CRICKET: BOWLER Stuart Maher admits this season has lurched from one crisis to the next for Great Harwood.
At the start of the campaign, they had added former Australian Test batsman Peter Sleep to their squad and expectations were high of a first league title since 1900 after snapping up Pakistan all-rounder Sohail Tanvir as well.
But that's where the problems began.
Tanvir was called up to Pakistan A duty which left Harwood reliant on sub-pros in the early stages of the season and then, in mid-May, it was confirmed that he wouldn't come at all.
In June, Harwood's record breaking batsman Russell Whalley broke his thumb and damaged his hand while fielding against Baxenden and he is only set to return for tomorrow's clash against Cherry Tree.
And top batsman Allan Armer had his stag party, then - as an assessor for flood damage - was busy last month before his wedding and honeymoon have ruled him out of vital games.
There was, finally, better news when replacement professional Jermaine Lawson arrived after a short delay - but the fast bowler was unable to use his speed to its maximum effect on the damp wickets.
Despite all this, though, Paul Houldsworth's men kept themselves in the title hunt and were hoping for a rousing end to the season as they were also in the Ramsbottom Cup quarter-finals and the 20/20 semi-final.
But this weekend it all went wrong again.
Against Whalley in the 20/20 event on Friday, they needed five runs off the final two overs but lost by two runs.
Then, on Saturday, their clash with Clitheroe fell victim to the weather while title chasers Baxenden and Blackburn Northern played and won to open up a bigger gap at the top of the table.
To add to all this, in the last eight of the Ramsbottom Cup on Sunday, the lost to Blackburn Northern with Naeem Ashraf - who has proved the bane of Harwood's life in recent seasons - doing the damage.
Maher admits the rollercoaster ride in a turbulent season has left his side exhausted.
"I think everything finally hit us last weekend," said Maher. "We lost Russell and Allan and, if you think about it, any side which lost two of their more senior players would have struggled.
"If Baxenden had lost their two openers, even though their professional is bowling well, they wouldn't be at the top of the league.
"I think we did well to stay in with a chance of the title with everything that happened but last Saturday, when Baxenden and Blackburn Northern both played and we didn't, it put us further behind and we are probably out of the title race now.
"Saying that, we won't give up and we will keep playing and still hoping until it is mathematically impossible.
"There are still 96 points to play for and you never know what can happen in the last eight games. If anyone gets injuries like we have had, we could still stand a chance."
He admitted the low point of the season - and perhaps his career - was the loss to Whalley on Friday night.
"That is probably the worst experience in a sporting field I have had," he said.
"There were plenty of words said afterward and we were distraught. We could not believe it. It was one of those games where you felt you never want to play cricket again but then we had to because we were meant to have a game the next day."
That was stopped by the weather and then came Sunday's Cup loss which was hard to take - but they were undone by Ashraf who hit 52 in 29 balls to clinch a semi-final spot for Northern.
"He does seem to haunt us - he did it in the Cup final last year for Clitheroe," said Maher. "It was a bit of a disaster for us but we only had half a side out. We only got their pro out in the next to the last over and Ashraf stayed in and saw it through. We just couldn't get him out.
"But we are not giving in. The season is still alive and we still have to play Baxenden and we will keep going.
"Jermaine is a lot more settled now and is enjoying his time here although he hates losing like all of us.
"Everything seems to have contrived against us this season in one way or another and, if it hadn't been the contribution of the amateurs, we could have been in the bottom three.
"We will have to look to next year and hope we can finally end that 107-year stigma of not winning the league."
While Great Harwood are drowning their sorrows, Baxenden must have their champagne on ice.
It is fast turning into a two horse race between them and Blackburn Northern for the league title.
They won their rain-affected clash with Cherry Tree to maintain their 14 point gap at the top of the table.
Cherry Tree were 116 all out after another four wickets from paid-man Jon Fielding and four from Gary Sudworth.In a revised target, opener Callum Waddington continued his impressive form with an unbeaten half century to steer Bash home.
And they are still on course for the double after their Ramsbottom Cup quarter-final win over bottom club Barnoldswick.
Barlick made 138 with pro Fielding taking another three wickets and then Dave Parkinson got in the groove with the bat, making 51 to secure a semi-final spot this Sunday at Whalley.
They face Settle in the league tomorrow.
OSWALDTWISTLE IMMANUEL put up a strong fight against title challengers Northern. Blackburn were impressive with their 240 thanks to Ashraf's 104.
But in a revised target of 159, youngster Daniel Metcalf just missed out on a half century by two runs as they fell 21 runs short in the hunt for their second successive win. Gerard Metcalf's side travel to Whalley tomorrow.