Tag: Cricket Ireland

Instonians captain Andrew White reflects on the 2019 season

It feels like the 2019 season is one that Instonians will be more than happy to see the back of.

There were contrasting fortunes across different tournaments, with the Shaw’s Bridge side thriving in white ball competitions only to struggle massively in the Robinson Services Premier League before really standing up when it mattered to secure survival.

Reaching the Gallagher Challenge Cup final will be the highlight and they had CIYMS in some early trouble at 12-3 and were ticking along nicely at one point in their run chase, but they would eventually go down to the same opposition that knocked them out of the Twenty20 Cup at the semi-final stage.

Horrid luck and a bowl-out meant they were eliminated by Waringstown in the Irish Senior Cup quarter-final, and captain Andrew White admits the 2019 campaign was ‘full of disappointments’.

“It was difficult.,” he reflected.

“We’ve had two difficult years. Last year, we suffered with injuries to key players and then this year we never really got going or into any sort of rhythm.

“We lost league games at the start which put us on the back foot. We lost to Waringstown in a bowl-out in the Irish Cup, we have been trying for years to get to Finals Day of the T20 and we lost in the semi-final, lost in the final of the Challenge Cup and then fought relegation for most of the season.

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Instonians reached the 2019 Gallagher Challenge Cup final. ©CricketEurope

“It was full of disappointments. The squad stuck together very well through those disappointments and ultimately we were strong enough to stay up and had the personnel performing at the right times to enable us to stay up.

“It was certainly not something I would be keen to repeat.”

Coming into September, Instonians were shockingly sitting bottom of the league table having won two of their eight league matches at that stage, with White and his men knowing they would need some big results despite the cushion of having fixtures in hand over Lisburn and Muckamore.

They saved their best red ball form for the final matches, beating CIYMS at Belmont to all but secure their top-flight status before triumphing over Muckamore the following morning – a result which would ultimately put the hosts down after a washout at Carrickfergus.

Instonians have long been a club you associate with the top of the table rather than fighting at the bottom of it, but did it ever feel like a true relegation battle considering they ended the season sitting in fifth?

“I mentioned the ‘R’ word back in July time in our changing room and I’m not sure the players actually believed me,” adds White.

“Once we came into August, there was a real recognition that we were going to have to win key games to stay up.

“We’ve heard in sport people say ‘they’re too good to go down’ and people were telling me that we were too good to go down and it wouldn’t happen, but I wasn’t believing that for a minute because I knew we had struggled to get across the line in many games.

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White celebrates a half-century against North Down. ©CricketEurope

“The longer you’re at the bottom, the longer you start to worry about it. It wasn’t an ability thing – it became more of a mental thing.

“I was talking to James Kennedy there, who was at the bottom end of the table with Ballymena for many years and they became very good at overcoming the relegation battle because they were hardened to it.

“For us, it was a new experience for a lot of our players and for me as captain, and knowing what way to turn was quite difficult. We were happy to come through in the end.”

The absolute low point of Instonians season came in early-July at Wallace Park when they were bowled out for 61 by Lisburn with David Simpson ripping through their middle order to claim figures of 5-18 – all of which came in the space of 18 balls where the visiting side failed to score a run.

There are major differences when it comes to playing in white and red ball cricket, and White feels Simpson exposed technical weaknesses that afternoon.

“I think we struggled technically against the red ball,” he said.

“Davy Simpson bowled extremely well at Lisburn one day and exposed our technical deficiencies, and I think that put the frighteners up a couple of the boys because they realised when the ball was moving around that they weren’t as tight as they needed to be.

“In white ball, the guys were a lot more confident, comfortable playing their shots and a lot of the guys are playing white ball now with their provincial and representative cricket.

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Instonians were beaten twice by Lisburn in 2019. ©CricketEurope

“They maybe don’t see as much of the red ball, especially the younger guys, as they once did. We came up against some really good sides as well that were in-form.”

Murray Commins really showcased his brilliance towards the end of the season, finishing his first full campaign in the NCU with 844 runs and an average of 44.42.

Three of his last four innings resulted in at least half-centuries with his last knock being a 64-ball 110* against Waringstown.

“Murray is an outstanding young cricketer – I think that’s evident to anyone that has watched him play this year how technically gifted he is,” said White.

“He has a flair about him which makes him very easy on the eye to watch play. He struggled injury wise – he has hip injuries which he is hoping to get sorted during the winter.

“He at times showed his class and probably didn’t score as heavily at the start as he would have wished. When you’re young and coming from overseas, it can maybe take a season or two before you really find your feet.

“We would be hopeful that fitness permitting, he will kick on again next year.”

17-year-old opening batsman Ollie Metcalfe took another step forward in 2019, going past the 500-run mark and recorded a century in the Irish Senior Cup against Cork County.

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Ollie Metcalfe. ©CricketEurope

He is certainly one of the most exciting young players in Ireland, and White was pleased to see yet another season of progress.

“At the start of the year, we sat down with him and his dad and we talked about where the best place for him was to bat,” he added.

“He had a year opening the batting, struggled a bit but myself and Gavin felt the best place for him to bat was at the top. He took that challenge on again this year and we are glad we stuck with that.

“He was rewarded with some excellent performances, hitting a hundred in the Irish Cup at 17 and he played really nicely in the Challenge Cup final. To score 550 runs on top of what he did last year was really encouraging.

“He’s hungry, wants to do well and he has a unique talent. He has the ability to play aggressive cricket but he is going to have to work really hard to continue his improvement.

“When he comes up against that higher quality of bowler, they are quite clever and can work out a batter quite quickly. He is going to have to try to play to his strengths and work on his weaknesses to make sure he progresses.

“In the overall scheme of things, it should give a lot of people confidence to give young guys more of a role.”

Perhaps the star of Instonians season was fast bowler Josh Manley, who took 22 wickets in just eight matches and had the best strike-rate (15.86) of any player in the NCU.

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Josh Manley playing against Waringstown in the Challenge Cup. ©CricketEurope

He was rewarded with a call-up to an Irish Academy side for a fixture against Gloucestershire 2nd XI towards the end of last season and White was full of praise for their new addition.

“He had agreed to come around this time last year,” he said.

“He was always going to be late into the country, but when you talk about someone bringing a breath of fresh air to a squad, he was magnificent. He has great energy, great enthusiasm and really bowled superbly throughout.

“You just need to look at his stats, and in particular his strike-rate – he took a lot of wickets for us. You could argue that without him we would have really struggled.”

2019 marked White’s second year in charge of Instonians and with his ever growing demands as Chair of Selectors at Cricket Ireland alongside work and family commitments, does he fancy continuing for a third season?

“My two years have been really challenging in different ways,” he added.

“The captaincy side of things was fine it’s just more the energy is draining. At the age of 39 I didn’t need those energy levels to be drained!

“I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of boys to captain in terms of the effort they gave. They supported me the whole way so that was magnificent. That made avoiding relegation quite an achievement for us because it could have quite easily gone the other way.”

“I have to sit down and make sure it’s the right thing in terms of the Cricket Ireland commitments and I have a young family as well, so it’s making sure I’m not spreading myself too thin.

“Club captaincy takes a lot of time and the players no doubt need someone that can deliver when you need to deliver from a captaincy point of view and on the pitch too.”

After winning first trophy in six years, Northern Knights looking to kick on

8. That’s the number of Northern Knights cricketers that have turned out for Ireland throughout 2019.

It would have been increased by one only for Jacob Mulder’s unfortunate back injury that ruled him out of Ireland’s upcoming World Cup Twenty20 qualifying campaign, while the likes of Marc Ellison, Josh Manley, Neil Rock and Matty Foster all played for either an Irish Academy or youth side.

Taking into account that talent pool and the depth that has been created at the Knights level, it isn’t hard to figure out why they broke a six-year wait to win some silverware when they were crowned Inter-Provincial T20 champions in August.

2019 has perhaps been the best year ever for the Knights in terms of development and success, and it will be a campaign that head coach Simon Johnston looks back on fondly.

“It rained a lot!” he said when reflecting on the season.

“I know a lot of people said we made big strides this year but I don’t think that was it – it was all the ground work we had put in for years before that.

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James McCollum batting for Ireland. ©CricketEurope

“The guys had put in an awful lot of hard work and we were building towards something, and I’m so happy the guys went out and showed what they can do.

“We had talked about it for two years and they were able to execute, so I’m delighted.”

Johnston has never been one to worry about how empty or full the trophy cabinet is – he is more focused on performances on the field and seeing his men progress from regional players to international stars.

There has been no shortage of them this year with James McCollum opening for Ireland with distinction, Mark Adair bursting onto the scene in quite glorious fashion and now the even younger members like Harry Tector and David Delany taking their chances and running with it.

Typically, it wasn’t winning a competition that was most pleasing for Johnston, rather the Knights ability to beat all-conquering Leinster Lightning on more than one occasion and over two formats.

Despite that, his squad won’t be resting on their laurels as the hard work starts once again ahead of another busy campaign in 2020.

“The big thing about that was we went on to beat Leinster twice after that, which we hadn’t been able to do.,” he added.

“That was a big event for us because we’ve done it once and now we know we can do it again. As I said to the guys at the end of the year, it’s done and dusted now and they are going to come back even harder so it’s important we kick on again.

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Mark Adair has been one of Ireland’s best performers in 2019 ©CricketEurope

“If we do what we did this year it isn’t going to be enough – we need to kick up another gear again next year.”

The biggest change this season was the full-time arrival of Gary Wilson as captain after his decade-long stay in the English County Championship with Surrey and Derbyshire.

While maybe not performing at his best following an eye injury that threatened to end his career, it is clear how important Wilson is to the Knights set-up.

“I know he’s getting a bit of flack in the press these days apparently, but Wilo coming back with that experience really has been phenomenal,” said Johnston.

“He added real value. I know he didn’t score the amount of runs he wanted to but as I said at the start of the season I was excited to see what his leadership would bring, and we saw it in spades.

“He just makes everyone around him 5-10% better.

“We met at the start of the year in the winter work and I explained where I was looking to take this and asked what he thought. He was very understanding and had his own views as well.

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Northern Knights captain Gary Wilson. ©CricketEurope

“I had a really good relationship with Shanno (James Shannon) and spoke about how that would take time to build with Gary, but I was surprised at how quickly we were on the same page.

“It probably only took a quarter of the season and then we were firing on all cylinders. Hopefully that will continue. That’s a very fluid thing and we have to make sure we keep evolving and driving the Knights on.”

It isn’t just about the top level for Johnston, who has a very keen eye and interest in continuing to develop players from the grassroots right up to the current Knights crop.

The weather ruined what was an exceptional Emerging Knights programme but Johnston has big aims and expectations with the whole pathway over the coming seasons.

“I was gutted this year with what happened with the rain because we had put such a good programme together, and the weather just totally scuppered us,” he added.

“With the Andrew White Academy tour at the start of the year, I think we will look to do that again this year and maybe bring out a younger age group, and hopefully if we get the funding a Women’s Academy as well. We are always looking to build on that.

“It starts at the grassroots and then we look to filter that up. We brought the Emerging Knights programme in a few years ago and it’s still the most important thing.

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Northern Knights leave the field. ©CricketEurope

“We have to give our better cricketers the chance to play at that level.”

The Inter-Provincial system came in for criticism this season after local club games were cancelled to allow for two T20 Festival’s – one in Pembroke and the other in Bready, which was eventually called off without a ball being bowled.

With Ireland’s Full Member status and the likelihood of more Inter-Provincial matches being needed in the future to keep our national team competitive, Johnston agrees with the overwhelming majority who have called for club cricket to continue irrespective of what is happening with the Inter-Pro’s.

“In my opinion, we are now at a point with professionalism and semi-professionalism that club cricket has got to go ahead when Inter-Provincial cricket is going on,” he said.

“I think something that caught us out this year is that we now have Irish cricketers. For 10 years, Leinster had an understanding with their clubs that their Irish players wouldn’t play but it isn’t something we have had before, so we haven’t had to deal with the problem.

“To be fair to all the clubs, they’ve all came round to understand that and they would rather play without them as long as they know in advance when they won’t have them.

“I’m not the guy who makes those decisions but I can only see that going on and in time Inter-Provincial cricket going on at the same time as club cricket and things like that.

“It seems to be going in the same way as Ulster Rugby, and I think if we treat that in the right way and clubs are well informed, I can only see it as a positive thing going forward.”

Producing Ireland internationals will remain the aim for Johnston, who is currently training for a Level 4 coaching qualification.

With his track record you wouldn’t put it past him providing more in the coming years, but even if it isn’t for the international arena, he wants to keep churning out cricketers that will help improve the club game at a minimum.

“Even with the likes of David Delany, just playing a small part in giving him an opportunity to play up here – it certainly wasn’t our amazing coaching or anything like that!” he said.

“It’s just giving those guys the opportunity to showcase their skills.

“We’ve just done a review of our Junior Knights pathway and the benchmark I always set is how many guys are we getting into the junior Irish squads.

“You’re hoping that most of the guys will want to kick on and play for Ireland, but even if they don’t you’re looking to create good Knights cricketers who will give back to the clubs and make them stronger.”

Lisburn make first signing ahead of 2020 season

Lisburn have moved to sign young bowler Luke Allison from Section One side Donacloney Mill.

The 16-year-old is highly-regarded in the NCU, representing the Union at a number of age groups and was named in an Emerging Knights squad to face MCC in 2018 and 2019.

His most recent representation came at last season’s U16 Festival, where he took four wickets against Cornwall in the rain-affected tournament.

He was part of a Donacloney side that sat inside the top three of the Section One table for a large majority of the 2019 season before they eventually finished fourth behind champions Woodvale, Templepatrick and Ballymena.

Allison showed his ability and potential throughout the season, picking up figures of 3-19 against Templepatrick and chipping in with solid performances in other matches.

Lisburn will view this as a signing for the future as well as hoping Allison can have an immediate impact at the higher level, and the youngster will supplement the current pace options which includes David Simpson, Graeme Browne, Mark Berry and Callum Atkinson.

The Wallace Park outfit have already announced that overseas professional Faiz Fazal will be returning for the 2020 season, and they will undoubtedly be looking at strengthening further as they aim to improve on last season’s showing.

Adam Berry’s side survived the drop on net run-rate with Muckamore relegated to Section One on the final day of their season.

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Luke Allison. ©CricketEurope

 

James Kennedy reflects on CSNI’s 2019 campaign

CSNI finished fourth in the Robinson Services Premier League in 2019, ending on 28 points after winning seven of their 14 league matches – four points and one league position better than 2018.

When it came to cup competitions, they played the eventual champions in both the Gallagher Challenge Cup and Irish Senior Cup and were more than competitive in both matches, losing by four wickets to CIYMS in the semi-final of the former and by three wickets to Pembroke in the quarter-final of the latter.

The Twenty20 Cup was a bit of a write off, finishing bottom of Group B after winning one of their six matches in a group that contained North Down, Instonians and Muckamore.

With a better league performance but without reaching a major final like they did last season, how does skipper James Kennedy reflect on the campaign?

“I’ve heard a lot of people comment that CSNI are the ultimate under achievers and you don’t know what you’re going to get, which I find is a strange label for us to get,” he said.

“We won seven and lost seven, were middle of the road and finished fourth. We arguably could have done better.

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Andre Malan celebrates one of his six half-centuries. ©CricketEurope

“We lost once against Waringstown, once against North Down and twice against CIYMS, which are four games you want to win and play as well as you can, but there was only one of those that we didn’t play at our full potential.

“Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose them, and we lost a bad one to Muckamore which we shouldn’t have done.

“We lost two games in September in the T20 format when we were playing our younger lads. It’s very easy to pull out of those matches but I think it’s important for the integrity of the league and sponsors that every game is played.

“It was a great opportunity for some of our young lads to perform despite losing. So we lost seven and won seven – hopefully we can improve on that next year.”

As previously mentioned, the Stormont side narrowly missed out on deeper progression in the two biggest cup competitions, and Kennedy believes his squad deserve more credit for those performances.

“Last year we had the Challenge Cup final and were very disappointed to lose in that,” he added when asked if he felt his men progressed from 2018.

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CSNI reached the Challenge Cup final in 2018, where they were beaten by Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

“This year, we lost a close game in the semi-final to eventual winners CIYMS, got to the Irish Cup quarter-final and lost a classic to Pembroke, who went on to win it, so you can look at the outcomes of both those matches and say we could have went on to win one of those two trophies, but we didn’t.

“We were a lot closer than we get credit for in those games. The big disappointment this season was that we relied so heavily on Andre (Malan) with bat and ball – he was sensational.

“Elly (Marc Ellison) batted well and Grum (Graeme McCarter) bowled well, but the rest of us, myself included, had a disappointing season with bat and ball.

“That’s something we want to develop more next year and hopefully we can help those guys that do perform.”

Overseas professional Andre Malan was again the best player in the NCU, scoring a region-high 1238 runs at an average of 65.16 and collected 41 wickets.

While it is unknown at this current time if the South African will return for a third campaign in Belfast, Kennedy is disappointed the rest of the squad couldn’t provide more support for Malan.

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Andre Malan batting in the Premier League against North Down

“Andre was fantastic,” he said.

“You are running out of superlatives to describe his form with bat and ball. It was just disappointing we didn’t step up to support him as much as we could have. He is a superb cricketer.

“He was brilliant and is a great guy to have around. Hopefully he can have a good season back home.”

Opening batsman Marc Ellison collected the Larry Warke Trophy for Batting at Saturday’s NCU annual dinner after scoring 699 runs in the Premier League at an average of 49.93.

The only player that could better that tally was team-mate Malan, so it is clear that the platform for success is there at CSNI.

“He had a good season but he will tell you he could have done better,” said Kennedy.

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Marc Ellison. ©CricketEurope

“He batted well and is a great player. There will be more runs in him again next year I have no doubt.

“Hopefully, outside of Andre and Elly, we can step up and add more runs and be more competitive.”

Ireland’s Twenty20 captain Gary Wilson was back at CSNI for the 2019 season after spending over a decade in England with Surrey and Derbyshire, and while his time with the club was limited due to international and Northern Knights commitments, his influence was still felt in the changing room.

“It was great having Gary back,” added Kennedy.

“He’s obviously a great player, is a great guy and it was great having him around, but looking at the schedules it appears we might not have him too much next year either.

“That’s just the nature of where local cricket is going. It’s already happening with the international players, but I reckon it isn’t too far away where the Inter-Provincial players aren’t available and it’s something we will have to get used to, accept it and play the best we can without them.”

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Gary Wilson spent his first season back in the NCU with CSNI. ©CricketEurope

CSNI have gave many young players a chance in the past few years, with Archie Johnston, Matty Foster and Morgan Topping all mainstays in the squad throughout the season.

More were handed opportunities towards the end of the season and throughout the 2019 campaign, and Kennedy believes that will stand the club in good stead going forward.

“We blooded a lot of young people this year,” he said.

“It’s tough coming into the Premier League but they really enjoyed it and they enjoyed being about the squad, and that’s half the battle.

“It’s a massive step up but as long as they can come off that pitch having enjoyed it and learned something from the older players.

“Those two T20’s against Carrick and Instonians in September were the perfect example of giving 13-15 year olds a chance to bat and bowl and they loved it.

“They excelled at what they did and hopefully that’ll be a good grounding for them.”

Who won awards at the NCU dinner?

The annual NCU dinner took place on Saturday at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast where everyone celebrated another successful local cricket season.

Former Middlesex and England star Angus Fraser was the guest speaker as CIYMS, Woodvale, Cliftonville Academy and Dundrum were all crowned respective senior league champions.

CSNI Women also capped a special season by collecting the Women’s Premier League title – adding to the Challenge Cup crown won earlier in the season.

From Junior League 1 to Junior League 9 the league winners were: Carrickfergus 2s, Lisburn 2s, CIYMS 3s, Woodvale 4s, BISC 2s, Carrickfergus 3s, BISC 3s, Belfast Superkings 2s and Instonians 5ths.

A major part of the night is the handing out of season awards, with a range of accolades through the men’s, women’s and youth game.

Here is a full list of the winners:

Premier League

Larry Warke Trophy for Batting: Marc Ellison (CSNI)

Sonny Hool Trophy for Bowling: Peter Eakin (North Down)

Jack Bowden Trophy for Best All-Rounder: CJ van der Walt (Carrickfergus)

Dai Jones Trophy for Wicketkeeping: Chris Dougherty (CIYMS), David Miller (Muckamore), Marcus McClean (Waringstown)

Senior League Player of the Year

Premier League: Chris Dougherty (CIYMS)

Senior League 1: Stephen Bunting (Woodvale)

Senior League 2: Johnny Terrett (Cliftonville Academy)

Senior League 3: Sean Cameron (Dundrum)

Women’s Premier League: Alison Cowan (CSNI)

Hasley Cup

Young Player: Rory Ellerby (Instonians)

Coach of the Year: Stephen Crothers (Instonians)

 

How have the last five teams promoted to the Premier League fared?

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.

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Lisburn stayed in the Premier League after winning three matches. ©CricketEurope

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.

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Armagh won Section One in 2017. ©CricketEurope

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.

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Muckamore were relegated this season. ©CricketEurope

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.

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Derriaghy’s 2015 Section One winning side. ©CricketEurope

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.

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Carrick have went on to become a top Premier League side. ©CricketEurope

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.

Who improved the most in 2019?

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.

Peter Eakin

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.

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Peter Eakin batting against Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

Ollie Metcalfe

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.

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Metcalfe batting the Gallagher Challenge Cup final. ©CricketEurope

John Matchett

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.

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John Matchett. ©CricketEurope

*Let me know who you think were the most improved players in 2019 via email (johnnymorton003@gmail.com) or on Twitter!*

Following relegation, Muckamore need to rebuild

After suffering relegation from the Robinson Services Premier League, it will be a case of going back to the drawing board for Muckamore as they look to bounce back at the first attempt.

The Moylena side were relegated to Section One on net run-rate after picking up three wins from 14 matches.

It brings an end to their three year stay in the top-flight and in the most brutal of ways after losing by just one run to Waringstown on the penultimate day of their campaign when even a draw would have been enough to stay in the Premier League.

They also lost to the Villagers by three runs at the start of the season before a one wicket loss to Lisburn.

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David Miller was Muckamore’s standout player with the bat. ©CricketEurope

“It just killed me with the way it happened,” said captain Neil Gill.

“I said at the start of the season in this league you need to win your close games and we started off with a three run defeat at Waringstown, which I still can’t believe we lost. We followed that up with a one wicket defeat to Lisburn.

“So when you talk about winning close games, there is two from two to start off. We went to Comber and had them on the ropes but we threw that one away.

“The Waringstown game sort of summed the season up for me and the writing was on the wall after that. We went to Carrick and with no (Jacques) Snyman and them not playing for anything we thought there was a good chance, but of course the rain comes. In my mind it just wasn’t meant to be.

“It wasn’t for a lack of trying from our boys. Everyone turned up to training and they worked so hard even before the season getting fit. The big problem there is lack of experience and cricketing nouse.

“When you’re in those winnable positions it’s just about having the nouse and know how to get over the line, and that’s where we struggled.”

With the Premier League now perhaps better than ever and teams only improving on a yearly basis, the task of competing is becoming harder.

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Jamie Rogers signed for Muckamore from Armagh for the 2019 season. ©CricketEurope

Picking up defeats on a regular basis can be damaging to a side, but Gill was full of praise for how his men dealt with the tough situation.

“It does get tougher and in fairness to our guys they kept their heads up,” he added.

“It’s hard to keep the team spirit up and you’re turning up knowing it’s going to be tough. You’re playing against semi-professional and professional cricketers every week and it’s a tough league. There are no easy games in it.

“It’s where you want to be as a player but it’s tough when you’re coming up against those teams.

“I can’t knock our guys because the craic remained good and we knew a couple of wins would have saved us, but we just couldn’t get over the line.”

The prospect of bouncing back from relegation isn’t a new one for Muckamore, who were promoted back to the Premier League for the 2017 campaign after dropping down in 2014.

Perhaps the hardest part about suffering the drop is keeping a group of players together, and there will be a few clubs sniffing around for talent in the Muckamore squad.

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Steve Lazars impressed in his first season at Muckamore. ©CricketEurope

“It’s nothing new for Muckamore,” said Gill.

“I think that’s the longest we have been in the Premier League – we were up three years and we were trying to build year on year. Unfortunately that just didn’t happen and the league is just getting tougher.

“Fair play to Lisburn coming up and staying up. They have a top professional that was able to help them win a couple of games and that’s what it takes.”

Away from league cricket, Muckamore reached the Gallagher Challenge Cup semi-finals, beating Bangor and Templepatrick before losing out to Instonians.

They were eliminated in the group stages of the Twenty20 Cup after finishing third in Group B behind North Down and Instonians, while they were knocked out of the Irish Senior Cup by Malahide in the first round.

Carrickfergus captain Michael Gilmour reflects on 2019 season

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.

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Jamie Holmes, who scored 566 runs this season, batting for Carrick. ©CricketEurope

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.

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CJ van der Walt ©CricketEurope

“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.”

Cricket Ireland announce squad for T20 World Cup qualifiers

Cricket Ireland have named their 15-man squad for a series in Oman and more importantly the Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers set to take place in the United Arab Emirates.

The squad is unchanged for the qualifiers from the one that won the recent Tri-Series held in Dublin against Scotland and the Netherlands, with Simi Singh retaining his place after the Leinster Lightning all-rounder was called in following an injury to leg-spinner Jacob Mulder.

David Delany, Gareth Delany and Harry Tector are all rewarded with places in the squad after impressing this month.

Gary Wilson will lead the side into what is a crucial tournament as Ireland look to seal their spot in the Twenty20 World Cup being held in Australia next year.

Ireland kick their campaign off against Hong Kong on October 18 before further matches against UAE, Oman, Canada, Jersey and Nigeria.

Before that, they will warm-up with a five-team series in Oman, which starts on October 5 against the Netherlands at the Al Amerat Cricket Stadium in Muscat.

The only change in that squad will be that David Delany misses the trip to Oman with university commitments with Barry McCarthy replacing him.

Nothing less than qualification will do for Ireland, and Chair of National Men’s Selectors Andrew White is excited by the squad that has been compiled.

“The T20 International squad gelled quickly during that last series, and the character the players displayed was admirable,” he told Cricket Ireland’s website.

“They showed the fighting spirit that Irish teams have been renowned for, so it is great to see that coming through particularly in the newer members of the squad.

“It’s a real indication of great leadership within the group, and the experience that Gary [Wilson] brings to this side. Quite often those characteristics are underappreciated, but are vital to a side that is in transition – and have been pivotal to our improvement in this format of the game.

“After his impressive debut, we would have obviously preferred to have had David Delany available for Oman as well as the Qualifier, however David is in the final year of his university studies and we have had to balance his studying and playing as best we can.

“There have been ongoing discussions with David’s university, who have supported his leave from studies that will see him available in the UAE.

“It also goes without saying that [Head Coach] Graham Ford’s recent contract extension is a vote of confidence in the direction Irish cricket is heading.

“We look forward to working with Fordie in the coming years to continue the great platform he has helped lay for the next generation.”

T20 World Cup qualifying squad: Gary Wilson (Captain), Mark Adair, Andrew Balbirnie, David Delany, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Shane Getkate, Kevin O’Brien, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young.