It was an historic weekend for Coleraine Cricket Club as the 1st XI won the North West Premier League for the first time ever.
The team had to do it the hard way – with two matches in as many days against Brigade – the team which has been neck and neck in the league with Coleraine throughout the season.
Coleraine’s quest to bring the title to Sandel Lodge seemed to have got off to the worst possible start on Saturday at Beechgrove when they lost the toss and were put in to bat by Brigade on a pitch which had been prepared to suit the home side’s seam bowling attack. North West Warriors’ bowlers Andy Britton and Johnny Thompson tore through Coleraine’s top order to leave the Bannsiders reeling on 59 for 6. Gordon Cooke dug in and with the assistance of the lower order he clawed the visitors to a total of 121 off 45.5 overs.
At the tea interval most observers thought that Coleraine would find it impossible to defend such a modest total and as Brigade’s openers Ian McGregor and Gareth McKeegan set about Coleraine’s bowling attack the omens did not look good.
Then in the fifth over Jarred Barnes claimed McKeegan’s wicket after he had made 13 and amazingly that was as good as it got for Brigade. Barnes was simply unplayable – as 16 without loss soon became 38 for 5 as he equalled Johnny Thompson’s five wicket haul.
A sharp piece of fielding from Mark Averill saw Thompson run out before Barnes resumed his onslaught on the beleaguered Brigade batsmen claiming three more wickets to finish with the exceptional figures of 8 for 22. With the final wicket falling to Gareth Burns, Brigade were dismissed for 51 runs in just 17.4 overs to see Coleraine record a stunning 70-run victory.
This hard-won victory proved to be a springboard for Coleraine’s final push for the League title. Whereas the Coleraine side had gone into Saturday’s game 2 points ahead of Brigade, by Sunday the margin was 4 points and the whole team knew that one more win would put them out of reach of all their rivals.
As a result it was an altogether more confident side which faced Brigade at Sandel Lodge on Sunday.
This was epitomised by Niall McDonnell and Scott Campbell who both played fluently and scored quickly. Even when Campbell was caught off the bowling of Johnny Thompson there was no reprieve for the Brigade bowlers as McDonnell was joined at the crease by Roy Silva.
Silva played the only way he knows how – smashing 11 fours and 2 sixes in his 66 ball 76, while McDonnell brought up his fifth century of the season in style before injury forced him to retire on 118 not out. 37 not out for captain David Cooke and a breezy 17 off just 10 balls for Jarred Barnes saw Coleraine close on 288 for 6.
The first over of Brigade’s innings saw Barnes pick up where he had left off the day before, as he sent Ian McGregor back to the pavilion without having troubled the scorers.
A wicket apiece for Gordon Cooke and Scott Campbell and a run out by Mark Averill saw Brigade to 109 for 4, but with Johnny Thompson and Ryan Hunter, the visitors believed they had found a pairing who could take them all the way to victory.
However, as Thompson closed in on a half century, Gareth Burns was re-introduced into the attack and in the first over of his second spell he had the dangerous all-rounder caught by Roy Silva.
Three overs later Burns was there again running out Hunter to leave Brigade still requiring 125 runs with only four wickets in hand.
With almost nine runs an over now required, the pressure told on the batsmen and when Gareth McKeegan was caught by David Cooke, again off the bowling of Burns, the writing was on the wall for Brigade. Two more fine catches by Scott Campbell – one off the bowling of Barnes and one off Burns – took Coleraine to within one wicket of victory and four balls later it was all over as Burns claimed the final wicket to see Coleraine home with an emphatic 114 run victory.