Tag: Northern Ireland

From sixth to title challengers: The story of North Down’s 2019 season

A brief look at the 2019 Robinson Services Premier League table will show you just how much North Down improved in the space of 12 months.

Having finished sixth in 2018 (and level on points with seventh-placed Muckamore), the Comber men ended last season in second and just two points behind champions CIYMS.

They picked up double the points in 2019 from their previous campaign and kept the title race alive into September.

“Overall I was delighted,” reflected captain Alistair Shields.

“If we look back at where we finished last year, to come and push CIYMS as close as we did in the end was really pleasing.

“I think the league ended up a lot closer than people outside of our club and team thought it would. We never gave up and took it to the wire. To lose out on the league on what was a drawn game is a really good effort.

“I think the two heartbreakers for us were those two games against CIYMS and we probably should have won both. It was maybe just that wee bit of nouse and experience to get us over the line that will come.

“Overall, I was delighted with how it went.”

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Shields bowling against CIYMS. ©CricketEurope

North Down last won the Premier League title back in 2011, but the signs in the past season are very positive for their chances of breaking that lean spell in the near future.

The form of both Ruhan Pretorius and Peter Eakin was particularly impressive, and Shields says the improvement in results was down to everyone stepping up to contribute at different points.

“It’s difficult to put it down to one thing,” he added.

“We were able to give opportunities to some younger guys and a couple really stepped up to the plate. I thought our bowling this year throughout was excellent.

“The one area we probably missed out on was another guy really pushing that 600-800 run mark and if we had that then we may have got over the line in the end.

“Our bowling was tight and we had a lot of options. Everyone really contributed. Other than Ruhan, everyone played what you would say is a bit part.

“Ruhan is a star but everyone contributed at some point during the season which is pleasing.”

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Ruhan Pretorius. ©CricketEurope

Their league form was in stark contrast to performances in the major cups, exiting the Gallagher Challenge Cup at the first round stage after being bowled out for 85 by Instonians.

They went one step further in the Irish Senior Cup before an Andre Malan century helped CSNI progress, while they were left kicking themselves after missing out on a spot in the Twenty20 Cup final after a tight loss to Waringstown.

The Challenge Cup is always a special competition for North Down, who have lifted the trophy on more occasions (32) than any other club, but their last triumph came in 2010.

“Certainly our worst performance came against Instonians at The Green,” said Shields.

“These things happen in cricket and I think the important thing was how we bounced back from that. We didn’t dwell on it.

“We tell ourselves at the start of every season that we don’t want to see two teams play at The Green again, and unfortunately that was the day we turned in a bad performance.

“These things happen and you have to be realistic that teams can bowl well.”

Pretorius averaged over 50 for the fourth consecutive season in the NCU and topped that specific chart in 2019, finishing with an astonishing average of 67.07.

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Pretorius averaged a NCU-high 67.07 in 2019. ©CricketEurope

He scored 1006 runs throughout the campaign from 21 innings – the third most behind Andre Malan and Jacques Snyman – and the South African is set to stay in Northern Ireland on a permanent basis.

The 28-year-old would potentially qualify to play for Ireland in 2021, and if he continues to perform at this sort of level, it is almost certain he will gain international honours in the not so distant future.

“I know there is a lot being written about his plans to stay permanently, and that’s great news for us,” added Shields.

“Not just for his contribution on the field and his influence in the changing room, but the work he is doing off the field as well with our junior section.

“I can’t say enough about the guy to be honest and he has been a revelation since he has been with us, so long may that continue.”

Eakin was handed the Sonny Hool Trophy for Bowling at the recent NCU annual dinner after collecting 25 of his 32 wickets in the Premier League.

He was undoubtedly the most impressive homegrown all-rounder in 2019 and it could be the sort of form that pushes him closer to Northern Knights selection once again.

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Peter Eakin. ©CricketEurope

“I think everyone in the NCU appreciates the natural talent that Pete has,” said Shields.

“I think if Pete is honest with himself, he would say that he should have been turning in performances like that in previous seasons.

“It was really pleasing to see him finish on the total of runs he did and with as many wickets. He has always been capable with both bat and ball.

“I think the turning point for him was that we gave him a promotion up to three against Waringstown at The Green and he got a score there and never looked back”

Having had a couple of seasons as skipper in the T20 format, this was Shields’ first campaign as club captain across all competitions and it was an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.

“There is a lot more to captaincy than turning up on a Saturday and picking your bowlers and a batting order.” he added.

“I enjoyed the challenge and it was something that I wanted to do for a long time. On the whole, it was a really good experience and hopefully we can build on what we did this year next season.”

North Down brought in Nathan Burns, Jamie Magowan, Craig Young and AJ Moor ahead of last season, and while it didn’t work out for the latter, the other three all chipped in at different points.

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Craig Young and Jamie Magowan combine for a wicket. ©CricketEurope

Young’s form for North Down and the North West Warriors was enough to get back into Ireland’s T20 squad for the World Twenty20 qualifying campaign currently being held in the UAE, while Magowan finished the season with 23 dismissals behind the stumps.

“Jamie would say to himself that he didn’t get the amount of runs he wanted but he kept beautifully throughout the year,” said Shields.

“He was a really positive influence in the changing room and gets on with all of the guys, so he was a real good signing.

“A lot has been written about the kind of x-factor Craig brings when he is available. We didn’t have him as much as we would have liked but that’s a win-win for Craig due to his international and inter-provincial commitments.

“He is a great bowler and it’s great to have him on board. He turned in performances, especially against Carrick at The Green where he ran through them in a 10-over spell.”

They haven’t sat still and have already moved to sign all-rounder Aditya Adey from Muckamore for next season, who will give Shields yet more options with both bat and ball as they look to stop CIYMS winning a third consecutive league crown.

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Aditya Adey. ©CricketEurope

“He is a guy we have played against for a number of years now,” he said.

“He is a talented guy with both bat and ball and he will give us more options in both departments.

“He is also a really good athlete in the field, which was one area we maybe fell down in as well.

“I think it’s a really good acquisition and we are delighted to have him on board.”

Pat Botha confirmed as Woodvale’s overseas professional

Woodvale have confirmed that former Carrickfergus star Pat Botha will be their overseas professional for the 2020 season.

Botha, who scored 1496 runs in three seasons at Carrick at an average of 41.56, will have a huge role to play as the Ballygomartin Road men step up to the Robinson Services Premier League for the first time since 2009.

They dominated Section One in 2019, winning 14 of their 18 matches to finish 16 points clear of second-placed Templepatrick.

Botha could be viewed as the perfect man for the job at Woodvale having already had experience of the league and the South African all-rounder will know exactly what is required at the higher level.

The 29-year-old is a left-handed batsman and also bowls right-arm spin, with his First Class record showing what a consistent and proven performer he is.

In 101 matches, Botha has scored 5471 runs at an average of 42.08 and scored 106* for Free State on October 10.

Botha, who was hampered by a thumb injury during his last season with Carrick, was due to spend the 2019 campaign in Leinster with Balbriggan but ultimately that move didn’t come to fruition due to another injury.

Woodvale already have Premier League experience in their squad with the likes of Stephen Bunting and Wayne Horwood.

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.”

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.

Waringstown captain Greg Thompson looks back on the 2019 campaign

It goes some way to explaining how good Waringstown have been over the past five years that you look back on their 2019 season and consider it a disappointment despite reaching two finals.

The Villagers have been the standard bearers for some time now, dominating the local and Irish scene by reaching five straight Irish Senior Cup finals and they came into the 2019 campaign as defending champions in four competitions.

Greg Thompson’s side lost out to a talented Pembroke side that could go on to reign supreme for years to come in the Irish Senior Cup decider while CIYMS defeated them in a nail-biting finish in the Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup.

They eventually finished sixth in the Robinson Services Premier League table, and Thompson looks back on the season with disappointment.

“If I’m being honest, it was a disappointment,” he said.

“Largely in the league we were poor and in the end the league table has us sitting in sixth. If we hadn’t been forced to play meaningless games at the end of the season in the middle of September with depleted teams, I think we probably would have finished third or fourth.

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James Mitchell bowling for Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

“Regardless, that’s not a good enough result in the league. Cup wise, the highlights were the two finals. To get to those finals for the fifth time in a row for the T20 and fifth Irish Senior Cup final in a row was a great achievement.

“I wouldn’t look at it as a successful season despite those two achievements, which aren’t to be overlooked. On the whole, there would be a fairly negative reflection on how our season went.”

Constantly rising to the challenge year after year at the business end of every competition isn’t easy to maintain, and Thompson feels that may have affected the squad for the first time.

“It definitely is (tough),” he added.

“We have won four trophies in two consecutive years and that was a huge achievement. That was built upon other successes throughout the four years or slightly longer before that.

“It’s tough at the top and we definitely didn’t have our best season. There were a lot of factors in that.

“To be missing James McCollum as much as we did and I don’t think we played a single league game with a full strength team. James missed the vast majority, I missed a couple and there was the odd injury or unavailability.

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James McCollum is now an established Ireland star. ©CricketEurope

“To be missing James, your number three batsman and while our professional performed well with the ball, he didn’t match our or his own expectations with the bat. That left us quite short when it came to runs on the board.

“The commitment that the guys have given to the last few years has probably took its toll for the first time this year and we will have to refocus and reassess our aims. If we want to remain in the top, we will just have to redouble our efforts again.”

Lee Nelson (531), Adam Dennison (702) and Thompson (759) all passed the 500 run mark for the season but it often felt that Waringstown were short of runs in 2019.

Any team will struggle missing a player of the calibre of Irish international James McCollum and there was also a gaping hole left by the departure of Shaheen Khan to Pembroke.

“Adam Dennison had a strong year again,” reflected Thompson.

“Lee Nelson was back in amongst the runs, I scored runs so we still had the batting talent. You’re missing two guys in the heart of the team there with James McCollum and a professional scoring 600/700 runs.

“You can tell from the statistics in the Premier League that there are a lot of teams who benefit from overseas guys scoring runs.

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Adam Dennison had another good season for Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

“As a club, we have made a decision that it isn’t a route we want to go down which makes it tougher again to compete with these teams who are willing to put their hand in their pocket and go out and buy players. Every club is entitled to run in their own way.

“I spoke after the Irish Senior Cup loss to Pembroke about the fact they had won with a very talented overseas in Shaheen Khan who performed extremely well in the final, but other than that they had 10 local guys.

“I don’t think they all totally played their whole careers at Pembroke, but largely speaking that was a Pembroke team who if they weren’t totally homegrown, weren’t far off it.

“We would like to follow that and I know it’s probably a bit rich coming from me because I’m not born and bred in Waringstown. I think that would be a good model to follow for all clubs to be producing that amount of talent consistently and that is where our club would like to be.”

Thompson was Waringstown’s best performer, averaging 44.65 and his efforts were enough to break back into the Ireland squad again for a Twenty20 series against Zimbabwe during the summer.

He was very unfortunate to be left out of the touring party that departed for the T20 World Cup qualifiers (via a five-team series in Oman) on Monday.

“It was a bit of a purple patch at the start of the season,” said Thompson, who scored 149* and 153 in consecutive days back in May.

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Thompson batting for Ireland earlier this summer ©CricketEurope

“The weather was good and the wickets were flat and my own batting form was good at the right time. I scored enough runs to force my way into the Ireland team again.

“If I’m being critical, it was all too brief. I didn’t score the volume of runs I was capable of having gave myself such a head start.

“A lot of guys will say it was a disjointed season given the weather and the breaks with Inter-Provincial cricket, so there are factors there but overall I would be quite happy scoring the runs I did but I would prefer to be winning trophies.”

Thompson has a variety of commitments away from the cricket field, including his role as hockey coach and he is set to become a father later this year.

He has had a very successful run but will his stint as skipper continue into 2020?

“That isn’t something I have discussed,” he added.

“For the past few weeks there I had the World Cup qualifiers in my sights but I didn’t get picked.

“I needed to then refocus and I have a lot going on outside of cricket in terms of being back to work, I do a lot of hockey coaching and we are expecting our first child in November.

“There’s a lot of other factors and it isn’t a conversation I have had with the club yet.”

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.”

30th White Stick Trophy match taking place this weekend

The league season may be over in the Northern Cricket Union but there is still one more game set to take place at North Down Cricket Club on Saturday with the 30th anniversary of the White Stick Trophy (11:30am).

A match that is contested between umpires from NIACUS (Northern Ireland Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers) and Cricket Leinster, the Southern outfit have won 16 games since its inception in 1989 while their Northern counterparts have triumphed 12 times with one tie.

Michael Foster, who stood in the Clear Currency Irish Senior Cup final between Waringstown and Pembroke at Milverton this season, will captain the NIACUS side for a sixth time and will be hoping to extend his good record (won three, lost one, one tie).

There is great experience involved in both sides, with former Irish international Uel Graham set to turn out for NIACUS this weekend.

NIACUS are also celebrating their 70th anniversary this year and have continued to go from strength to strength, with the likes of Alan Neill and Mark Hawthorne established international umpires and contracted by Cricket Ireland.

As well as the match, there will be a BBQ at The Green while a ballot will be held with all money raised being divided between Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Support.