IT’S all change in the North West this season after clubs voted to reduce the League to a 40-over competition with all 15 senior teams involved and divided into two groups.

Due to Covid restrictions, the T20 Cup – the only competition played last year – will again start the season but both NCU and North West are hoping to get the go-ahead to play the longer format from June 12.

Although Brigade and Senior Cup holders Donemana will again be the teams to beat, Newbuildings signalled their intention to break into the top three last year with the signings of Gareth McKeegan and Johnny Thompson from Brigade and with Ryan Hunter making the move from Beechgrove for this campaign, there is air of confidence that the new kids on the block – they are 10 years old this year - can make a serious assault on the Premiership title.

Johnny Thompson and Gareth McKeegan of Newbuildings

“We’ve put a lot of resources into the ground and our youth structure,” says McKeegan, who has been in the thick of the pandemic on a daily basis as a theatre orderly in Altnagelvin Hospital.

“It’s been extremely busy so I’m looking forward to getting back to playing cricket at weekends. I promised Raymond (Mitchell, the club chairman) I would finish my career at Newbuildings, JT is helping greatly with the kids and this year Ryan has joined us, he’s a Newbuildings boy along with Ben Mills who was with Glendermott but has been playing for Newbuildings Football Club as a goalkeeper.

“We’re probably missing one medium pacer, but we’ve a lot of good 16-year-olds at the club and hopefully we get a chance to bring them in as the season goes on.

“We’ve got Bready, Burndenett and Glendermott in our T20 group this season so the derby with Bready should be the big one and then in the league we’re in a group with Donemana, Coleraine and Eglinton (plus Ballyspallen, Burndennett and Killyclooney). “

Donemana will again be the favourites but Coleraine won’t be easy and Eglinton makes it a strong group but we’re looking forward to getting Donemana at home in front of a huge crowd and that will give us a good idea of our progress.”

Publicly, top three is Newbuildings’ aim but in winning the Faughan Valley Cup they laid down a marker last year with Brigade the only team to beat them, with Hunter scoring 35 not out!

Brigade, who celebrate their 100th anniversary this year, are the defending Premiership champions from 2019, and will still be favourites to top the eight-team Group A when the League gets under way despite losing Hunter, and Rachit Gaur to Ardmore but Ryan Barr has joined from Glendermott and pace bowler Nick Donnell, a former Ireland youth player, has returned from England.