In what is the first piece of major transfer news ahead of the 2020 season, Muckamore captain Neil Gill has departed the Moylena side to join Carrickfergus.
The 33-year-old has spent the majority of his senior career with Muckamore but will now hope he can help move Carrick closer to silverware after completing the move last week.
Gill, who has spent most of the last decade as Muckamore’s captain, took 26 wickets last season as the Antrim club were relegated on the final day of their season.
He will be viewed as an important piece of the puzzle as Carrick look to build on the momentum created in recent years and provides experience as well as being a genuine threat with the ball.
Since 2006, Gill has taken 161 wickets in top-flight competitions for Muckamore and in his one season with Derriaghy in 2007, which is a very respectable record when you take into consideration Muckamore’s bouncing between Premier League and Section One.
Muckamore will now need to rebuild after losing their inspirational skipper, and without the lure of Premier League cricket this mightn’t be the last of the departures at Moylena.
While making the decision to leave Muckamore was a tough one, Gill is excited about the new challenge ahead.
“I’m absolutely delighted to have signed for Carrick,” he said.
“It’s a great club that have built a really competitive team that I think can challenge for trophies and I hope I can help them achieve that.
“I’m 33 now and I want to play at the top level for as long as I can.
“It’s obviously tough leaving Muckamore having been there since I was 8 years old, but I think it’s the right time for a fresh challenge and for me to start enjoying my cricket again.
After 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.
“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.
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.
“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.
Muckamore secured their place in the Premier League for another season this year, finishing seventh having collected 20 points from 14 games (5 wins, 8 losses, 1 no result).
It is the exact same record they collected in the league in 2017, and captain Neil Gill is looking for his side to improve further when the 2019 season rolls around.
Professional Fahad Iqbal had a good season, and Adam McDaid (above) made a real impact when he joined the Moylena club late in the campaign.
Here, Gill reflects on the season that’s been.
When you look back on 2018, what are your thoughts?
Overall, we set out to stay in the league and we done that. There were a lot of positives with the likes of Aditya (Adey) and Craig Drummond having good seasons. Looking into next year, we need to think about not just surviving, but pushing on as well. That’s two years that we have consolidated.
The younger guys have had another season and hopefully I will be fully fit next year. We just to have to try and improve. There were a lot of positives, but there is also a lot of work that needs done.
You ended up finishing in 7th, but spent a lot of the season above that. Do you feel you performed better than that?
Looking through the whole season, there are only two matches that we got really annihilated in and those were the two CIYMS games. Other than that, we competed in every game.
We should have beat North Down away, and we had a no result against them as well. If you look on the whole, there are games there that we lost that we should have probably won. There is a lot we can improve on.
Our fielding was really poor. It was the worst that I have seen and it is something we need to work on. The boys need to get fitter. There are boys who have talent with the bat but they didn’t kick on and show it.
I didn’t have a great year personally with injuries and a few other things, so I will come back stronger. Sam Gordon and Aditya are going to Australia during the winter, so hopefully that will improve them as cricketers.
Aditya Adey had a great season, and you have a few other young guys in the squad. Do you think they will only continue to get better?
The point that I’ve been making to the club for years is that it’s important we stay up and aren’t a yo-yo team, which has happened over the years.
Seeing them in their second year in the Premier League, they have improved and you can see it when they are facing the best bowling and best batting.
Sam Gordon has so much talent and got two fifties in the Emerging Knights games, but for us played some silly shots which was down to concentration more than anything.
Adey still needs to improve his bowling. He does pick up wickets but he is still bowling two sides of the wicket and not bowling to a field. There is so much to work on and we are still in the Premier League.
Lisburn are coming up and they are going to be a good side. It isn’t going to be easy next year, but we just have to keep trying to improve.
You are consolidated in the Premier League now. Do you feel that the side has improved in 2018?
I do feel we have improved in some senses with Adey and a couple of the other guys standing up and being counted.
Hopefully next year the likes of Sam come along after spending some time in Australia. Our players have the talent and they need to do it in the big league now.
Ashwin (Shetty) came in and got important wickets, and the pro (Fahad Iqbal) was a great find as well, getting close to 700 runs and 28 wickets as well. We couldn’t complain about that.
We probably have improved, but not an awful lot. As I said, our fielding was worse than the year before. Overall, I am happy we stayed up but definitely looking to do better.
Looking to 2019, what are the goals?
I said to the boys after the last game on Saturday that it’s great staying up, but next year I want to add a couple of guys to improve the team and add to what we already have and maybe push for a run in the Senior Cup and maybe get to a final.
We have got to a couple of semis in the past years, but it would be great for the club to get to a Senior Cup final.
It’s about us improving every single year. We have consolidated now and if we are improving as a club every year, it’s all you can ask for.