After dominating Section One in 2019, Woodvale will be back in the Robinson Services Premier League for the first time since 2009 when next season rolls around.
The task of staying in the top-flight has always been a difficult one, and with teams seemingly improving more and more as the years go by, that prospect of maintaining yourself as a Premier League club will become even harder.
Here, we take a look at the past five teams that have sealed promotion to see how they got on and if Woodvale will be able to take any lessons from those that have came before them.
2019 – Lisburn
Lisburn dropped down to Section One for the 2018 season but were able to immediately bounce back and much to their credit, they stayed in the Premier League after a tight relegation battle with Muckamore.
One thing that is vital for any club coming up is to acquire a proven overseas professional that is capable of producing match winning performances, and Lisburn definitely had that in Indian all-rounder Faiz Fazal who took the NCU by storm in his maiden campaign.
Adam Berry’s side got off to a flying start in the 2019 season, winning three of their first five matches (Instonians twice and Muckamore) which was ultimately enough to preserve their top-flight status.
Getting past that first season seems to be a crucial one and Lisburn will look to take that experience, strengthen even more by potentially adding one or two players and go again in 2020.
2018 – Armagh
Just like Woodvale did this year, Armagh dominated Section One in 2017 to seal promotion back to the Premier League for the first time in 60 years.
Their Premier League campaign got off to the best possible start, beating Muckamore by 70 runs at Moylena but they would go on to lose 13 in a row and were relegated having collected just four points.
They recruited a very strong professional in Shadley van Schalkwyk, who would be worth a punt for any current Premier League club if he is available once again due to the talent he showed, none more so than on The Mall against Muckamore where he blasted 142.
2019 was about stability more than anything for Armagh, getting back to winning matches and they could be among the title contenders again next season.
2017 – Muckamore
Muckamore came up to the Premier League in 2017 after finishing four points clear of Woodvale and eight ahead of Downpatrick in the 2016 Section One title race.
They were the last club to have a sustained run in the Premier League after promotion – a run that ended in 2019 after they were relegated on net run-rate in a battle that went right down to their final game.
The Antrim side invested quite heavily in their youth section and handed a couple of them quite a lot of responsibility with Aditya Adey prominent with both bat and ball while Sam Gordon was a mainstay in their top order.
In 2017, they had a good formula of a few young players, experience in the squad with the likes of Neil Gill and they comfortably stayed up, finishing sixth in front of CSNI and Lisburn after winning five matches.
2016 – Derriaghy
Woodvale were again involved in the title tace in the 2015 Section One season, finishing third behind Muckamore and eventual champions Derriaghy.
The Queensway side won 14 of their 18 matches, with Craig Lewis stepping up in more matches than not to help them seal promotion.
A tough season in the Premier League followed for them as they won just two of 14 league games (vs Carrickfergus and CIYMS) and they haven’t really threatened to be promoted again since.
Despite eventually finishing bottom, they had a good run to the quarter-final of the Irish Senior Cup before losing out to Merrion while Kaushik Aphale (536 runs) and Craig Lewis (488 runs + 24 wickets) both impressed.
2015 – Carrickfergus
Carrickfergus won the 2014 Section One title as they were promoted to the Premier League again in 2015 after dropping down in 2012.
They have more than established themselves as a top-flight side, reaching their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final this year and have consistently finished in the top-half of the table over the past few seasons.
In 2015, Jamie Holmes (683 runs) was their star with the bat, finishing 7th in the rankings with an average of 48.79 while overseas professional Indrajeet Kamtekar took 28 wickets to add to his 366 runs.
Carrick finished 6th in the 2015 season, ending eight points ahead of relegated Ballymena and four in front of Lisburn after winning four matches and haven’t looked back since.
So, are there any trends or things teams can learn from the five examples above? Here are a few:
1 – Recruit a proven, quality overseas professional – This one will be obvious to many but to stay in the Premier League in that first season, you need an overseas professional that is capable of putting in consistent match-winning performances.
In the case of most of these teams above, they were entering the top-flight with a team that wasn’t experienced at the highest level, so recruiting an overseas professional that can help take the pressure off them while they get used to the standard is massive.
2 – Survive that first season
Look, this is easier said than done but the past five or six years helps to prove that if you can deal with that very difficult first season then you’re able to build a platform and improve from there.
Carrickfergus are the best example of that, finishing 6th in their first season before going on to become an established Premier League team once again, while Muckamore had three seasons in the top-flight this time around. Lisburn will be much better for this season’s experience in 2020.
3 – Keep giving youth a chance
It can probably be tempting for teams to go out and recruit players from outside clubs with the prospect of coming into a Premier League that is so strong, but it’s key getting that balance between experience and youth.
The young players will be the ones that carry the club for the foreseeable future, so it’s important to give them chances to prove themselves with all of the above teams doing that with some sort of success.