CSNI have confirmed the re-signing of South African professional Andre Malan for the 2019 season.
Malan made a massive impact in his first campaign in the NCU in 2018, hitting 940 runs at an average of 47 (including four centuries) and picking up 43 wickets.
The 27-year-old also played a major role in helping the Stormont-based side reach the Challenge Cup final, and hit a brisk half-century in what was ultimately a losing effort against Waringstown at Comber.
With the signing of Irish international Gary Wilson also confirmed for next season, CSNI will undoubtedly fancy their chances of competing on all fronts.
Malan has been captaining Western Province in his homeland in recent months, hitting two half-centuries in October.
Speaking to JMSport, Malan said: “I am very grateful to the club and Ivan McMinn for inviting me to join them for another season of top Northern Ireland club cricket.
“I am looking forward to being on the field with all of my mates at CSNI again and also looking forward to see the progress made by some of the juniors I have been coaching as well.
“I am also very happy to return to Belfast, the McMorran household and the beautiful surroundings.
“I’m very excited for the 2019 campaign!”
CSNI also recently held their end of season awards, where the club donated £4000 to three local charities – Northern Ireland Pancreatic Cancer (NIPanC), Sport Changes Life and Cancer Focus NI.
Marc Ellison was awarded 1st XI Player of the Year for his 1087 runs at the top of the order, which included three centuries.
Bowler Matthew Foster was named Young Player of the Year after an impressive season that seen him collect 20 wickets.
Carrickfergus again finished inside the top four in the Premier League in 2018, ending the season behind CIYMS and Waringstown in third.
Their record of seven wins, six losses and one no result seen them collect 28 points from 14 matches – finishing ahead of Instonians due to having a healthier run-rate.
A first round Challenge Cup exit to eventual finalists CSNI and a second round defeat to Leinster in the Irish Senior Cup meant they didn’t get much of a run going in either competition.
From a player perspective, captain Michael Gilmour top scored with 573 runs in 21 innings, while new signing Matthew McCord took 27 wickets.
Here, Gilmour reflects on the seasons that’s been and looks forward to 2019.
How do you reflect on the 2018 season?
Overall, I think we have to be happy. The main part of that is the finish in the league. We didn’t compete in any of the cups this year, which is something we would definitely love to improve on.
We want to have a couple of cup runs each year while also focusing on the league, but this year it was only the league that was very positive. Next year, we will try and focus on being more consistent throughout all competitions.
You have had a couple of top four finishes now in the league, so it seems you have established yourself as one of the top teams in red ball cricket?
I think finishing in the top four in the league has been the aim of ours in the last few years, and you want to make sure you keep that going.
The fact we didn’t slip away was very promising. At the same time, I don’t think we looked like challengers at any stage of the season. We want to really push on and compete for the title. It’s not very interesting just finishing in the top three or four each season.
At some stage we have to be ruthless and really push on to be competing for the league title.
You beat Waringstown twice this year. Does that show you have the potential to compete for the title?
When you look at how good Waringstown have been this year in all formats, to beat them twice and show that it wasn’t just a one-off gives us great confidence to see that’s the team we have the potential to be.
As I say, I don’t think we are consistent or clinical enough throughout the whole league season to push on at the minute. We definitely have confidence seeing where we are in terms of the standard.
We need to make sure we have a bit more self-belief and push on.
Matthew McCord signed from Cliftonville ahead of the 2018 season. I’m sure you’re happy with how he performed in his first season in the Premier League?
Yes, absolutely. I think he was pretty nervous at the start of the season to see how he would go, but that was quickly put in place.
He started off very well against Waringstown and has just grown in confidence the entire year. He has been one of the main players this season.
His bowling average and his contribution in the overall statistics this year speaks for itself, and I think he has really enjoyed it and he is now challenging for more.
When you get a player like him who isn’t only producing but is striving to get better as well, it’s outstanding for me as a captain to have someone like him in the team.
You scored over 500 runs yourself and got a great century against Armagh. Are you happy with the season you had?
Personally, I am pretty happy with my own performance. Maybe it was the pressure of having the captaincy as well made me knuckle down and focus more on my own personal game.
When you are captain, you try and lead from the front, so as long as I am able to contribute, it’s the least I can do. Hopefully it’s something I can build on to go even bigger next season or at least keep it consistent.
You captain quite a young side, with the likes of Max Burton, Jack Burton and Harry Warke all there. Are you happy with the season all the young guys had?
In terms of kicking on next season, when you look down the list and see you’ve such a young and exciting squad, it fills you with great confidence that we are building something.
When we talk about going on and trying to achieve something, it is a lot more realistic when you have the likes of Max, Jack and Harry coming through, as well as Matty McCord and other young players.
It’s the start of something exciting ahead of us hopefully.
Looking to 2019, what are you looking to achieve?
In terms of improvement from this year, we have to be more consistent throughout all the competitions.
As a young team, we always enjoy playing white ball cricket, and to not go on a cup run in that this year was disappointing.
Hopefully that is something that we can build on for next year.
CSNI captain James Kennedy is looking for his side to find more consistency in 2019.
The Stormont-based side reached the Challenge Cup final and Twenty20 Cup semi-final, but lost out on both occasions to Waringstown and North Down respectively.
They didn’t quite translate that form into the Premier League, and their poor start meant that it was decided pretty early on that they wouldn’t be challenging for the title.
A resurgence in the middle helped them move into third for a time, but they finished in 5th with a record of 6 wins, 7 losses and 1 no result from their 14 matches.
Here, Kennedy reflects on 2018, praises his star performers and sets out what he wants to achieve next year.
That’s another season over. How do you reflect on 2018?
There were a lot of positives that we can take into 2019. I’m very happy with how our Challenge Cup run went, but obviously disappointed we didn’t get over the line in the final. It’s been well-documented that we are just glad Grum (Graeme McCarter) managed to get through that game and get what was required. Hopefully we will have him fighting fit for next year which would help us as well.
In the league, we were slightly disappointed with the start we had. Throughout the course of the season, we lost four or five games that we probably should have won. Maybe we made bad choices at the time, or maybe some naivety.
I felt as the season went on that our younger players started to develop and learn, and hopefully they are in a better position going into next year.
You had Andre Malan in this year and he turned out to be one of the best players in the league. I’m sure you’re delighted with what you found in him?
Andre was brilliant. He wasn’t just brilliant on the pitch – that record speaks for itself. He did damage with the bat and ball, but he was just brilliant in the changing room. He was a great guy who got along with everyone, and we couldn’t have asked for more.
Hopefully he will be back next year as well, and will have an even better season than the one he has just had.
Marc Ellison also hit over 1000 runs. How important was he?
Elly is a superb player. We are running out of superlatives for him.
The argument can be that Elly and Andre did most of the work, and the rest of us need to step up and raise our game by another couple hundred runs. There was a bit of a tinkering period this year. We played around with the batting order to see who should go where.
We have learned a lot of things about a lot of people, and hopefully next year we will have something a bit more stable and will be able to support Elly and Andre much more.
The likes of Morgan Topping and Matthew Foster had good seasons. Are you expecting your array of young players will be even better with more experience?
Andre and Elly are the two guys that everyone will come away talking about because of the seasons they had, but our young guys developed so well.
Matty Foster and Archie (Johnston) were in the team for the whole season, and Matty in particular had a fantastic season. He could have bowled his 10 overs every week if it wasn’t for the ECB rule that he can only have seven at the start. He had a super season.
Archie made the gloves his own and hit a nice 50 against Instonians. The guys that came in like Morgan and Arny batted very well, and will hopefully push on next season now that they have more experience in the Premier League.
Looking to 2019, what are the goals?
CSNI for years have been known as a cup team, and we are a dangerous proposition for anyone on our day, but it’s just trying to find that consistency and get away from the tag that we are a cup team.
I believe that we can be more than that. We just have to raise our games for every single game, rather than the cup games that we have a good record in. It would be great if we can take that into the league and see if we can push up a bit.
There were a few games that we definitely should have won but lost, and that would have put us in a higher standing in the league if we got over the line. We are looking to win those silly games that we lost, and we will be a lot higher in the league.