Tag: CSNI

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)

 

JM Sport 2019 End of Season Awards

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
their success.

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.

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Cameron-Dow helped CIYMS to four trophies in 2019

 

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
period.

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.

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Andre Malan batting in the Premier League against North Down

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.

Breakthrough player

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.

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Matchett being awarded Man of the Match in the All-Ireland T20 final

Unsung hero

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
from there.

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.

Women’s Player of the Year

Winner – Alison Cowan

Honourable mentions: Abbi Leckey, Amy Caulfield, Suzi Morrison-Keates

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
that span.

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
Premier League.

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.

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Could CIYMS be defending their title in a white ball league come 2020?

The Johnny Mo Show – Episode One

Here is episode one of The Johnny Mo Show, recorded back in March with CSNI and Northern Knights batsman Marc Ellison.

Ellison is an opening batsman for both teams and was captain of New Zealand’s Under-19 side at the 2006 World Cup, skippering the likes of modern greats Martin Guptill and Tim Southee.

The 32-year-old went on to make his First Class debut for the Knights in 2018 and in this interview he talks about all the experiences mentioned above, his journey to this point and looking ahead to the future.

IN REVIEW: CSNI captain James Kennedy happy with 2018, but wants more consistency next year

CSNI captain James Kennedy is looking for his side to find more consistency in 2019.

The Stormont-based side reached the Challenge Cup final and Twenty20 Cup semi-final, but lost out on both occasions to Waringstown and North Down respectively.

They didn’t quite translate that form into the Premier League, and their poor start meant that it was decided pretty early on that they wouldn’t be challenging for the title.

A resurgence in the middle helped them move into third for a time, but they finished in 5th with a record of 6 wins, 7 losses and 1 no result from their 14 matches.

Here, Kennedy reflects on 2018, praises his star performers and sets out what he wants to achieve next year.

That’s another season over. How do you reflect on 2018?

There were a lot of positives that we can take into 2019. I’m very happy with how our Challenge Cup run went, but obviously disappointed we didn’t get over the line in the final. It’s been well-documented that we are just glad Grum (Graeme McCarter) managed to get through that game and get what was required. Hopefully we will have him fighting fit for next year which would help us as well.

In the league, we were slightly disappointed with the start we had. Throughout the course of the season, we lost four or five games that we probably should have won. Maybe we made bad choices at the time, or maybe some naivety.

I felt as the season went on that our younger players started to develop and learn, and hopefully they are in a better position going into next year.

You had Andre Malan in this year and he turned out to be one of the best players in the league. I’m sure you’re delighted with what you found in him?

Andre was brilliant. He wasn’t just brilliant on the pitch – that record speaks for itself. He did damage with the bat and ball, but he was just brilliant in the changing room. He was a great guy who got along with everyone, and we couldn’t have asked for more.

Hopefully he will be back next year as well, and will have an even better season than the one he has just had.

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Andre Malan

Marc Ellison also hit over 1000 runs. How important was he?

Elly is a superb player. We are running out of superlatives for him.

The argument can be that Elly and Andre did most of the work, and the rest of us need to step up and raise our game by another couple hundred runs. There was a bit of a tinkering period this year. We played around with the batting order to see who should go where.

We have learned a lot of things about a lot of people, and hopefully next year we will have something a bit more stable and will be able to support Elly and Andre much more.

The likes of Morgan Topping and Matthew Foster had good seasons. Are you expecting your array of young players will be even better with more experience?

Andre and Elly are the two guys that everyone will come away talking about because of the seasons they had, but our young guys developed so well.

Matty Foster and Archie (Johnston) were in the team for the whole season, and Matty in particular had a fantastic season. He could have bowled his 10 overs every week if it wasn’t for the ECB rule that he can only have seven at the start. He had a super season.

Archie made the gloves his own and hit a nice 50 against Instonians. The guys that came in like Morgan and Arny batted very well, and will hopefully push on next season now that they have more experience in the Premier League.

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Foster bowling against Carrickfergus

Looking to 2019, what are the goals?

CSNI for years have been known as a cup team, and we are a dangerous proposition for anyone on our day, but it’s just trying to find that consistency and get away from the tag that we are a cup team.

I believe that we can be more than that. We just have to raise our games for every single game, rather than the cup games that we have a good record in. It would be great if we can take that into the league and see if we can push up a bit.

There were a few games that we definitely should have won but lost, and that would have put us in a higher standing in the league if we got over the line. We are looking to win those silly games that we lost, and we will be a lot higher in the league.

JM Sport NCU 2018 End of Season Awards

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 North County)

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.

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Andre Malan

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.

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Thompson with the Twenty20 Cup

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.

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Foster bowling against Carrickfergus

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.

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James McCollum has had a great season for the Northern Knights

CSNI’s Aaron Wright preparing for winter Down Under

Even though the NCU season is done and dusted for 2018, CSNI batsman Aaron Wright won’t be getting much of a break as he is preparing to spend the winter with Merbein South Cricket Club in Australia.

It was a campaign to remember for the 21-year-old, playing in his first Challenge Cup final against former club Waringstown, and there is no doubt that it has left him looking to perform in those occasions with regularity.

He also made his First Class debut for the Northern Knights against the North West Warriors in the Interprovincial Championship, showing the improvements he has made in his game over the past couple of years.

Here, he speaks about his upcoming trip, his season with CSNI and much more.

You’re off to Australia in a couple of weeks time. Are you excited for the opportunity?

Yeah, I really can’t wait. It’s two weeks until I leave now. Cricket season has just finished, so I get a short break then straight back into it.

You went to New Zealand last winter. How did you find that experience?

New Zealand was fantastic. It hardens you as a person and as a player. When you’re playing cricket, they don’t really rate Ireland as a nation so you hear everything about ‘What are you doing here?’ and things like that! You also have to look after yourself in your personal life. You have to wash, cook, clean etc and it makes you a better person.

Did you find your game had improved a lot after playing in New Zealand?

That was my first year at Civil Service, so going from Junior One to the Premier League would have been a massive jump. This probably reduced the jump in standard, and it was pretty even in terms of quality.

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Wright in action for CSNI against Instonians in the Challenge Cup semi-final

You now have another season of Premier League cricket under your belt. Do you feel better for it?

Definitely. Up until I broke my finger, I felt as good a player as I had ever been. When I broke my finger, that sort of set me back a bit and I felt I didn’t have as good a end to the summer as I should have had.

Was the broken finger a big issue to overcome?

Whenever I came back, I was always thinking about it and if it could get hit again. It wasn’t fully recovered. I had to come back because I was worried about not getting picked for the Challenge Cup final, so I came back a few weeks prior. I probably shouldn’t have came back until the final itself, but it was definitely worth it.

That was your first Challenge Cup final. Was it enjoyable even though it didn’t go your way?

What a day that was. From the build-up all week to the day of the final – it was incredible. To watch Marc Ellison, Andre Malan and Adam Dennison play on the big stage was absolutely incredible. Unfortunately I didn’t do too well myself!

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Wright during his time in New Zealand

Getting to play with the likes of Ellison and Malan must help you a lot?

Yeah It’s fantastic. To work with those two is so good. Marc is a freak of the game, he loves it and he is incredible to be around. He knows everything about cricket.

There are a lot of young players in the CSNI squad. With you all having another season at the top level, do you think the club is capable of something special in 2019?

Definitely. I heard Andre will be coming back next season, and I think we are just one big player away from winning trophies.

Andre Malan open to CSNI return in 2019

South African professional Andre Malan was one of the standout performers in the NCU last season, scoring 940 runs (four centuries and four fifties) and taking 43 wickets.

The 27-year-old returned to his homeland last month, but he could be potentially making a welcome return next season.

If the Stormont-based side can bring Malan back, they have a great chance of picking up silverware in 2019.

Marc Ellison leads by example at the top of the order, while an array of young stars now have another season under their belt at the top flight.

Here, Malan takes time out of a busy schedule to talk about his first season in Belfast, how special he thinks CSNI is as a club and most importantly of all, if he will be back next year.

How did you find your first season in the NCU?

Very enjoyable. The weather was brilliant and the cricket was of a good level.

I’m sure you’re delighted with how you played personally?

Yes. I wanted to work on some aspects of my game and I am glad with how I progressed throughout the season.

It seemed like you fit in really well at CSNI. Did you enjoy the club?

I did enjoy the club. I made some good friends and the club chairman, Ivan McMinn, is an exceptional human being.

Do you feel they are capable of pushing on and achieving something special?

Yes. Hopefully CSNI can build from this past season and make the right decisions when it comes to crucial aspects of the team and the future of CSNI’s cricket.

Time for the one everyone wants to know: Will you be returning/planning to return in 2019?

Good question. It all depends if CSNI would want me back for another season. We will see how it unfolds.