While overseas professionals dominated in the top-flight this season, there were some massive improvements made by a number of local players.
Looking at the statistics, Andre Malan top-scored in the NCU with 1,238 runs while CIYMS spin duo James Cameron-Dow and Jacob Mulder both picked up 47 wickets – the highest total in over a decade.
With the help of those statistics compiled by CricketEurope, we take a look at three players who really stood out in 2019 and improved massively from 12 months ago.
In the space of one season North Down evolved from finishing sixth in the Premier League table to being genuine title contenders, and looking at the final standings it was a lot closer than it actually felt through the majority of the campaign.
A big reason for their transformation in such a short space of time was the form of all-rounder Peter Eakin, who scored 366 runs at an average of 45.75 in the Premier League along with 25 wickets in 14 matches.
Averaging 14.56 with the ball – the second best in the league – established him as the premier local all-rounder in 2019 and his form helped propel North Down up the table, and if he can replicate or better that next season, the Comber men will fancy their chances of winning some silverware.
Looking at Eakin’s statistics in 2018, he scored just 109 runs in the Premier League, so he deserves massive credit and all the plaudits he is rightly receiving for turning that around so dramatically.
He also more than tripled the amount of wickets picked up in the league from 2018 (7) and was handed even more responsibility by captain Alistair Shields, opening the bowling on many occasions with the likes of Craig Young missing through international commitments.
Overseas professional Ruhan Pretorius has shouldered most of the expectations for the past few seasons, but with Shields, Eakin, Young and the likes of Stuart Nelson improving in the top order, it makes for interesting times at The Green.
There is no better batsman in the NCU than Metcalfe at his age group and the progression he made again in 2019 was quite remarkable.
In 2018, Metcalfe averaged 13.75 in the Premier League and scored his 297 runs in all competitions at a strike-rate of 70.63, but fast forward 12 months and his statistics are impressive for someone still developing and making their way in the game.
Opening the batting for Instonians, Metcalfe sits 16th in the runs list for 2019 after hitting 550 runs in 23 innings at an average of 25, but he has also improved his power hitting and is playing with more freedom as illustrated by a strike-rate of 92.44.
An Irish Senior Cup century against Cork County (123* from 103 deliveries) was the highlight of his season while he his other score of over 50 came in the same competition against Rush (53).
He also impressed in the Gallagher Challenge Cup final against CIYMS, hitting 48 while wickets fell around him and he was also able to show that day that he can adapt to different situations, scoring his runs from 73 deliveries to help give his side a chance at the time before they eventually went down by 98 runs.
Metcalfe is a very exciting prospect, not just in terms of club cricket but looking further into the future for international honours.
Matchett formed one part of a superb opening partnership with Chris Dougherty this season as the pair set a platform for CIYMS to win four trophies and have the best campaign in their history.
His ability has never been in doubt but this was the season that Matchett really announced himself properly, hitting 838 runs at an average of 33.52 and a strike-rate just under 100 (99.76).
What was even more remarkable was his consistency, registering eight fifties in 28 innings – a number only Ruhan Pretorius could match – while also scoring two centuries.
He was on absolute fire for the last few weeks of the season, hitting two half-centuries in one day as CI lifted the All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup crown and he blasted 72 from 45 deliveries to help his club tie with Instonians to seal another Premier League trophy.
The shortest form of the game is the one where he seems to thrive most, scoring 276 runs in T20 cricket at an average of 55.20 and strike-rate of 142.27 – the kind of form that might make Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston take action next season.
All those statistics have improved beyond sight from 2018, where he scored 526 runs in all competitions at an average of 25.05.
*Let me know who you think were the most improved players in 2019 via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter!*
South African overseas professional Obus Pienaar had quite the first season back in the Northern Cricket Union, helping CIYMS win a club-record four trophies.
Pienaar, who had previously spent two seasons in Northern Ireland with Waringstown and also enjoyed time in Leinster with Clontarf, won’t return in 2020 after it was announced he will be joining Lancashire League outfit Lowerhouse.
The 29-year-old helped the Belmont side to defend their Robinson Services Premier League crown while also adding the Gallagher Challenge Cup, Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup and a first ever All-Ireland T20 title to the club’s ever-growing trophy cabinet.
Looking at the statistics, Pienaar scored 749 runs in all competitions at an average of 53.50 and also collected 28 wickets with best figures of 6-29 against Muckamore in July.
“I really enjoyed my season at CIYMS,” he said.
“I enjoy the people in Northern Ireland and it was good to catch up with some old friends.
“It was obviously a very successful season for us and I don’t think they should take it for granted, because no matter how talented the team is, it’s always hard to be consistent and be up for the game every weekend even when you sometimes play three games in a weekend!”
If you take batting averages from just the Premier League and Challenge Cup, no one averaged more than Pienaar (66.12) from his 13 innings in which he scored 529 runs.
He was well-known for his scoring power after smashing a record 244 against CIYMS back in 2011 for Waringstown in a season where he averaged 100 and followed it up with another 800 runs in 2013 at The Lawn.
This season ranks just behind those two in terms of runs, but such was the form of John Matchett and Chris Dougherty at the top of the order, there wasn’t much left to do for Pienaar when he came to the crease on many occasions.
“I’m happy with my performance,” he added.
“I obviously would have liked to have done a bit better in some games, but that’s how cricket goes.
“Most of the games I wasn’t really needed as the top three did the job.”
Many believe that the standard of cricket in the top-flight is better now than it has ever been with the star-studded line-up’s some clubs have put together, but how does 2019 compare to six years ago?
“I think the standard has definitely got better since my last stint,” said Pienaar.
CIYMS will have started their hunt for a new overseas professional as they look to be as dominant again next season and go in search of a maiden Irish Senior Cup title.
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.
2018 was another fantastic cricket season in the NCU, and it’s now time to hand out some awards.
Waringstown won another four trophies, while CIYMS picked up their first Premier League title since 2012.
Lisburn also had a fantastic season, sealing their return to the top flight at the first time of asking, and Templepatrick won 14 matches in a row to win Section Two.
Here, Johnny Morton picks winners from a variety of categories.
NCU Player of the Year.
I have to go with Adam Dennison.
The 21-year-old scored 1335 runs at an average of over 50 and a strike-rate of almost 100 in what has been a summer for batsmen to cash in on good wickets.
He hit four centuries (only Andre Malan had as many in the top flight), and the partnership he formed with James Hall was extraordinary.
Notable mentions: Allen Coulter, James Hall, Ruhan Pretorious, Andre Malan, Marc Ellison
Innings of the Year
Going on the batting that I personally witnessed this season, it has to go to Dennison.
His 145* to see Waringstown home in the Challenge Cup final was something else, with the score coming from 130 balls and including 12 fours and seven sixes.
Marc Ellison’s 139* on the same day deserves a mention, as does Andre Malan’s 140* against North Down and Michael Gilmour’s 135* on The Mall against Armagh.
Other notable mentions: Shadley van Schalkwyk (142 vs Muckamore), Chris Dougherty (122 vs NorthCounty)
Bowling spell of the Year
My bowling spell of the year turned out to be in the second match I covered all season, and it goes to Lisburn’s Mark Berry.
With Derriaghy cruising towards victory in the Challenge Cup first round, Berry returned to pick up three quick wickets to help bring Derriaghy from 125-1 to 144-8 in a chase of 172.
It was the tightest match I think I actually watched all year, and Berry’s 4-33 almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Notable mentions: Allen Coulter (vs CSNI, first spell vs Waringstown) Andre Malan (vs North Down).
Overseas professional of the Year
This answer was easy up until about a month ago, but I am still going to opt for CSNI’s Andre Malan.
Ruhan Pretorious has shot up the run charts in recent weeks with consecutive centuries, including 188 against Armagh, but Malan’s consistency and quality can’t be overlooked.
In his debut season in the NCU, Malan scored 940 runs (4 centuries and 4 fifties) at an average of 47, and was leading the wicket-taking chart with 43 before he left prior to the conclusion of the season, which is magnificent considering it has been a glorious summer with most wickets hard as the road.
Notable mention: Shaheen Khan
Captain of the Year
Waringstown’s Greg Thompson made some brave calls this year, and one that sticks out most is bowling first in the Challenge Cup final.
Most of the ground would have batted first, but choosing to bowl and winning the trophy shows he is a superb captain and has great judgement in pressurising situations.
He led his side to yet another Irish Senior Cup crown, plus two Twenty20 trophies in what was a superb campaign for the Villagers.
Notable mentions: Nigel Jones, James Kennedy, Michael Gilmour, Adam Berry, Ross Bryans
Club of the Year
Waringstown obviously had another fantastic year, but my club of the year is Templepatrick.
Their 1sts didn’t lose a single game all season (three trophies) which is quite remarkable, while their 2nds won Junior League 4 and 3rds were promoted from Junior League 7.
The youth also thrived, with the U-13’s and Under-15’s both winning their leagues. The future is bright at The Cloughan.
Other notable mentions: CIYMS, Lisburn
Young Player of the Year
If Dennison is Player of the Year, the 21-year-old has to be Young Player of the Year as well.
His performances and statistics put him so far ahead of any player in and around his age, and he would fit seamlessly into the likes of the Ireland Wolves right now and is definitely good enough to be a full international.
Second place for me would be Aditya Adey, while Morgan Topping makes up the top three.
Signing of the Season
Carrickfergus conducted a shrewd piece of business when they brought in Matthew McCord from Cliftonville.
He made his First Class debut for the Northern Knights earlier in the summer, and was included again in the most recent squad for the game against the Leinster Lightning, showing he is obviously highly-regarded.
The opening bowler took 27 wickets at a strike-rate of just under 30 and an economy of 4.63, with best figures of 5-36 in what was a solid season for Carrick.
Notable mention: Morgan Topping
Player to watch for 2019
I am going for someone from CSNI, and that player is Matthew Foster.
The teenager has been a regular this season and stepped up to open the bowling in Graeme McCarter’s absence after the Challenge Cup, and his spell against Carrick at Stormont was exceptional without much reward.
Taking 20 wickets at this standard at his age is brilliant, and with another season under his belt at the top level, I expect big things from him next season.
Carrickfergus’ 17-year-old Max Burton played one of the best innings this season with his 104 from 44 balls against Armagh, so he is another one to look out for.
Bold prediction for 2019
CSNI have impressed me this season, and if they keep their squad together I think they will win either the Challenge Cup or Premier League next year. You heard it here first.
They have a good record in the Challenge Cup, winning it twice in the last five years and got to the final in 2018, and they are a powerhouse in white ball cricket.
Their league form improved towards the end of the season, and if they can get Andre Malan back and Marc Ellison stays at Stormont (teams would be silly not to enquire about his services after a fantastic season), combined with their young players having another season at the top flight, they are capable of something special.
Add to that the odd appearance from Derbyshire and Ireland T20 captain Gary Wilson and the leadership of James Kennedy, plus any winter signings they bring in, CSNI could have the perfect formula to lift some silverware.
I also believe that James McCollum will play a part in the Lord’s Test against England for Ireland come 2019.
CIYMS will have a difficult job replacing South African professional Matt McGillivray.
The all-rounder won’t be returning to the NCU in 2019, and signed off with 98* in his final game against Armagh.
He helped the Belmont club win two trophies in his time there, and performed magnificently in both 2017 and 2018.
In his debut season he collected a NCU-high 39 wickets and hit 610 runs at an average of 55.45, while in the most recent campaign he collected 35 wickets alongside his tally of 593 runs.
Here, he speaks about his time with the Premier League champions, his contributions and what the future holds.
How have you found the experience of playing in the NCU?
It’s been great. The standard was a lot higher than what I think I initially expected because the island is pretty small. I thought it was good and very competitive.
CIYMS won the Premier League this year. I’m sure you’re proud to have played a part in that?
It’s always nice coming over as an overseas professional and winning trophies. That was what the club wanted. The ultimate goal is to win competitions, and we have done that. Maybe we haven’t won as many as Waringstown, but we won the Challenge Cup last year and won the league this year, so it has been good.
What is your highlight in your time playing here?
My highlight is probably winning the Challenge Cup in 2017. (It was special) because there is a lot of history behind the trophy and I think the guys were probably disappointed in a lot of our performances last year. So, winning a trophy and beating the best teams in the NCU was quite special for everyone.
You got 39 wickets last season and 35 this season, and pretty much 600 runs in both season. Are you happy with what you contributed?
It’s always nice to contribute. I think I could have probably done a bit better this year. Last year, there weren’t as many guys contributing. If you go through the stats list this year, we have four or five guys on everything. It always helps when the whole team is performing and it doesn’t come down to how well the pro does. If you look at North Down, their pro was unbelievable but they didn’t do much as a team.
Do you think the team is capable of going on to the win the big trophies next year?
Yeah, definitely. They have all the resources and winning this year has proved to the guys who didn’t have the confidence that they are good enough and they are capable of winning every trophy that is up for grabs. I think the most important one is the All-Ireland, and I think they have the confidence now. We lost to Waringstown on the last ball and lost to Merrion in a really close game, so that gives you hope going forward.
What is next for you in a cricket sense? Will you keep playing back home?
This will be my last season playing back home, and then I will hopefully get into a more corporate role somewhere else. I’ve enjoyed coming overseas and met so many great people, but I think it’s time to start settling and get a job where I have a steady income.