v Holywood, Downpatrick v Lurgan, Dundrum v Derriaghy, Woodvale v Cliftonville.

SUNDAY: Cliftonville v Templepatrick

Section Two: Academy v Cooke Collegians, BISC v Victoria, Donacloney v Saintfield, Drumaness v Millpark, Laurelvale v Armagh.

SUNDAY: Academy v Saintfield (T20)

Section Three: Cregagh v Donaghadee, Larne v Dungannon, Monaghan v Ards, PSNI v Dunmurry

Sam Jeffrey Cup semi-finals: St Johnston v Glendermott.

SUNDAY: Bonds Glen v Drummond

Sunday: RSA Irish Cup semi-finals (12.30pm): North Down v The Hills, Pembroke v Clontarf

ClubTurf Ulster Cup final (1.00pm): Bready v Waringstown (Strabane Park)

RSA National Cup semi-finals (12.30pm): Killyclooney v Woodvale, Dundrum (LCU) v Carrickfergus

Eric Cooke Memorial Cup final (12.00): Glendermott v St Johnston (Ardmore)

Fleming Agri Faughan Valley Cup final (4.00pm): Coleraine v Donemana

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