In what is the first piece of major transfer news ahead of the 2020 season, Muckamore captain Neil Gill has departed the Moylena side to join Carrickfergus.
The 33-year-old has spent the majority of his senior career with Muckamore but will now hope he can help move Carrick closer to silverware after completing the move last week.
Gill, who has spent most of the last decade as Muckamore’s captain, took 26 wickets last season as the Antrim club were relegated on the final day of their season.
He will be viewed as an important piece of the puzzle as Carrick look to build on the momentum created in recent years and provides experience as well as being a genuine threat with the ball.
Since 2006, Gill has taken 161 wickets in top-flight competitions for Muckamore and in his one season with Derriaghy in 2007, which is a very respectable record when you take into consideration Muckamore’s bouncing between Premier League and Section One.
Muckamore will now need to rebuild after losing their inspirational skipper, and without the lure of Premier League cricket this mightn’t be the last of the departures at Moylena.
While making the decision to leave Muckamore was a tough one, Gill is excited about the new challenge ahead.
“I’m absolutely delighted to have signed for Carrick,” he said.
“It’s a great club that have built a really competitive team that I think can challenge for trophies and I hope I can help them achieve that.
“I’m 33 now and I want to play at the top level for as long as I can.
“It’s obviously tough leaving Muckamore having been there since I was 8 years old, but I think it’s the right time for a fresh challenge and for me to start enjoying my cricket again.
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.
It was another year of progress for Carrickfergus as they reached their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final and finished third in the Robinson Services Premier League.
Having started their league campaign with just two wins from seven matches, Michael Gilmour’s side ended the season with six straight victories to propel themselves into the top half of the table.
It was the same position they finished in 2018 but 12 months later they are four points better off and with a wave of young talent coming through at Middle Road, something special could be on the horizon for Carrickfergus.
“I think we need to be happy with the overall outcome of the 2019 season,” reflected Gilmour.
“We had a lot to be proud of this season. After some disappointing results, we showed some great resilience and fought very hard to finish the season in a positive way.”
After picking up impressive victories over YMCA and Clontarf in the Irish Senior Cup, Carrick progressed to a historic quarter-final clash with Phoenix, and although they eventually went down by five wickets, it was yet another sign of their potential.
Overseas professional Jacques Snyman, who will be returning next season, played a huge role in their success by hitting 1,085 runs at an average of 54.25 alongside his 24 wickets.
The South African registered the highest score of the season when he smashed 190* against Instonians at Shaw’s Bridge and sensationally ended his maiden NCU campaign with five centuries and four fifties.
Another player that impressed in his maiden campaign was all-rounder CJ van der Walt, who averaged over 50 in the Premier League and scored 653 runs in all competitions to add to 30 wickets.
“These guys have been great additions to the team this year and are both ambitious individuals who worked tirelessly throughout the season,” added Gilmour.
“They’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of Carrick Cricket Club so it’s incredible to have Jacques coming back again to build on what he has already achieved.”
The next step now for Carrick will undoubtedly have to be turning this potential and promise into silverware, and Gilmour admits they are very motivated to do just that.
“We have a very determined squad of players who are craving some silverware,” he said.
“We’re fortunate to have great balance of experience and youth in our team and we have shown that we are capable of beating anyone.
“It was very positive to see a better run in the Irish Senior Cup and on another day things could have gone our way. We will continue to keep improving like we are as a club and hopefully we can continue to build on what we have shown on the field.”
The 2019 season is drawing to a close and it has been four months of exciting,
dramatic action in the Northern Cricket Union.
CIYMS picked up four trophies, Muckamore were ultimately relegated from the Robinson Services Premier League and Woodvale secured promotion to the top-flight for the 2020 season.
It is that time of year again where we hand out the JM Sport End of Season
Awards in a range of categories. Let’s begin.
NCU Player of the Year
Winner – James Cameron-Dow
Honourable mentions: Jacob Mulder, Chris Dougherty
This was maybe the toughest category to decide out of all that you will see in this
article due to how well CIYMS played this season and how many contributed to
Cameron-Dow, just like Mulder, picked up 47 wickets throughout the season in
all competitions while Dougherty scored a wonderful 916 runs while playing a
part in 43 dismissals behind the stumps.
With overseas professionals excluded from this (their own category coming up), I opted for Cameron-Dow who picked up his wickets at an average of 14.32 in 29 matches with a strike-rate of 22.
His economy was also 3.91 and he rated just slightly better than his spin twin
Mulder in those categories, but there was barely anything in it which is further
illustrated by the fact his best figures were 4-10 and Mulder’s were 4-11.
Cameron-Dow also chipped in with some important runs down the order – none
more so than in CIYMS’ first league meeting with North Down that had a big say on the title even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Innings of the Year
Winner – Greg Thompson (153 vs CSNI, 12 May)
Honourable mentions: Andre Malan (145* vs North Down), Jacques Snyman (190* vs Instonians)
I can only judge this on the innings that I witnessed personally throughout the
season and because I wasn’t present at Middle Road when Snyman blasted190*
against Instonians, I can’t go with that although I’m sure it was brilliant.
At Stormont in early-May, three of the seven highest run scores throughout the
whole season were complied with Greg Thompson (153) and James McCollum (140) scoring centuries in the first innings before Andre Malan (136) notched up his own in a 50-run defeat.
Thompson was fresh off hitting 149* the previous day at The Lawn against
Instonians and was in superb form, hitting 153 from 118 balls with 16 fours and six maximums.
I tweeted very early on that Thompson was going to go big on that sunny Sunday
because of how good he looked from ball one and that proved to be the case as
Waringstown motored to 347-7 despite being 25-3.
Thompson has had an impressive season so far, hitting 757 runs at an average of
47.31 with Waringstown scheduled to face North Down on Saturday.
Bowling performance of the Year
Winner – Josh Manley’s first spell against CIYMS – Challenge Cup final
Manley had a wonderful debut season in the NCU and his run in the Gallagher Challenge Cup was something special.
After dismissing four of Waringstown’s top five in the quarter-final to knock the
reigning champions out of the competition, he fired in the final to dismiss CI’s top three and leave the favourites reeling at 12-3.
It took some special batting from Jason van der Merwe and Obus Pienaar to get
them out of it before Mark Adair took over late on, but that opening spell from
Manley was incredible.
In the end, he picked up figures of 4-42 from 9.2 overs which doesn’t tell the
whole story and he is set to have a big impact in the coming years with the
Northern Knights and potentially Ireland.
Overseas professional of the Year
Winner – Andre Malan
Honourable mentions: Jacques Snyman, Ruhan Pretorius
Copy + paste from the 2018 season.
Malan was brilliant last season but somehow found a way to be even more
impressive in 2019, hitting a league-high 1,238 runs at an astonishing average of
65.16 with six fifties and five centuries in 23 innings. Truly insane.
If that wasn’t enough, he would also take 41 wickets for CSNI with a strike-rate
of 23.02 before jetting back to South Africa where he is set for another busy
He has been the best player in the NCU for the past two seasons and I’m sure he
will have no shortage of offers to come back in 2020.
Snyman smashed 1,085 runs in his first season for Carrickfergus and also took 24
wickets while Pretorius averaged over 50 for the fourth consecutive season and
made his mark on the Inter-Provincial game with the Northern Knights.
Captain of the Year
Winner – Nigel Jones
Honourable mentions: Alistair Shields, Adam Berry
I feel like this is a straightforward answer considering how the season unfolded
with Jones leading CIYMS to four trophies.
He has the best squad of players at his disposal but he is the one that holds
everything together at Belmont and it is clear to see he has created a real team
culture there and they’d been building up to a season like this.
Jones has also tried to give youth a chance when possible with the likes of Zach Solomon and Carson McCullough playing on a regular basis and when it comes
time for him to leave the club, they are going to have an almost impossible job
replacing him which pretty much sums his impact up.
Alistair Shields turned North Down from a sixth-placed side into title contenders
in the space of a season and he will be looking to add one or two more to his
squad for 2020 as they look to take that next step.
I know Lisburn lost their last eight in a row, but staying in the Premier League
after being promoted isn’t an easy task in this day and age, so Berry deserves
credit for that and Lisburn’s early season form.
Winner – John Matchett
Honourable mentions: Ollie Metcalfe
Matchett has been opening the batting for CIYMS for a few years now but this felt like the season where he really broke through and showed what he is all about.
Over the past month he has shown incredible form to end up with 838 runs at the top of the order at an average of 34.
He played a massive part in winning the All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup, sharing two
century stands in a day with Chris Dougherty and was named man of the match in the final for his half-century.
Matchett will be on the verge of Northern Knights selection if he can carry this
sort of momentum into 2020 and seems to be the future of CIYMS.
Ollie Metcalfe is the best teenage batsman in the union and has scored 543 runs so far with his highlight being an Irish Senior Cup century against Cork County.
Winner: Ryan Hunter
A new category for this season and it is awarded to someone that had a big say in
even bigger matches but perhaps was overshadowed by the performances of
those above him.
Hunter didn’t have as many opportunities this season for CIYMS but always stood up when his side needed him in the games that mattered.
Just this past weekend, he scored 30* of CI’s 113 to set a reasonable total against
North Down in a game that all but secured the league crown and was there at the end against Instonians in the deciding match as they reached 192 for a tie.
Hunter also scored 39 in the Gallagher Challenge Cup final in a 110-run sixth
wicket stand with Mark Adair .
Best signing of 2019
Winner – CJ van der Walt
Honourable mentions: Josh Manley, Murray Commins
Van der Walt kicked his 2019 season off by picking up a five-wicket haul for
Carrickfergus in the opening Premier League game and didn’t really look back
Batting in the middle order, van der Walt scored 653 runs at an average of
almost 40 as Carrick reached their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final and
rounded the league campaign off by winning six in a row.
He also took 30 wickets to cap off what is the ultimate all-round season and with
the likes of Snyman, Jamie Holmes and van der Walt, Carrick have a team going
forward that should be capable of winning trophies.
They have all the potential and have added firepower, so a couple more additions during the winter could see them take that next step.
Umpire of the Year
Winner – Alan Neill
Honourable mention: Michael Foster
When deciding this category I looked to who officiated the biggest matches, and
Neill was in the middle for both the Irish Senior Cup final and Gallagher
Challenge Cup final alongside Phil Thompson.
It has been a big season for umpires with four of them (Neill included) receiving
contracts from Cricket Ireland and the standard is seemingly increasing and
participation also healthy enough in the NCU.
Foster stood in his first Irish Senior Cup final alongside Neill at Milverton this
season between Pembroke and Waringstown which is a fantastic achievement.
It is a great advert for our officials that two of them were doing the biggest club
game of the season while another, Jareth McCready, was on third umpire duties.
The women’s game has continued to improve year upon year and the Challenge Cup final at Stormont between CSNI and Muckamore was a great, exciting spectacle that went down to the final ball.
Captain Abbi Leckey held her nerve in the final over as CSNI secured their first
cup title after falling at the final hurdle against Lurgan last season while also
picking up the Premier League crown.
Cowan has been the star of CSNI’s team throughout the season, finishing not out
in five of the six league matches that they played, scoring three half-centuries in
She also scored another half-century in the Challenge Cup against Waringstown
while registering 42 in a semi-final success against Lurgan in what was a special year for CSNI’s women’s side.
Coach of the Year
Winner – Simon Johnston
When you talk to any player that has spent any amount of time in the company of Johnston, they are so enthusiastic about his love for the game and how brilliant he is as a coach.
The Knights haven’t had the luck with injuries or the squad to truly compete on
all fronts before this year, but everything seemed to click in the Twenty20 side of things and they also showed a lot of promise in the 50-over competition, beating Leinster in Dublin.
A true reflection on a coach is how the players improve in their company and it is no coincidence that Mark Adair, Shane Getkate and James McCollum are now
established Ireland stars while Jacob Mulder, James Cameron-Dow, Greg
Thompson, Harry Tector and David Delany have all been involved/are set to be involved.
Johnston has a very exciting squad at his disposal now and it’s going to be interesting going forward to see how they perform.
(Fun fact: Johnty was once my coach at NCU Under-15 level and dropped me at the final stage before the Inter-Pro’s. I’m not bitter. I promise. I’m fine!)
Section One Player of the Year
Winner – Stephen Bunting
Honourable mentions: Wayne Horwood
Woodvale were by far and away the best side in Section One this season and
were able to take that leap from contenders to champions.
Without having access to any statistics for the S1 campaign and having watched
limited action in the competition, I am relying a lot on scorecards and statistics
for this selection.
I played in two games for my home club Armagh this season against Holywood,
where David Kennedy took 8-29 in the first innings before Ross Adair smashed
70* from what felt like 30 balls, and a comfortable win against Ballymena.
Bunting features on almost every scorecard in some fashion, be that with bat or ball, with a couple of six wicket hauls scattered in there while Horwood played a great role at the top of the order setting a platform for the Ballygomartin Road men.
It is a big jump to the Premier League but they’ve two proven performers already
in their side and will need to recruit smartly.
One thing I would change for 2020?
Answer: White ball Premier League
Not really an award as such but it was included on Twitter so thought this was as good a place to answer it as any.
I am a big advocate for a 10-team Premier League but I don’t know if I want it put in place for the 2020 season because the team coming second in Section One didn’t know they were playing for that and mightn’t be ready, but if they are happy to be promoted then I’m all for it.
If we have 10 teams who all play each other once and then the league is split into two groups of five, I believe it would produce more competitive cricket with the last four games of the season being played between teams of the similar standard and could also help the need to spend big money knowing those teams who are looking to survive will be playing against each other in the remaining weeks.
One thing that I would really love to see tested is a white-ball, coloured kit
I don’t know if it’s just me, but turning up to watch a white-ball game is more exciting and it feels conducive to better games, more runs and a better spectacle.
The best times of the season are always big cup games (which are all white ball)
and I would be interested to see if that would translate into the league.
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.