Gill excited for new challenge with Carrickfergus – whenever it begins

It would be fair to say that Neil Gill hadn’t been this excited for a new cricket season to roll around in quite some time.

Getting ready for another Premier League campaign has been standard practice over the last few years with Gill leading Muckamore to one of their longest sustained periods in the top-flight in decades.

With his boyhood club being relegated in the final game of their season, Gill still had a burning desire to test himself and play against the very best that the NCU has to offer.

So, for only the second season in his career, Gill will be playing his cricket away from Moylena after signing with Carrickfergus – one of the most exciting teams in the league.

Speaking to Gill, you get the sense a fire has been relit inside of him with the move. The thought of fresh beginnings has restored his true love for cricket and he has been putting in the work during the winter to make sure he hits the ground running at Middle Road.

Cruelly, it looks like that new start is going to be taken away from him – well, for at least a few more months–due to the coronavirus pandemic.

When Muckamore’s final Premier League game, which was ironically against Carrickfergus, was washed out and their relegation fate sealed in the harshest of ways, Gill would have known there was a big decision to make.

It was a season of near misses for his side. Three-run and one wicket defeats to Waringstown and Lisburn respectively in the space of two weekends would set the tone for what was to come before the former would return to haunt them once again, winning off the very last ball in the third last game of the season.

Being at Moylena that afternoon, an eery silence fell over the ground when the reality of what had just happened sunk in. Muckamore had came within a bat length of surviving. They had come so close yet were so far away still and it felt like that blow would eventually see them down.

It proved to be the case and in the following weeks, Gill confirmed his departure.

He has provided a lifetime of service to Muckamore, but this time it had to be about looking after himself and fulfilling that desire to be the best cricketer he can be.

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Gill bowling against Instonians last season. ©CricketEurope

“Getting relegated with Muckamore and the way it happened with the close games against Waringstown and Lisburn was really hard to take, especially for someone who has been there since they were eight and been captain for nine years,” he reflects.

“We kept them in the Premier League for three years which is probably the longest since the team in the late-sixties and early-seventies. To go down the way we went down was hard to take.

“I did ask a few boys around the club and I do think the right thing to do is for Muckamore to rebuild, get the youth structure in place, do a bit of work on the ground and take the pain of Section One for a few years.

“Me being 33 now, I just want to play as long as I can at the top level and I wanted to go to a club at the top end of the Premier League.

“I moved to Derriaghy (in 2006) and we won six but went down, so I thought it would be great to play in a team challenging at the top end of things.

“Carrick are a team I believe can win something because they have all aspects covered. It definitely wasn’t an easy decision to leave.

“I had been there since I was eight and I did leave once, but that was because I was told I wouldn’t go to the U19 World Cup if I wasn’t playing Premier League so that encouraged me to go at that stage.

“I will miss Muckamore – there’s no doubt about that.

“Sometimes you have to look after yourself and I don’t want to look back where I played most of my days in Section One and not in the Premier League. That’s basically what drove it and there were a couple of other things as well.

“I had been captain for nine years and going on titles, was probably one of the most successful they had.

“I think about 75% of the club are happy to have a cricket team and don’t really share my aspiration to be up there. When I came into captain, driving the team forward was always my aim.

“I brought in a more professional approach with regards training. Some guys didn’t like it around the club.

“I lost my dad suddenly and then Lucy was born within the space of two days, and even the year that happened I was rolling the wicket and cutting the grass. I did come off committee because I was on it for seven years and took a backseat that way. It’s almost taken for granted.

“I have a busy job and am a family man and was giving hours of my time. There are people slagging you off in the background and I just thought I can’t be bothered with the negativity at this stage of life.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in the future but I want to give Carrick a real good go and win things. The Premier League is getting tougher and more competitive while Section One is going the other way.

“There’s a lot of boys that want to challenge at the top and there are a lot of guys who are happy playing social cricket, which is fair enough but I didn’t fancy that myself.

“I’m a traditionalist and have grown up playing cricket – it has been my life. I’m always 50-overs and old school in my thoughts!”

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Gill being presented with a Challenge Cup man of the match award. ©CricketEurope

The transfer was settled quickly over a spot of lunch in Carrickfergus with it not taking much to persuade Gill that this was the right place for him.

Over the years he has got to know the players well and when it comes to the club itself, he has a deep admiration for the way they’ve been able to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the top-flight.

“I’ve always got on well with a lot of the Carrick boys like Parky, Eagy. Michael Gilmour and all of them.

“It has always been a club that I’ve got on really well with and the way they have built their club, I used them as a model at Muckamore because they have built it up and now have everything in place to challenge.

“I had a bit of craic with Eagy on the last day of our season and he said ‘Giller, will we just get this transfer form out?’ and I spoke to him after that and went to have a chat with them.

“I don’t want people thinking I’m going there for money because I have turned down money four times. I’m not getting a penny and have gone here for purely cricketing reasons. It’s purely because I want to play at the top for as long as possible.

“I spoke to Eagy, Parky and Jim Nelson in the second week of September over a bite to eat at Carrick and within a couple of days I had signed. I wanted to get it pushed through and get it all done and dusted.”

Gill has been in the role of captain for the last nine years – the sort of timeframe that isn’t too common to hear of when it comes to the leader of a first team.

Generally a player will give it their all for a few seasons before handing the reins over to someone else, but Gill has been trusted to lead the club through thick and thin, through relegation and promotion.

With the obvious love he has for the club, he wasn’t about to leave the captaincy to someone he didn’t feel was capable or ready. He wasn’t about to hand the keys over to someone he couldn’t trust to do a good job.

That is no longer the case though. Sam Gordon, the new captain, has been a protégé of sorts for Gill over the past couple of seasons, grooming his team-mate for captaincy and getting him ready for the day when all the responsibility would be given to him.

The day is now here, and Gill is confident that the 22-year-old will do a stellar job, even if it will be initially tough with so many winter departures.

“Part of the reason I did captaincy over the last few years because there was no one else to do it.

“I didn’t want to come into the Premier League and make some young guy do it because it’s tough. Captaincy is hard enough, but when you’re in the Premier League trying to set fields to top players and professionals is very tough.

“I thought I would do it for another couple of years and blood Sam a bit. I got Sam a job in our place and I have a lot of time for him. He was the obvious choice to do it looking at the team.

“It’s going to be very tough for him with the number of players who have left.

“I will always love Muckamore. Some of the best days of my life have been down there. There are a lot of people in the club I love to bits.

“I will be down there having a pint during the summer and will always be looking for their result. If we aren’t playing and they are, I will be watching them.

“Who knows what will happen in the future, but as I say, this isn’t a one or two year thing at Carrick – I want to give it a really good go.”

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Gill appealing against CIYMS back in 2017. ©CricketEurope

Gill had been training with his new team-mates in the nets over the winter period, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses while also improving himself as a bowler.

When you look at Carrick’s team, it isn’t hard to see why many fancy them to make a big breakthrough soon in terms of winning a trophy, and Gill has been particularly impressed with one individual.

“We started in the third week of January up at Jordanstown.

“It’s great for me running in against the likes of CJ (van der Walt) because you can bowl a ball that’s hitting the top of off and he can walk down and hit it over extra cover.

“The better batsmen you bowl against, the better you become. He looks unbelievable and I was looking forward to playing with him.

“There are so many strengths in that Carrick team.

“I have to work hard because there are guys in the seconds who could take my place. I’m not going here thinking I’m a shoo in.

“I love pressure and I know I’ll have to work hard, bowl well in matches and if I don’t then there will be others taking my place. It’s great to have that competition in the club.

“The seconds are very strong and won Junior One last season, and I know they lost a couple of guys, but they still have a really good team.

“If you look at the seamers you have myself, (Ashwin) Shetty, Alex Haggan, Matty McCord, Anthony Martin and then big Michael Armstrong who looks a top bowler. Batting wise, who is to say I won’t be batting 11. They really have all bases covered.

“I’ve gone up for five sessions and went for a drink with the boys at Christmas and it feels like I’ve been there for years. I won’t need a settling in period or anything because I know I fit in with the boys.”

With the season now delayed until at least May 28 (and most likely way beyond), it’s just a waiting game for every player in the NCU to see if any cricket will be played in 2020.

As if chosen by fate, Gill would have been taking on former club Muckamore in the Gallagher Challenge Cup first round, but it remains to be seen if that competition will even go ahead.

If we do get some cricket in, Gill will be hoping his experience can help push Carrick from contenders to champions and fulfil their potential.

Carrick have a knack of turning up in the big games, as shown by their success against Waringstown and ending CIYMS’ winning run of 20 Premier League games last season.

It can sometimes be the teams lower down the league where they slip up and Gill believes if they can eradicate that from their game then sky is the limit.

“I said this to a few of the guys at Cariick; if you look at their results, they lost to Muckamore twice, but beat CIYMS and seem to always beat Waringstown. It’s a complacency thing.

“If they are going into every game and aren’t complacent, but it’s also adapting to slower wickets because at Muckamore 220 wins you a match and 180 you’re in the game.

“It’s about the local players putting their hand up and not relying on the pro too heavily. He will naturally win you games on his own.

“They are so close and that’s another reason why I joined Carrick. They are one of the best teams in the league.

“It’s so competitive but there’s no reason if they perform against the big teams and stop the complacency and knuckle down against the teams lower down in the league, it’s all they are missing.”

Jacques Snyman reflects on first NCU season and playing against England

Jacques Snyman is hoping he will get the chance to return to Carrickfergus at some point this summer and help the club pick up some silverware.

The 26-year-old marked his first season in the NCU as an overseas professional by racking up 1,085 runs at an average of 54.25 and also chipped in with 24 important wickets as Carrick made it to their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final and a third-placed Premier League finish.

Snyman had enjoyed two previous stints in England but believes 2019 marked his best season yet in the most competitive league he has played in during his time in the United Kingdom.

“It was one of the best seasons I’ve ever had going overseas,” he said.

“People always ask what the toughest league you’ve played in is and for me it would definitely be in Northern Ireland. For me, there is no such thing as an easy game there.

“I got to the club and people made me feel comfortable and the likes of Eagy, Holmesy and CJ helped me a lot.

“It was one of my best seasons ever with breaking some records and I really enjoyed it.”

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Snyman batting against Instonians. ©CricketEurope

Snyman understandably didn’t know an awful lot about the NCU or Carrick when he received the offer to ply his trade in Northern Ireland but he had the right people around him to talk to about a potential move.

Pat Botha, who had spent the previous three seasons with Carrick and has now signed for Woodvale, was able to offer some advice while he also shared a Knights changing room with Shadley van Schalkwyk who was at Armagh in 2018 and originally scheduled to join Warinsgtown for the 2020 season.

Through his own research he found out that AB de Villiers had been at the club and says it’s an honour to play for the same team as one of biggest stars of this generation.

“I spoke to Shado and to Pat Botha and they both said it was a great club,” he added.

“They mentioned the names of the likes of Roger, Iain Parkhill, Eagy, Jim Nelson and said they were all really good guys.

“When I signed, CJ (van der Walt) texted me and just told me a bit about the background of the club.

“I went to read up about the club and seen that AB de Villiers had played there and one of my best friends used to be at the club.

“For me, it was huge playing for the club that AB had been at.

“Everyone in South Africa looks up to AB so to have that opportunity to play at the club he played at was a great opportunity and I was so excited to get over and see what it was like.

“The guys accepted me with open arms and I had a really good time.”

Carrickfergus have found themselves consistently in the top half of the Premier League table without being able to mount a serious challenge on the title yet.

With someone like Snyman in their team supported by a host of quality players they might not be too far away from that and the South African is desperate to get back and help the Middle Road men fulfil their potential.

“I really want to get back,” he said.

“I’m a loyal guy and I’m looking to get back to Carrickfergus this season.

“If not, I’m not sure what the future holds and maybe they’d want me back for the season after.

“I don’t want to have started something with a club and then leave them. I want to help the club to win some trophies so it would be my goal this season.

“I obviously want to perform well on my side but I would love to help the club win some silverware.”

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Snyman celebrates a century. ©CricketEurope

Snyman’s blistering form carried over into his season back home and he was really impressing with his performances before the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the campaign ending prematurely.

The highlight of that was his 65 against England for a South Africa Invitational XI before following it up with scores of 38 (from 16 balls) and 29 the following day.

That experience helped him enormously and his run of consistent performances meant he picked up a Knights franchise contract, where a certain Allan Donald is head coach.

“I came back from Carrickfergus with some form,” he added.

“For Northern Cape I did really well and then getting exposure to the franchise season was just great working with the coaches.

“I played half of the franchise season and now have got a franchise contract.

“I’m really happy and what helped me a lot was playing for the Invitational team against England.

“That helped me a lot because getting the privilege of speaking to the likes of Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and all those guys afterwards you learn so much about the game.

“It was a dream come true to play against the World Cup champions.

“The reality kicks in when you walk onto the pitch on the morning of the game and you see the England squad warming up.

“You see the likes of Ben Stokes warming up and the reality kicks in that I’m going to be playing against them.

“The night before I didn’t know if I would be in the playing XI and then when you walk onto the pitch knowing you are playing – the excitement was overwhelming.”

His hard-hitting batting ability didn’t go unnoticed by the stars of England’s touring side and comments from Jonny Bairstow particularly stood out.

“Afterwards, Jonny Bairstow made a few good comments that I heard again last night that he hasn’t seen a guy hit the ball as clean as me and I’m one of the best talents he had seen in South Africa, so that automatically drives me to work even harder,” he said.

“With those comments he was saying that he didn’t think I was too far from international cricket so for me it’s just about putting my head down and working to achieve those goals.”

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Snyman bowling against Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

Playing international cricket is Snyman’s ultimate dream and there has been more than one country inquiring about his services.

While representing the Proteas is the ambition, Ireland and Scotland both showed interest and although it isn’t something Snyman is ruling out in the future, right now his full focus is with his homeland.

“Cricket Ireland and Scotland were after me asking to come over and play for them,” he added.

“It was great for me that other countries seen me and wanted to give me recognition for my performances and try to qualify on that side.

“Always in my heart I’ve had the goal of playing for the Proteas, so I’m keeping my options open at the minute.

“I want to play for the Proteas but if not then in a few years time I can move over and pursue my career on that side because cricket is everything.”

The pause in any cricket action will delay those lofty ambitions for a while but Snyman is trying to have a positive outlook on the break and is eager to push himself in order to achieve his dreams.

“This is tough and a big eye-opener,” he said.

“It’s difficult to train cricket but it’s a great time to work on your fitness and work on some personal fitness goals.

“You can’t just forget about cricket so I’m still reading up on the game. I’ve been reading articles and watching a lot of Instagram videos, especially the Indian ones because they are so technical.

“I’m thinking about how I can change my game here and there and then doing some drills with a tennis ball to keep my eye and not losing it.

“The question is how will you do after it? You can sit back and just relax but others are working harder than you on their fitness, whereas you can be the one working harder and taking over a few players who aren’t working as hard.

“I’m one of those guys and I’m working really hard at the minute.”

Only time will tell if he gets the chance to make it back to Carrickfergus at some point in 2020 but if he does, Snyman is confident that the current crop of players are capable of achieving something special.

“At the minute, we don’t what’s happening,” he added.

“I’m speaking to the club every week. I feel like last season we had a really strong team and a good chance of winning the league.

“The club can achieve a lot of success because we have a well-balanced side.

“It’s difficult because you don’t know what’s happening yet.

“In my mind, I’m thinking that I’m going but there is also that part that says there’s a chance you won’t be.

“If that happens, sooner than later I will move back to my province for this year and get things going there.”

Ruhan Pretorius not leaving any stone unturned in pursuit of international dream

Since arriving in the NCU in 2015, there has been few more consistent performers than Ruhan Pretorius.

Playing with Waringstown for one season before joining North Down in 2017, the 29-year-old overseas professional has scored 3,529 runs in all competitions and also picked up 118 wickets across four campaigns with the two clubs.

The 2019 season was one of his best yet with the bat as he reached 1,006 runs and topped the averages list with an astonishing 67.07, finishing marginally ahead of CSNI’s Andre Malan.

Soon, Pretorius will shed the overseas tag and will qualify as a local player after making the decision to relocate to Northern Ireland on a full-time basis from South Africa.

Living a stone’s throw from The Green, Pretorius has enjoyed getting to gather new experiences and wasn’t even too put off by the weather!

“I have really enjoyed it,” he said.

“I have been doing a lot of coaching and training with the Knights which has helped a lot. I’m keeping myself busy and I’m living with my girlfriend.

“It has been really good in terms of the cricket aspect and it hasn’t been as cold as everyone said it would be!

“It’s been surprisingly good and it was my first time experiencing things like the Christmas markets because we don’t really have that in South Africa.

“It was great to see the festive things that you guys have so it hasn’t been too bad.”

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Pretorius batting against Lisburn. ©CricketEurope

The decision to permanently move across the world wasn’t one that was made quickly or lightly and has been something in Pretorius’ mind for the past couple of years.

Despite putting in impressive performance game after game in his homeland, a big breakthrough opportunity never came his way and he knew within that something had to change in order to satisfy his ambition of playing at the highest level.

“Probably about two years ago, I spoke to Johnty (Simon Johnston) about moving here full-time because I never really got a breakthrough at the higher levels in South Africa,” he added.

“I kept being one of the top performers and always had promises but it just never happened.

“I want to play at the highest level so I spoke to Johnty about it a bit and once I started dating my girlfriend, it just made it a lot easier.

“I would average fifty at home and one of the leading wicket-takers and still nothing happened, so I thought it was time to go and change.

“It is (frustrating).

“I had been putting in hard work for six or seven years. I can understand that the first one or two years in First Class cricket back home did damage to my career because I didn’t really do a lot of good stuff.

“I was young and trying to bowl as quick as I could and trying to hit the ball as far as I can. I didn’t really care about my career in the way I have over the past four years or so.

“From my stint at Waringstown, my whole cricketing mindset and career turned around and I became a batting all-rounder and really tried to fix it.

“My stats in terms of one-day and T20 cricket has really come through and shown. After I got my first hundred in First Class cricket, my batting has really turned around.”

His year with Waringstown was a catalyst for the way Pretorius thought about his own game and what he thought was possible.

He will be well remembered for blasting six sixes in an over during their Irish Senior Cup victory over Clontarf where he finished 101* and ended the season with an average of 64.09.

Pretorius always had a feeling he would turn into more of a batting all-rounder during his career but that campaign seemed to give him extra confidence to fulfil his potential.

“I always knew growing up that I was going to be a batter that could bowl,” he said.

“For the first few years, I batted at six and seven and always came in during situations to finish games and was more of a bowler, opening and at the death because we didn’t really have many bowling options at that time in KwaZulu-Natal.

“My main focus was more bowling than batting and I think I neglected my batting a little a bit.

“After Waringstown where I did pretty well, the coach back home gave me opportunity up the order and in the next game I scored the fastest fifty in the African Cup. From there, it turned around and I started to get opportunity.

“I was the second highest run-scorer in our team and then I came back over here and have done pretty well in every year since.

“In terms of mindset, I want to be a batter who can bowl. I want to be a guy who scores a lot of runs but is also able to take wickets at crucial times.”

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Pretorius bowling. ©CricketEurope

With the news that Pretorius is set to qualify as a local player at the end of next year, a number of clubs reached out to him with an offer to acquire his services.

He says a move back to Waringstown was something that was on the table but he is set to stay firmly put with ‘second family’ North Down.

“The guys here are like my second family,” he added.

“As soon as I mentioned it to the club, there wasn’t just North Down that wanted to jump onboard. There were three or four clubs that made an offer.

“I had a meeting with Greg and Waitey as well and they were very eager to get me back at Waringstown to stay here full-time and work in the schools and do basically what I’m doing at North Down.

“I definitely do (feel a sense of loyalty). They’ve been very good to me in terms of the way they have treated me and how they have looked after me in the four years I’ve been there.

“It’s an amazing club. We might not have put the performances in which are needed to win trophies, but I don’t think we are that far off. The players train hard enough and there is no lack of effort or ability.”

2019 also marked the first time in nine years that Pretorius hasn’t returned to South Africa to play domestic cricket.

With the coronavirus pandemic, he hasn’t been able to fly back to visit family members and the whole situation left Pretorius wondering if he had made the right decision.

“There was a period about two months ago when they had announced lockdown that I really struggled mentally and emotionally – I really went through a bad dip,” he said.

“There was a stage where I was thinking if I had the made right decision and done the right thing.

“I was really struggling and I couldn’t fly back home if my parents get sick or anyone passes away. There was a point where I thought this was a wrong decision and I needed to go back home.

“Luckily, my girlfriend works in mental health in the NHS and she helped me massively through this and my parents have played a big role.

“I live next door to Neil Dalzell, who plays a massive role in the club youth cricket, and he has been a massive help as well in terms of that. There was a two-week period where I really struggled.”

Through the struggle, Pretorius had to remind himself why he is making these sacrifices and knows that achieving his dream of playing international cricket is going to come with some hardship.

“I’ve made the sacrifices and knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to be easy,” he added.

“It’s a whole different culture and English is my second language but these are the sacrifices I have to make.

“Giving up family back home, the Afrikaans culture, the sunshine – all of those things you’ve to give up.

“Fingers crossed if I get to play higher up, put in performances and win matches it will all be worth it.”

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Pretorius batting in the Challenge Cup. ©CricketEurope

Pretorius isn’t about to leave anything up to chance while striving towards that dream and is doing everything within his power to make sure he is in the best position to strike.

Success is often achieved when hard work meets opportunity and Pretorius is certainly putting in a lot of the former so he can capitalise if and when the latter comes around.

“Mentally, it is good to take a break, especially after nine years,” he said.

“My body has now got a proper rest and I’m now on a strict diet along with strength and conditioning and running,

“I definitely think there are a lot of things I’m going to be better at in terms of my body. I will be the fittest I’ve ever been and it will definitely benefit me when cricket starts again.”

On the subject of opportunity, Pretorius made the most of the games he got with the Northern Knights last season, scoring 96 in his first List A game against the North West Warriors and also scored a half-century during Ireland’s inter-squad games ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers at the backend of 2019.

Pretorius is confident that working within the Knights set-up and alongside head coach Simon Johnston will help bring the absolute best out of him.

“I was down at Knights training about three or four times a week and with North Down we started training twice a week,” he said of his schedule before lockdown.

“I was probably training six times a week and then sometimes there was a Sunday group session with the Knights so there were some weeks it was seven days a week depending on the bowling workload.

“I know people praise Johnty a lot, but he needs to get all of the credit because he’s a brilliant coach.

“He worked with me at Waringstown and he definitely brought the best out of me. He knows people individually and spends time not just as a coach or sportsperson but as a human.

“He tries to be there for you in all facets of life, not just as your coach. He tries to invest time as a friend and works out what makes you happy or angry and he stays that person throughout.

“When it comes to work, it is time to work and then after we can settle down and have a chat. You can trust him and I like that he’s honest and straightforward with you.

“They are a great bunch of guys and it’s a great set-up.

“Every first cap that you get for any team is an honour. Even though I had played 50+ First Class games, it was a real honour getting my first Knights cap.

“I was happy with how I bowled and then the first List A game against the Warriors went really well. I opened the batting because James (McCollum) couldn’t play and got 96 and we won the game which helped a lot.”

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Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

When Pretorius does get back onto the pitch, every performance will be important as he looks to put himself into position for an international call-up when the time comes around.

If he continues in a similar vein of form for North Down and picks up from where he left last season off with the Knights, you could see a very clear path for him to achieve higher honours.

“Every sportsperson will be as determined as anything to get back.

“I also think there is a fine line with being over-determined because it can break you as well being too eager.

“Being ready in all aspects will give me the best success because I know my game. I’ve been playing for a lot of years so I won’t be overdoing it but will be more than ready for cricket season.

“I qualify at the end of next year. I have to first put in all of the performances in order to get there.

“I have had a good start in making a fifty on one-day debut and bowling pretty well in the First Class game.

“Fingers crossed there will be a cricket season and if we do get games for the Knights I want to put in the best performances I can.

“At club level, I want to keep putting performances in and knocking the door down.

“Hopefully next year everything is back to normal and once cricket starts I can put in performance after performance.

“I want to be first in line because of my performances at club and Inter-Provincial level.”

CJ van der Walt more than making up for lost time

It is often said that patience is a virtue and it was certainly something that CJ van der Walt had to have a lot of upon his arrival in Northern Ireland.

Moving from South Africa in 2018 to live with his wife, their house overlooks Carrickfergus’ Middle Road ground but he would have to wait another year to get onto the pitch.

He more than made up for that lost time in his debut NCU season as he helped Carrick reach their first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final and picked up All-Rounder of the Year after scoring 653 runs and collecting 30 wickets in all competitions.

The 23-year-old enjoyed previous UK stints in Manchester and Glasgow but would come to visit his wife with regularity and there was only one place he wanted to be playing his cricket.

“When I played my last season in Manchester, I used to come over and visit her for a week or two at a time,” he said.

“We stay right at the top of Middle Road – I’m looking down at the club right now while speaking.

“I used to come and visit her and over the weekend they would be playing and I thought it was class. I imagined staying up here and playing for a club like that. I used to go down there and that’s how I started to get in contact with the guys.

“Robbie (Humphreys. WSX Cricket) is my agent so he told me to go down and have a chat with them and when I went down I saw the pictures of AB de Villiers and thought it must have been a good club.

“I didn’t know much about it but I came over the year after and couldn’t play any cricket because they already had Pat Botha, so they couldn’t have me as an overseas.

“I took that year getting to know the people and that’s when I started to train here. Eagy (Ryan Eagleson) got me to some training sessions with the Knights and I trained with the club.

“I went to some games with them and that’s how I spent my time and how they started to get to know me. For a full season I was around without being able to play and they wanted to make it work.”

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Van der Walt playing against Instonians. ©CricketEurope

Van der Walt announced himself in the Premier League with a five-wicket haul in his very first game against Instonians and also finished on 40*.

He went on to record five half-centuries in total and averaged 44.78 in the league but he isn’t about to rest on his laurels and is striving to make even more improvements.

“This year coming in to play for them for the first time was unreal,” he added.

“It was one of the best seasons I’ve had in the UK since coming over. We played against some really great teams and were able to test ourselves.

“I had a pretty good season and everything kind of flowed. That first game kicked everything off for my season.

“It was a lot different from all other seasons I’ve played but I feel I played my part.

“I know there is a lot of room for improvement and I want to get there, but I really enjoyed my first season in the NCU.

“In that first season you set up your own goals on what you want to achieve and what you want to get out of it.

“This was a really good season and I got some of it out of it but there’s still room for improvement. We played against some really class players and it was always a battle.

“You wake up in the mornings and know any game you play isn’t going to be a walk in the park.”

As well as adapting to playing for a new cricket club, van der Walt has also had to deal with the transition of moving to another country on a permanent basis.

Having those from the club around has undoubtedly helped make that big switch easier and he feels right at home.

“Coming from South Africa to here, it has definitely been hard getting used to the weather!” he said.

“I found my feet quite quickly and got a job through Iain Parkhill so I work for him. That set me up so that I don’t have to think what I’m doing with myself during the winter when there is no cricket on.

“It definitely does (make it easier). If you make good friends you can nip down to the club to have a beer or watch some football.

“There is always someone around and that makes you feel like you fit in. It wasn’t like I just play cricket for them and then go home. It definitely made it better.”

One of the good friends he made in the past year or so was Carrick’s overseas professional Jacques Snyman, who just like van der Walt, is from South Africa.

Snyman set the NCU alight in what was also his first season in Northern Ireland, scoring 1085 runs – a tally that could only be bettered by Andre Malan – at an average of 54.25 and blistering strike-rate of 123.86.

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Jacques Snyman. ©CricketEurope

He also registered the highest individual score of 2019 with his 190* against Instonians before heading back to his homeland where he hit a half-century against England for a Cricket South Africa Invitational XI.

Having Snyman there helped bring the best out of van der Walt and he says having someone to bounce ideas off is priceless.

“I made contact with him before he came over so we had a big chat,” he said.

“With him coming over, more than 50% of my time on training evenings was spent with Jacques hitting balls in our own time and I was getting to learn from his experience. He played a massive role.

“He has a really good thinking mind and a fantastic cricket brain so I tried to absorb as much as I possibly could.

“We used to go to the gym and socialise together as well, so it was class to have someone like that around.

“When you bat with him, he has a good cricket mind to tell you how to deal with the situation and that definitely helped.

“Someone like that definitely makes your day of cricket much easier. Everything that he says make sense.

“From now on, I know that him and I will be friends forever and I have someone to help me. Even though he is in South Africa right now, we still talk about cricket a lot.”

Van der Walt spent most of last summer and this off-season training with the Northern Knights, working with head coach Simon Johnston to help further hone his skills and get his game to where he wants it to be.

It is no easy task breaking into a Knights side that is packed full of international and quality, but van der Walt was feeling positive heading into the 2020 campaign and that he was ready to level up.

“I trained with the Knights for nearly the whole summer last season on and off and then for the whole off-season this year,” he said.

“The guys worked so hard and I’ve never felt so good leading into a season. The experience and quality of training they can provide to our players in the off-season is unreal.

“You learn so much more playing with people who have had that experience.

“Facing the pace and spin bowlers, they are looking to improve themselves so if you’re batting in the nets you need to really work to get through it.

“If you do, then you know you’re able to get through a guys best because he is really working to improve.

“It isn’t like you’re going to a session just to hit a few balls – there is always something to think about coming out of it.”

When cricket does get back underway, van der Walt will be striving towards making a First Class debut and seeing where that can take him.

He has lofty ambitions and goals he wants to become reality and is certainly ready to put the work in to achieve it.

“I will qualify next year as a citizen so I’m focusing on that and seeing where that could take me,” he added.

“That would make the paths forward easier for me and being able to work my way towards squads and things like that.

“I just want to see where this can take me and I want to keep going higher and higher. For now, I’m striving to get that First Class debut and then see where it can take me.”

Chris Dougherty on his best ever season with CIYMS

At the core of everything that CIYMS have achieved over the past few years has been wicketkeeper-batsman Chris Dougherty.

The glue that holds the batting order together, Dougherty produced something a bit extra special in 2019, hitting 919 runs at the top of the order as the Belmont club went on to record their best ever season by collecting four trophies.

That tally put him top of the run charts outside of overseas professionals and resulted in him being crowned Premier League Player of the Year at the NCU Annual Dinner last year.

“It was a great season for me – it’s always great to be scoring runs,” he said.

“To have four trophies at the end of it was fantastic. We had a great season and we went into every game believing that we could win.

“With the strength in depth we had, I can’t remember playing in a better club team. I just enjoyed playing with so many good players and having that confidence to believe you’re going to win every game.

“Club wise, there aren’t many teams you play in and you look around that there is so much depth in both batting and bowling departments and we were great in the field as well. We had every area covered.”

His runs return in 2019 was over one hundred better than his previous best since arriving at CIYMS from the North West in 2012 and ironically came at a time when he couldn’t commit himself as much to training as in previous campaigns.

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Dougherty strikes a boundary. ©CricketEurope

The arrival of his first child in July meant much of Dougherty’s focus lay away from the pitch but it was that which helped to bring out the best of him on it.

“We had our first child in July so I didn’t have the same sort of time to commit to training,” he added.

“Before, I was involved with the Knights and Irish stuff and was training a lot but last year cricket wasn’t the number one priority.

“Lewis being born took my mind off cricket a bit but that might have helped me as well. Cricket wasn’t the be all and end all and I had something else to think about.

“I probably felt a bit more relaxed going into my cricket to be honest and it was something to enjoy a bit more.”

CIYMS had been building towards a special season like the one they produced in 2019 as they retained their Premier League title and added another Challenge Cup, a Twenty20 Cup and first ever All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup crown to their ever-growing trophy cabinet.

A harder challenge than winning all those accolades in one season is the task of having to sustain that level of performance as every team tries to improve and knock them off their perch.

It is their strength in depth that makes them favourites for most competitions they enter with international experience and quality littered throughout their squad, but Dougherty also credits a simple-thinking process for their success.

“We won four competitions but it was always one game at a time and that’s the way we looked at it,” he said.

“Whether it was a league or cup game, we took it game by game and at the end of it we had the success.

“We knew if we broke it down and were able to take it one match at a time that we wouldn’t be far away at the end of the season.

“We made a few good signings and strengthened up in the areas we felt we needed to. Once we had done that, we knew we had everything covered.

“We had won one or two trophies leading up to last season but with the likes of Sparky (Mark Adair) joining us and having a top professional like Obus (Pienaar), we had everything there we needed to win trophies.

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CIYMS won the Challenge Cup in 2019. ©CricketEurope

“We just had to work together as a team and we knew we would get the rewards at the end of it.

“It wasn’t as if three or four players won us the competitions – it was one to eleven at some point during the season winning us a game.

“That’s great from a team perspective that we weren’t relying on the professional or a few players. It was great to see everybody contributing.”

The Irish Senior Cup now remains the only trophy missing from this current group’s CV and they came close to making their first final last season, losing out in the final over of what will be remembered as an all-time classic semi-final to rivals Waringstown.

That desire to pick up the biggest prize in Irish club cricket is no secret and although they may have to wait another 12 months to even get a crack at it with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Dougherty admits that remains a massive goal.

“With this year possibly being a write off or going to a Twenty20 competition, we will get back next season and go again,” he added.

“The players will be a year or two older and it’s how they come out of it. Hopefully their fitness is still there and some guys might be feeling a bit rusty!

“We will have the experience and same group of players that we have had, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t be up there competing again.

“The Irish Cup is something we have set our sights on. The players have won most competitions, but the Irish Cup is the big one that everyone wants to win, including myself. I would love to add that one.”

A key component to any continued success could be the opening partnership of Dougherty and John Matchett.

It absolutely thrived in 2019 with numerous big stands (including two one hundred partnerships in the same day at the All-Ireland Twenty20 Finals Day) and seemed to reach another level entirely.

The pair have been walking out to bat with each other for quite some time now and a deep understanding of each other’s roles has allowed the duo to flourish.

“Matchy and I have been playing with each other for quite a long time now,” said Dougherty.

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John Matchett. ©CricketEurope

“He was at the club when I first moved in 2012 so we have a good relationship and know our games really well. He is more of the aggressor and I try to bat throughout the innings.

“Nine times out of 10, if I’m there at the end we are going to win the game with the players that we have. Matchy is great to bat with and takes the pressure off me.

“He plays his natural way and I do my thing. It’s a great partnership.”

Matchett’s own game improved dramatically in 2019 and a red-hot end to the season meant he surged to 838 runs – the eighth highest total of any NCU batsman and over 300 more than what he posted in the previous campaign.

He appears to be the natural successor as captain when Nigel Jones decides to walk away and his form, especially in the shortest format, will have put him in a good position to further push for more Inter-Provincial honours.

“Matchy has all the talent there and it’s up to him really,” added Dougherty.

“If he puts in the time and effort, I think he could go all the way with the Knights and push his cricket on a bit more.

“He definitely has the talent and it would be great to see him play at a higher level more consistently.”

Dougherty will be entering his ninth season with CIYMS when cricket eventually gets back underway.

The 32-year-old has no plans of going anywhere soon and is determined to keep enjoying the good times while they last.

“It was a good move for me at the time and CIYMS have been very good to me and I’ve enjoyed every season,” he said.

“We have had a few difficult seasons in the middle but the team we have now is great. We have that confidence so I can see myself playing there for the foreseeable future.

“I just keep telling myself that you’ve to make the most of it when you’re winning because it doesn’t last forever. You have to appreciate the success you have.

“It really does make you appreciate winning because you know it can’t last forever.”

Mark Adair reflects on his first year in international cricket

It has been quite the 12 months for Mark Adair.

Sunday marked exactly one year since he made his Ireland debut in an ODI against England at Malahide – the day he became a well-known name and one that will carry the Men in Green forward for the next decade.

There had always been hope within the Irish cricketing community that Adair would turn out to be a special talent with his ability recognised by English County side Warwickshire, but what he produced over the past year would have surpassed even their lofty hopes and ambitions.

Adair never looked back from that debut in Dublin against a team that would go on to win the World Cup a matter of months later, topping Ireland’s wicket-taking charts with 48 – the fourth highest yearly tally of all-time.

It has been a year of firsts for Adair. First ODI cap. First Test match. First Twenty20 game. First Ireland victory. First World Cup qualifying campaign – to name a few.

Through all of that, Adair has been picking up vital lessons and learning, but he also had an ability to take every game in his stride.

“It’s been a year of a lot of learning,” he said.

“The best thing about it was that I came in and wasn’t really scared of anything. I was looking forward to every game I played and there was no pressure or expectation.

“Now, after having a good year, it can sort of lead you that way but you still have to take every game as it comes.”

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Adair receiving his cap from Niall O’Brien. ©CricketEurope

There was no doubt that Adair would have been on the Irish selectors radar for a debut at some point soon, but that date in May against England would have came earlier than both they and Adair expected.

Adair travelled to Dublin as a net bowler ahead of the game but when injury struck, he was drafted in to the playing XI and announced himself to the world by dispatching Tom Curran for a couple of big sixes on his way to 32 before being Jofra Archer’s first ever international scalp.

That turned out to be just the beginning of something special for Adair and in a way that might have been the ideal scenario to make his debut in with so little time to prepare and feel those inevitable nerves.

It will be a story that he will surely reflect on time and time again over the coming years and the madness of the situation also helped bring an extra special feeling to the occasion.

“I went down as a net bowler and then two days later getting told you’re playing against England is pretty special,” he added.

“At the same time, it was nice. My girlfriend submitted her dissertation in the car at an Applegreen on the way down the road just so she could be there. I don’t think she knew anything about cricket at the time.

“So it’s that sort of thing looking back on it now it’s all a bit mental and it’s great that it happened.”

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Adair batting on debut against England. ©CricketEurope

Even though Adair has only been in the team for a year, he has already had his fair share of big stages and experiences with a Test match at Lords and qualifying for the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup among them.

There was also a tour of the Caribbean at the turn of the year to take on Twenty20 champions West Indies, and while parts of that trip didn’t go to plan before suffering an ankle injury, Adair is still able to recognise how many special memories have been attained so far.

“The Caribbean trip was one of the best opportunities.

“Having six games against one of the best teams in the world was something I really looked forward to and really enjoyed it. I know it didn’t go to plan with the injury thing.

“That didn’t go to plan, but the eight months prior to that was class. Playing against Afghanistan at home was special, getting a first ever win as an Ireland player.

“It was really nice to see a lot of the guys that I’ve played or trained with over recent years really kick on and contribute towards wins for Ireland.”

It is often said that you learn more from your failings than you do when you succeed and it’s certainly true that if you stick around the top level of professional sport for long enough you’re going to fail at some point.

Up until the Caribbean trip, Adair hadn’t really tasted failure at all. Yes, Ireland had lost matches while he was in the team but in terms of performance, he was one of the top players in basically every game.

In the second ODI game, he brought the ball to the stumps in an action that would have secured victory for Ireland in the final over but after a lengthy third umpire review it was decided that Adair had broken the bails with his hand before the ball and the West Indies went on to win with one ball to spare.

The way Adair responds to that situation tells you a lot about him and gives you great hope that Ireland’s senior team is in great hands going forward with people like him in the side.

“Something which is important for me is dealing with failures.

“I didn’t fail an awful lot last year and then the Caribbean came along which was a bit of a nightmare. You never want to fail but you definitely need to experience it.

“Not training for failure but putting yourself into positions to fail will 100% make you improve and more level-headed.

“It’s a weird sort of mindset and it affects me because I would get down on myself and be my own biggest critic.

“You want to go in and hit every ball for six but when you hit one to long-on or aren’t timing it as well or miss a yorker and get hit out of the ground – you’re playing some of the best players in the world and if you can do it to them then they can do it to you as well.

“If we had a game the day after the last over run-out thing in the Caribbean and they asked who wanted to bowl the last over, I would put my hand up.

“I 100% want to be that guy who puts themselves in that position. It’s a bit hero to zero but I don’t care about messing up because every time you mess up, when you do succeed it’s going to be that much sweeter.

“I’ll never opt out or hide when Balbo offers me the ball. I’ll always say I have a plan and go for it. I never want to be the guy who hides from those positions.”

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Adair bowling against Afghanistan. ©CricketEurope

Adair had a big career decision to make when leaving secondary school with paths in both rugby and cricket available to him.

He captained Sullivan Upper in the 2014 Schools Cup final where they lost out 27-12 to Methody at Ravenhill in a game Adair claims “I was Methody’s best player.”

That final loss didn’t stop Ulster offering the promising out-half an Academy contract, but with a move to Warwickshire already lined up, he opted to pursue a career bowling a round ball rather than passing an oval one.

On the opposing team in that Schools Cup final was a substitute scrum-half by the name of James McCollum (you might have heard of him).

Adair and McCollum have switched being on opposite sides to becoming two of the most exciting talents as team-mates in Ireland’s cricket team as they help to lead the next generation alongside the likes of Harry Tector and Gareth Delany.

“I played with James since we were about 10.

“Our parents would be quite friendly and it was nice to play alongside him. It’s weird when you’re watching someone play and you’re really looking them to do well.

“Obviously you want everyone to succeed, but there are guys you really root for and want them to do well every time they walk out there. I know how hard he works and want him to succeed.

“It’s the same with Wils (Gary Wilson). Watching him train and how meticulous he is going about things – he has set a standard about how to train.

“He gets a bit of grief over his performances but he has been influential about a lot of things. If you’re judging someone on performance and what he can bring to a team, then there’s no shadow of a doubt that he’s in there.”

That desire to see your peers doing well is so clear within the Northern Knights set-up and the notion of team spirit and playing for one another is seemingly something that coach Simon Johnston has really pushed.

Johnston gets glowing reviews from any of his players that you speak to about his impact in the local game and Adair is no different, saying it’s no coincidence that five players made their senior international debut last year under his guidance.

“He knows his player very well.

“For example, he knows I’m a bit grumpy when it comes to training or Gary needs to have his own time and James doesn’t want sling he needs balls thrown to him and video. He knows everyone’s needs and does his best to make sure it all happens.

“If you look at the Irish team there’s myself, Gets, Gary, Prince, James Cameron-Dow and then some of the North West boys coming down as well – he has to facilitate it all.

“People forget how much work he does and fair play to him for doing it. I’m less sympathetic because he loves it!

“All the Knights really appreciate him and end up buying in. We trained on grass wickets last year and you would have had Johnty or Gary going the night before to pull covers on or getting there early to take them off and roll the wicket.

“There’s a lot that goes on and I don’t think people realise how much effort people put in.

“In my opinion, there’s no coincidence that Gary has come back and him and Johnty have put training methods together and within a year there’s five lads making their Ireland debuts while playing for the Knights. It’s no surprise to me that it comes down from the likes of Johnty and Gary.”

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Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

Adair is no stranger to injuries having suffered broken fingers to a fractured pelvis and back breaks.

Although only 24, he has had to deal with a lot when it comes to his body and professional cricketers continue to put in such a huge workload throughout the year whether that’s with club or country.

In 2019, Adair played 27 matches for Ireland while bowling 171.1 overs (only Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh bowled more) while also playing for the Knights and helping new club CIYMS win a record four trophies in a season, including his man-of-the-match performance in the Challenge Cup final.

It can be a lot, especially on a fast bowler, and Adair has had to manage his own schedule in order to preserve his best for the international stage.

“At the end of the day you love playing cricket.

“There are guys in place who do a great job in managing bowlers. You see boys get a bit of stick on the club scene because they aren’t bowling enough, but you’ve bowled those overs in May and are still bowling in November when everyone else has hung their boots up for the year.

“We aren’t looking to bowl 10 overs every week in club cricket, we are looking to last the full year in international cricket.

“Club cricket is really important to me and I enjoy it. It’s the sort of place where it doesn’t matter if you scored 100 or nick off first ball, you still get to go into the clubhouse with your mates.

“Club cricket in England was really beneficial for me because I was injured a lot and didn’t play a lot of County cricket.

“I was basing myself in club cricket and those are the guys who when you’re doing well text you and come to watch you.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic has stopped the sports world in its tracks for the foreseeable future, Adair would have been using this time to rehab from ankle surgery needed after the Caribbean trip.

When he does get back onto the field, Adair will be looking to pick up from where he left off with just a bit of added appreciation for the career that he is able to lead.

“I’m just trying to get back into the best physical condition possible.

“The cricket prep will take care of itself when we are back as a squad. We can’t hit balls right now so there’s no point working on my sweep shot.

“What I can do is stay physically fit and everything comes easier when you’re fit. That’s something that I’ve struggled with for a while – maintaining fitness and my weight. I’m very up and down and it’s something I would like to get better at.

“I think I went about things the right way last year with my practice and I got a bit of extra hunger there before Christmas and really worked hard with Johnty and Fordy on my batting.

“I just want to dive back in again and be appreciative of being able to do these things again.

“Those 1.5 or two hour drives to North County to go hit balls will be exciting because it gives you a bit of perspective. You might be a bit tired but you’ll appreciate it more.”

New role helped bring the best out of Peter Eakin

North Down all-rounder Peter Eakin believes a new role helped him to produce the best season of his career in 2019.

Eakin has been a mainstay in the North Down side since breaking in as a teenager back in 2011 but it was in the most recent campaign where he produced his best form, picking up 456 runs and 32 wickets in all competitions.

Those returns meant he was named as winner of the Sonny Hool Trophy for Bowling at the NCU Annual Dinner last year and he would have been a contender in the best all-rounder category which was won by Carrick’s CJ van der Walt.

The 25-year-old has been a consistent performer for the Comber side over the best part of a decade, picking up at least 20 wickets in each season apart from two and has chipped in with some important batting contributions too.

With new arrival Craig Young called into Ireland’s international side at various points throughout the summer, Eakin found himself regularly sharing the new ball with Ruhan Pretorius to great effect, and that role change definitely brought the best out of him.

“It probably is (my best season),” he said.

“My role kind of changed last year. I would have normally bowled towards the death a lot more whereas last year with Youngy not being available a lot I would have opened the bowling a lot which was good.

“Bowling with the new ball allowed me to do a bit more with it and that new role brought some benefits.

“I had been pigeonholed into being a death bowler so to get a chance to do something with the ball and move it around was good.”

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Eakin batting against CIYMS in 2018. ©CricketEurope

Eakin’s tally of runs in 2019 also registered as his personal best, beating his efforts in 2015 (454), 2012 (434) and 2017 (429).

He scored those at an average of 38 with his high score of 114* in a Premier League clash with CSNI accompanied by another half-century at home against Waringstown.

Just like with the ball, Eakin was promoted up the order with regularity and that tended to bring positive results.

“I do think cricket is so much of a mental game, especially with batting,” he added.

“With a bit more experience I think I just know my game a little bit better now. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses and understand it all a bit more, you definitely can get better results.

“My batting was similar to bowling. I started the season batting six or seven and halfway through the season got pushed up to three.

“I hadn’t done that for North Down in a good few years and going in at the top of the order knowing your game, you can focus on your game a bit more rather than thinking about a particular situation in a game. You can just bat and bide your time a bit more.”

Putting in the level of performance that Eakin did last season over a sustained period would undoubtedly peak the interest of the Northern Knights selectors once again – a team he last played for in 2018.

The Knights have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the all-rounder slots with the likes of Mark Adair and Shane Getkate certainties to be selected in every game.

With full-time work commitments, another crack at Inter-Provincial cricket isn’t on Eakin’s immediate radar.

“I would like to play for the Knights but I don’t really have the time to commit to the Knights that the other guys have,” he said.

“With working full-time, I’m probably not prepared to use all of my holidays to play cricket. If I was selected I would definitely play, but I’m just not able to commit to it.”

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Peter Eakin. ©CricketEurope

North Down’s team performance also improved dramatically in Alistair Shields’ first campaign as full-time captain compared to the 2018 season.

They finished 20 points better off in the Premier League and were only two points adrift of champions CIYMS, who they contested two competitive games with only to come out on the losing side both times.

You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time North Down picked up the Premier League title and 2010 since their last Challenge Cup crown but performances in 2019 would have provided a lot of hope that some silverware is just around the corner.

Eakin believes the current group could be on the verge of something special if they can just find a bit more consistency over the course of a season.

“It seems for the last six or seven years that we’ve had the same core of the team and had a good year then a disappointing one and then a decent one and so on,” he said.

“It’s pretty frustrating actually because we know we’ve had the same players basically for the last five years and know we can be up there at the top of the table but we just haven’t been consistent enough.

“Maybe with everyone getting a bit more experience we will have some more consistency, but we have really struggled with consistency.

“We all know we can be at the top end of the table so we need to have some more consistency to be there every year rather than every other year.”

The wait goes on to see if they will get that chance this summer or not with the possibility of no cricket or a heavily reduced schedule which could even result in the introduction of a Twenty20 league.

Whatever happens, Eakin expects North Down to be more than competitive.

“I would like to think so (we can build on last year),” he added.

“I don’t know what way it’ll work out for other teams with having professionals or not. Obviously we have Ruhan who is living here so we could be one of the only teams with a professional which would be an advantage.

“If the league turns to a T20 league, we have been pretty strong at that over the past few years and we will fancy our chances in any competition, if there is any.”

Jeremy Benton on why he’s moving to the NCU

If everything had gone to plan, Jeremy Benton would have had a couple of games under his belt in a debut NCU season at this point.

The 24-year-old was one of the most anticipated arrivals in the local game this summer having spent time with Cork County and captaining Munster Reds in the Inter-Provincial Twenty20 series.

With the current coronavirus pandemic, that debut has been pushed back until at least May 28 and Benton could potentially have to wait until next summer to get a taste of NCU cricket.

His original destination was set to be Premier League side CSNI with the Stormont club making no secret of their desire to acquire his services, but due to not currently qualifying for a Tier Five visa, Benton was going to spend the 2020 season in Section One.

He made the move to Belfast in September with some advice from a couple of familiar names and a desire to challenge himself in the competitive club environment.

“A few things made the move up north an easy one for me,” he said.

“Playing against the Northern Knights over the past couple of seasons, they really impressed me by their performances on the field and looked like they had a good thing going off it too.

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Benton bowling for Munster Reds. ©CricketEurope

“Talking with other people like Jonesy (Nigel Jones) and Elly (Marc Ellison) who grew up in New Zealand and made the move over, they highly recommended it. It was great to talk about it with people from a familiar background.

“By what I had seen of the city of Belfast in the short time I had visited there playing with Cork County really attracted me to it and seemed like it would be a cool place to live.

“I also have a Business and Marketing Degree so I am trying to push that as much as I can when cricketing commitments allow and Belfast seemed like a great place to do that.”

It is only a matter of time before Benton makes his way into the Premier League and it seems Stormont will be his home at some point soon.

With an ever-improving youth section also in place at CSNI, Benton would have doubled his playing role with coaching and the club’s future plan is one that excited him.

“I was lucky enough to get in touch with Gary (Wilson) last year and I really enjoyed the idea of what CSNI’s goals were as well as their future plans and objectives,” he added.

“The junior section of the club looks like they are motivated to grow numbers and teach kids from a young age. This will not only be good for the future of CSNI but the NCU too.

“Gary was really helpful along with many great people of the club which made the move up north really easy.

“The ground at Stormont is pretty awesome and I loved playing there last year (for the All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup) and hopefully get to play there in the future years.”

Benton had been training during the winter with the Northern Knights with the aim of breaking into a side that won their first piece of silverware since 2013 last season.

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Benton captained Munster Reds. ©CricketEurope

The hard-hitting batsman will almost certainly play a role with the Knights when cricket gets back up and running, adding another quality performer to their ranks.

“I loved the off season work I did within the Knights set-up,” he said.

“I was fortunate to work with a few of the guys in the team as well as Jonty (Simon Johnston, head coach) leading up to the scheduled season.

“The facilities at Ulster University have been great and we were unlucky that we only got to use the new machines for a couple of sessions that were organised just before the lockdown, but it looked like it was all positive signs for what the group was working towards.

“If I get the opportunity to give playing for them a crack that would be awesome, especially with how much success they’ve had in the last couple of years and to be part of that would be pretty cool.”

While the exciting next step in Benton’s cricket career has been put on temporary hold, he is looking forward to getting underway at some point and has been impressed with everything he has seen within the NCU so far.

“From what I’ve seen and heard about the NCU it’s been great,” he added.

“It looks like the organisation are planning towards the future and around facilities plus competitions are positive for all involved.

“It was great to get the opportunity to coach a few of the younger lads over the winter and it’s impressive what skill level they’re already at and their knowledge of the game.

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Benton bowling against the Knights for Munster. ©CricketEurope

“It’s a bit of a shame that we haven’t managed to get any cricket in this year so far as I’m sure it would have been great. but there’s definitely bigger things happening around the world at the moment and hopefully we can get back to normality to enjoy the summer of cricket.”

Currently back in New Zealand, Benton will return to Northern Ireland with aspirations that go beyond both club and Inter-Provincial cricket.

He will be working towards fulfilling his childhood dream of playing international cricket, and while he is under no illusions about how much hard work will have to be put in to wear the famous Irish green, he is determined to enjoy the journey.

“It has always been a goal to play international cricket since a young age and that definitely still stands,” he said.

“It was good to play in the Inter-Provincial T20s over the past couple of seasons and was looking forward to pushing towards playing all formats this year. Hopefully there is still a chance to get the season in.

“With the amount of cricket that Ireland are playing nowadays, there is definitely motivation to strive for the higher level.

“I think it’s a case of putting performances in as well as enjoying my cricket and then the rest will fall in to place somewhere along the line.”

Nikolai Smith ‘looking forward’ to Italian opportunity

Instonians all-rounder Nikolai Smith will depart Belfast later this month for Muscat in Oman as he prepares to meet up with the Italian national side for the first time.

The 26-year-old has been a mainstay in Instonians side since 2013, helping the Shaws Bridge outfit to three Premier League titles and four Challenge Cup finals.

He scored 668 runs in the 2019 season at an average of 33.40 and high score of 106* in the Irish Senior Cup against Cork County.

Smith will leave for the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League B campaign with Italy in Oman next week where Bermuda, Hong Kong, Jersey, Kenya and Uganda all await.

All teams are looking to take one step closer to qualifying for the 2023 World Cup in India, with a second round of fixtures being held in Uganda between 27 July – 9 August 2020.

Italy kick off their tournament, where all matches have List A status, against Kenya on December 3 and Smith explained how it all came about.

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Nikolai Smith celebrates a half-century. ©CricketEurope

“My mum’s side of the family are from Italy so we have had Italian passports for ages,” he said.

“A couple of months ago I got in touch with Robbie Humphries from World Sports Xchange because he initially helped get me to Belfast. He got me in contact with one of the guys and I emailed them.

“They never really came back to me but then came back to me a couple of weeks ago and it went from there. It all happened really quickly.

“They asked me if I would be interested and I said yes. I didn’t know it would all be happening so soon but they said they have a tournament in November so I chatted to my boss in work and he told me to go for it. I’m very thankful for that also.”

Smith has played in five First Class matches for the Northern Knights since making his debut in May 2017.

His last List A outing came in June 2018 and he is excited about the prospect of testing himself in the Middle East.

“The goal has been to play at high of a level that I possibly can,” he added.

“That’s why I was over here playing for the Knights and possibly play for Ireland if that ever came about. This opportunity has come and I’m going to take it with both hands.

“I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know what to expect really but I watched a couple of the teams playing in the World Cup qualifying tournament against Ireland.

“It will be interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.”

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Smith batting for the Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

Since the 2019 season ended in September, Smith has kept himself busy training with Instonians coach Gavin Rogers and a couple of sessions with the Knights, so he won’t be heading into the competition cold.

“I’ve been with Gavin Rogers a couple of times at Shaws Bridge which I’m very thankful for,” he said.

“He’s been a great help and the Knights started last week so I’ve had a couple of sessions there.

“When we arrive there’ll be a couple of warm-up games so I should have a good bit of cricket under my belt before we start.”

The Knights had a successful 2019 season and won their first piece of silverware since 2013 with Inter-Provincial Trophy success.

Their squad is as strong as it has ever been with eight players starring for Ireland throughout this calendar year, and Smith will have his eye on turning out in the Inter-Provincial series in 2020.

“Every cricketer that’s involved in the set-up wants to improve and get into the Knights,” he added.

“It’s just about pushing yourself to score more runs and take more wickets to force your way in with the weight of runs and wickets.”

Wear It With Pride – Ryan Haire

In the first installment of the new ‘Wear It With Pride’ feature series here on JMSport, former Ireland international Ryan Haire discusses his life in cricket from boyhood club North Down right through to his time with the national side.

The idea behind ‘Wear It With Pride’ is to do a deep dive into a player’s career and the times that were most important and significant throughout their playing days, with certain episodes set to focus on the playing shirts that are most sentimental.

Haire has won nine league titles and seven Challenge Cup winners medals during his time with North Down to date and also picked up a Section One title with Muckamore.

Sit back, relax and enjoy this 4000 word feature with Haire, who talks about growing up at The Green, his move to Muckamore in 2015 and he speaks with honesty about his time with Ireland.

NORTH DOWN – 1ST SPELL

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Ryan Haire batting in the 2007 Challenge Cup final. ©CricketEurope

What was it like growing up at North Down?

“It was super. It was all about cricket and there were a bunch of us that grew up with our fathers still playing. Thinking back now, we were all between 7-9 and we were all running round at the club from no height, but in terms of formalised cricket we played for the Under-11’s, our dads were playing and we were always around the club after the men played and before with our short pitch set-up.

“It was our playground. They always seemed like better summers back then and that was all summer long and you just always seemed to have a bat or ball in your hand. To develop those early skills, there is nothing better than just spending time playing the game in whatever form it is.

“Everyone encouraged each other. There was a group of about 12 of us around the same age and we always just seemed to spend the summers together playing, competing with other teams. Playing school cricket started at 11 for me at Regent House which made it even bigger again.

“That was the very early days. I can remember in 1995 North Down played in the Irish Cup final against Bready and it was a super crowd and sun-drenched. A gang of 20 of us sat at the side of the pitch and memories like that of watching Charlie and Paul McCrum.

“We always trained with the firsts even from an early age and there seemed to be more men at practice on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and everyone wanted to play up the teams and practiced hard. You were bowling against the likes of Charlie and Paul who were Irish internationals long-term and just lived cricket themselves.

“That really brought us on alongside some really good coaches. We had some really inspirational cricketers that we wanted to emulate. You need to see guys live or on the screen doing things you want to do, and I suppose it makes you want to try and practice harder.”

Progressing through the youth system and into the first team, what do you remember about breaking in to the senior team?

“There were a number of us who were in around that 1st/2nd XI. I played my first 1st XI match from memory when I was 14 and it was alongside Charlie and Paul and my dad might have been captain of the team.

“We were short and I can remember only playing a handful of games around that period. I got a bowl and I don’t know if the scorebook has it in black and white, but I got 7/20-odd against Bangor in Section One which was the top league then. I was bowling leg-spin so I must have landed a few and bamboozled a couple of guys!

“Leg-spin isn’t something you see very much of in local cricket and that came from watching Shane Warne on TV.”

Were you nervous going into 1st XI cricket at that age?

“I suppose I didn’t really know any different. It was just a chucked in at the deep end sort of thing and from there I played half the matches in the next season and into the team full-time at either 16 or 17.

“They were the early memories playing alongside those days. Either sitting watching them or on the same field as them. They inspired you to try and emulate their feats.

“I was also playing a lot of youth cricket. Alongside that, we were playing schools cricket. Andrew White is the same age and we were right up through school winning cups at 12-14 age groups and then up to medallion and Schools Cup – we seemed to be unbeaten the whole way through with a great side.

“We won the Graham Cup at North Down for the first time in years in 1995. That was a big day out and we all met up for breakfast and had our school shirts and North Down ties on. Those sort of things are the real drivers for young lads and it keeps you for life.”

The team you were part of was so dominant in the NCU. Why do you think that was?

“Back when that started, we were relegated in 1997 from Section One. We were mainly a young team and there were quite a few of us around 16 or 17. A guy called Michael Quinn was captain and we were unlucky to be relegated that year.

“We came back the next year and won the league in 1998. From then on in that decade we won seven out of 10 leagues. A couple of guys said that relegation can do you well and you can bounce back. We all wanted to play and enjoyed playing together. I suppose it was like the Waringstown side five or so years ago where you had guys in early-20’s coming through who enjoyed each others company, practiced hard and did well.

“Back in the early-2000’s there were no overseas guys. There were no Kiwis or Australian guys with Irish passports. You had your professional and that was it. Everyone else was local and in a real local sense. We had guys like David Kennedy from Ballymena wanting to come and join North Down to win trophies. You were able to attract guys as well as having a core of dedicated guys and a top pro.

“We landed Taimur Khan who came in 1999 and stayed right through that period winning those leagues and Senior Cup’s. Unfortunately there is no Irish Cup to show for those years which is the real shame looking back now. You had the likes of Trent Johnston, Jeremy Bray, Andre Botha who had joined North County and they were winning Irish Cup’s.

“There were strong teams in Leinster and they had a scattering of Irish passport holders to come up against. We were unlucky and we didn’t even make a final.

“Those local years of success was built on four or five guys coming through and I can’t underestimate the impact of Taimur. He was a Pakistan A international and was picked to captain that team one year in the early-2000s when he was with us. He bowled at good pace moving the ball both ways and scored runs at a canter. He was the best pro by a mile and was back year after year, whereas other clubs were bringing guys in and out.”

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North Down – 2005 Challenge Cup champions. ©CricketEurope

Having the time to sit back and think about it, how special was that period playing with family members and winning trophies?

“My brother was at North Down and my dad was in that team in the 2000’s still playing and it was great. It was good to be around guys you grew up with.

“Sometimes it can be awkward playing with family members I have to say! I remember for example in the early-2000’s that my dad was at Downpatrick playing for a year and he came back mid-season with Billy Adams. They came back and I was off the team all of a sudden and we got to the semi-final of the cup. It just shows you that it isn’t always sweetness and light!

“They are special memories and it was very enjoyable. It was always for me a hobby and it makes me laugh a bit when guys talk about ‘careers’ in local cricket. It was always a hobby, always fun and I think that element has always stayed with me and allowed me to keep playing.

“I’m 38 now and the fun is still there for me now which is great. It hasn’t gone away and I’m always looking forward to the new season so long may that continue.”

MUCKAMORE (2015-2017)

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Haire bowling for Muckamore in 2017. ©CricketEurope

Did you fancy a new challenge when you moved to Muckamore?

“I had been involved in the youth set-up with North Down from the age of 18 as a coach. Back in 2001 I got my coaching qualification. North Down were struggling for youth teams so I restructured and got Under-13 and Under-15 teams back.

“We actually won the All-Ireland in the mid-2000’s at Under-13 then the same bunch with the likes of Peter Eakin and Alistair Shields won the U-15 title. That group were similar to the one we had back at our age group.

“I always enjoyed the coaching side of it. North Down made a decision over the winter that they weren’t going to remunerate. It was a big thing for me in the summer and I coached around other clubs as well.

“Muckamore said they wanted me to come and do some coaching with them and I started doing that and they said it would be great to have me there long-term so if I was interested in playing there too. I got chatting to them and fancied the challenge.

“They were in Section One and looking to get up. They are an ambitious club and they are very passionate. They are similar to North Down in the sense they are a non-Belfast club out of the city who are passionate about the game and looking to promote it in their city and around schools.

“I helped with their restructuring of the youth and development. We brought in some grant funding and I played and coached there for three really enjoyable seasons. We got back up and managed to stay up which had been Muckamore’s problem.

“For me, it was mission accomplished and I was only there for the three seasons. Even from the start, I told them that I wanted to go back and play at North Down before I stopped playing. It was a matter of time and I wanted to go back to play on the 1sts. I didn’t want to be totally past it. I wanted to contribute and win something.

“It was a no brainer to come back with living five minutes from the ground and having a young family. Thankfully, the guys have been very welcoming of me back to my home club and there’s been no animosity. It’s went very well and I’ve settled back in to helping with coaching and playing.”

Would you look back at that period with Muckamore as a success?

“I definitely would. I was coaching twice a week going straight from work and working with guys for a couple of guys before senior practice. Sam Gordon, Aditya Adey and Jamie Magowan – guys who had real talent but were maybe thinking about where they could go with the game.

“I said to them that they’ve got a chance to make a go at cricket that I didn’t have. It’s now professional and you can make something playing for the Knights now. Bringing those guys through and them playing a part of getting back to the Premier League, where you need to be to develop as a cricketer, was great for them and the club.

“We progressed off the field too with some local grant funding and getting into local schools. There were a few programmes that got their youth up and running and now their youth from what I hear is very strong. They’ve taken that to a new level now.

“I suppose that was the whole package of what the guys contacted me about and it’s great to hear that it’s bearing fruit now.

“They were very unfortunate to go down this year. With a better professional they would have stayed up. You need to get the best guy you can afford and he will keep you up. The rest you can sort out and their choice in the last few years probably hasn’t been as clever.

“Hopefully they can get back up to the Premier League because they are a great club and are very passionate.”

From a playing perspective, was it difficult going from winning trophies and Premier League cricket to Section One?

“It wasn’t too difficult. Everyone says there is a massive gulf in standard but almost every team had an overseas player from what I can remember.

“We played in the Irish Cup for a couple of years and did rightly. I remember beating Coleraine who had won the North West league the year before and us winning a couple of T20’s and winning the league to get back up.

“The pitches were the main difference. Going from decent batting wickets to completely bowler friendly wickets certainly didn’t help any of us, but we had a decent bowling side and personally I enjoyed bowling a lot more than I had in the previous five or six years before that.

“Getting some runs and wickets was still really enjoyable at that standard and I always said to the guys that it’s a battle every week because you aren’t just battling with your opposition but with conditions in that league. You’re not turning up to a road and probably need to be better prepared than you are at The Lawn or North Down where you know there’ll be runs scored.

“I enjoyed that side of it and it balanced out the difference in playing standard and filled that void. It’s all about how you approach it. You have to want to be there and have to want to play.

“You could have very easily threw your head up and blamed this and that, but it was just about winning at the end of the day and we got back up eventually. We lost our professional Avdoot six games into the season in the first year and we would have got back up with his runs then.”

NORTH DOWN – 2ND SPELL (2018-PRESENT)

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Haire bowling for North Down in 2018. ©CricketEurope

It sounds like going back to North Down was always the plan. Why then (in 2018) and what were the reasons behind it?

“I was around the club over that winter and I told Muckamore I would be there for the three seasons and that I always wanted to go back and play on the 1s at North Down while I could.

“I didn’t want to go back as a 2nds player or to hobble around the pitch. I wanted to try and contribute and I chatted to Alistair Shields who was taking on the captaincy and he thought I could contribute, so that was enough for me.

“Personally, I live so close to the ground and I was still keen to train and stay fit during the week so getting to training was a lot easier. With the kids now, it made sense just to be closer to home I suppose.

“I intend to play as much as I can next season and hopefully we can do something because I this side now with a good professional in Ruhan who has had a good few seasons is probably at their peak.

“I can’t see the guys improving much so it’s all about application and next season is our year to make the most of it. It’s a lot harder now and all the other clubs recruit and bring players in. It’s a lot more competitive but that makes it even more enjoyable when you roll over a so called ‘bigger’ side.

“That competitive element is still there which helps week on week to get you to training and keep you playing.”

IRELAND (capped seven times)

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Haire batting for Ireland Credit: CricketEurope

Was going on to play for Ireland always an aim for you?

“It was. I always wanted to even back as a teenager growing up when cricket wasn’t a career. I knew of very few guys coming out of the Ireland U19 side that I played in that wanted to or did go across the water to get trials.

“The guys that did played well and got County contracts and were off into the sunset. The likes of William Porterfield but I suppose I was the generation just before that. Some of the guys were lucky enough and got contracts but I suppose the structure and format wasn’t there.

“That’s not making excuses personally for myself, but guys with exceptional talent were signposted and others that could maybe improve there wasn’t a structure in place to help them improve.

“For me personally, it was about going to university and working. I had two or three part-time jobs to fund university and have a roof over my head, so that’s what it was all about.

“I stayed on and trained with the squads ahead of the first World Cup in 2003 so I was in and around the side after making my debut following the U19 World Cup playing for Ireland. I was around for a few years and in training squads but even training back then was sporadic.

“It didn’t have the structure and format of the winter programme now. I found myself driving to Dublin to throw tennis balls for three or four months in the middle of winter on Sundays and I have to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it. Other guys could enjoy it and stick it out but I couldn’t. I needed to work on Sunday’s.

“There was no pay so it wasn’t as if you were there getting a salary. Very quickly I exited the scene after playing a few games. I only came back and played a couple of games when I was employed by Cricket Ireland in 2008 when half the team was missing and they needed someone to go to Scotland.

“That’s the snapshot of my international career if you want to call it that. I do regret not sticking with it a bit more.

“I was a scholar at the university and myself and Andrew White did training sessions and fitness training. It just didn’t work out. I knew Jeremy Bray, Andre Botha and Trent Johnston would be in the XI for the 2003 World Cup and you feel like a bit-part of the training sessions.

“I was in my early-twenties so could have stuck with it but it was a fine line for me and I needed to earn money and get a job. That very quickly swayed my opinion unfortunately.

“You never know what could have happened or what could have been, but that’s for another day.”

What do you remember about making your debut and how special was that moment?

“I remember I played up at Eglinton against the MCC. It was a damp day and they were a touring side full of ex-County players and Ireland always played them.

“I can remember John Wright, who was a great guy and was Irish Cricket Union president and managed the team back before Roy Torrens I think. John gave me a call that I was playing and I think it was a Sunday game and said they’d love me to play for Ireland.

“It was brilliant. I was made up to do it. I felt like a little boy walking into the changing room and you have guys like Angus Dunlop, Kyle (McCallan) was in the team already, a young guy himself and a lot of other guys who had senior caps and experience.

“The only downside for me was that I got 30* and then the rain came when I was going rightly and eyeing up a fifty! That’s the way the game goes and you can’t have everything. Making the debut was enough.

“It was just a great experience to get that cap. I had grown up with Ulster Schools, Ireland Schools, Ireland Under-15 to Under-19 and all these age groups in preparation for it. I went to the U19 World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2000 which was a real experience for us.

“It was just fantastic to make my debut and it was the culmination of all those youth squads and those Sunday training sessions. It was a great experience and day.”

When you came back into the squad in 2008 you got a half-century against Scotland. Did that ever make you think about having another crack at it?

“We played a tri-series with Scotland and New Zealand at Aberdeen. From memory William Porterfield and Kevin O’Brien were missing, and there were three or four guys who were regulars not involved.

“I got a call while I was working in the cricket office at Stormont, we had just moved there working as a development manager for the NICA (Northern Ireland Cricket Association) and then Cricket Ireland came into existence. They said they were short and if I would be interested in going the following week with the team.

“It took me by surprise and I asked who they had asked to play and they gave me a list of guys and I said OK. I went over to do a training session a day or two before it and I really enjoyed the buzz and atmosphere.

“It was enjoyable. I got a few runs against Scotland. I remember batting with Andrew White and Andrew Poynter and the guys were saying I was going well. I just played it as if it was a club game and not allow it to go to my head. I didn’t try to over-complicate things,

“I really enjoyed that knock against Scotland but New Zealand’s bowling was on a different level. I remember facing Jacob Oram and the ball coming up past my gloves and off the seam a few times and thinking I was going to really struggle.

“It was a brilliant experience and the team were going to Holland for an Inter-Continental Cup match the following week or week after that and I didn’t get any leave off work to go with Ireland.

“I was 27 at the time and knew I wasn’t going to be a regular in any team. I had decided before getting the call that I had no ambitions for Ireland. I wasn’t training with the squad over the winter. Inter-Provincial cricket obviously wasn’t there so you were straight out of a club match and onto the pitch for Ireland. I just knew it wasn’t a goer.

“That was that basically. I couldn’t get away for the next game and the rest is history. I didn’t get a call or invite to any squad again. There was a coach change around the end of that season as well and that was the end of that.”

When doing some research for this, I see a couple of things that suggested you preferred club cricket over international cricket and you’d give that precedence. Is that true?

“No I wouldn’t say that’s true. Any time I was asked to play or invited to join a squad I did. I had gone right through those youth squads and into the senior side, so i think that line or opinion comes from me saying I know I’m not going to make this team so I need to get a job and get a roof over my head.

“I remember staying on guys sofas when I was a student and it wasn’t fun. There wasn’t the support at that age and someone to say just go and train and do your best. It was an easy choice to opt out of those early Sunday mornings when you know you’re not getting into any team and you want to go and work.

“That’s probably where that comes from. Club cricket is on a Saturday and you’re always going to play that.

“Back then, there was no remuneration for your time and it was a lot easier to say I can’t go because I’m working.

“Now would be a different story from what I know now and seeing how cricket is. Players can make it now if they try, have the dedication and talent to stick with it. I always encourage young guys to stick with it. It was just a different era.

Very few people get to play for Ireland so I suppose you just look back at that period with immense pride to get that far?

“Very much so. I was very proud to do it and proud of myself also in 2008 to say yes. It’s like when a second or thirds player steps up to pull a team out of a hole – it felt like that funnily when they guys said they needed me to play.

“I could have easily said I don’t fancy going to Aberdeen and to try someone else, but I thought I may as well go and see what it’s like. I was really proud to score runs against Scotland that day.

“It felt good being out in the middle. It was a lovely pitch and place to play. It was great to be around the Irish guys and see the change those few years later from when I made my debut when we hardly did a warm-up never mind train two days before.

“It was great to see how Irish cricket had come on from the World Cup. I have no regrets in terms of that and I’m proud to have got on the pitch with an Irish jersey.”