Ahead of the possible return of local cricket next month, North Down have pulled off the massive signing of Irish international Paul Stirling.
Stirling is returning to the NCU after spending the best part of a decade in England with Middlesex and will be turning out for the Northern Knights.
There had been no announcement about where he would be playing club cricket but that mystery has now been solved with the news of his arrival at The Green.
The 29-year-old has long been one of Ireland’s best performers and will further bolster a North Down side that finished second in the Robinson Services Premier League last season.
He joins international team-mate Craig Young at the club and captain Alistair Shields admitted his delight at getting the deal over the line.
“We are under no illusions of the quality and experience he is going to bring to our changing room,” he said.
“That will be a great benefit for us on the pitch but also off it for the younger guys and everybody to learn from him. We are delighted.
“When we found out that he wouldn’t be staying in England and that he would be coming home to play for the Knights, we were very keen for him to play his club cricket at North Down.
“After having a few conversations with him we are delighted he will be doing that.”
A player of Stirling’s standing and quality wouldn’t have been short on offers for his eagerly anticipated return to local club cricket.
Although he is sure to have a massive impact on the pitch, Shields is excited about what he can offer the club off it as well.
“These things are never straight forward,” he added.
“As you can imagine he probably wasn’t short of suitors coming back.
“We spoke to Paul about a long-term project so rather than it being a one or two year thing, it’s long-term and that’s something he’s really interested in too.
“He wanted something to get his teeth in to and something he can have an impact on – not just on the pitch but off it and with our younger guys.
“We are very keen to have the best team as possible of the pitch but the most important thing is that we are pulling in the same direction and we aren’t interested in a short-term project for anyone.
“We are looking at long-term plans and the guys we have signed have all fitted the profile of younger guys that are keen to come, further their cricket and push onto the Knights. I think he can help with that.”
The current proposals will see cricket hopefully return at the end of next month, and if that is the case, Shields is confident his squad will be able to challenge on all fronts.
“Fingers crossed we get cricket and then fingers crossed we can challenge,” he said.
“We are keen to compete in all the competitions we enter and we do have a lot of quality in the changing room.
“Hopefully we can find ourselves at the top end of the league and challenging at the latter stages of cups. That’s the aim for this season and going forward.”