Instonians captain Andrew White reflects on the 2019 season

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

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

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

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

“It was difficult.,” he reflected.

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

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


Instonians reached the 2019 Gallagher Challenge Cup final. ©CricketEurope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Instonians were beaten twice by Lisburn in 2019. ©CricketEurope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ollie metcalfe

Ollie Metcalfe. ©CricketEurope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who won awards at the NCU dinner?

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a full list of the winners:

Premier League

Larry Warke Trophy for Batting: Marc Ellison (CSNI)

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

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

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

Senior League Player of the Year

Premier League: Chris Dougherty (CIYMS)

Senior League 1: Stephen Bunting (Woodvale)

Senior League 2: Johnny Terrett (Cliftonville Academy)

Senior League 3: Sean Cameron (Dundrum)

Women’s Premier League: Alison Cowan (CSNI)

Hasley Cup

Young Player: Rory Ellerby (Instonians)

Coach of the Year: Stephen Crothers (Instonians)


Who improved the most in 2019?

While overseas professionals dominated in the top-flight this season, there were some massive improvements made by a number of local players.

Looking at the statistics, Andre Malan top-scored in the NCU with 1,238 runs while CIYMS spin duo James Cameron-Dow and Jacob Mulder both picked up 47 wickets – the highest total in over a decade.

With the help of those statistics compiled by CricketEurope, we take a look at three players who really stood out in 2019 and improved massively from 12 months ago.

Peter Eakin

In the space of one season North Down evolved from finishing sixth in the Premier League table to being genuine title contenders, and looking at the final standings it was a lot closer than it actually felt through the majority of the campaign.

A big reason for their transformation in such a short space of time was the form of all-rounder Peter Eakin, who scored 366 runs at an average of 45.75 in the Premier League along with 25 wickets in 14 matches.

Averaging 14.56 with the ball – the second best in the league – established him as the premier local all-rounder in 2019 and his form helped propel North Down up the table, and if he can replicate or better that next season, the Comber men will fancy their chances of winning some silverware.

Looking at Eakin’s statistics in 2018, he scored just 109 runs in the Premier League, so he deserves massive credit and all the plaudits he is rightly receiving for turning that around so dramatically.

He also more than tripled the amount of wickets picked up in the league from 2018 (7) and was handed even more responsibility by captain Alistair Shields, opening the bowling on many occasions with the likes of Craig Young missing through international commitments.

Overseas professional Ruhan Pretorius has shouldered most of the expectations for the past few seasons, but with Shields, Eakin, Young and the likes of Stuart Nelson improving in the top order, it makes for interesting times at The Green.


Peter Eakin batting against Waringstown. ©CricketEurope

Ollie Metcalfe

There is no better batsman in the NCU than Metcalfe at his age group and the progression he made again in 2019 was quite remarkable.

In 2018, Metcalfe averaged 13.75 in the Premier League and scored his 297 runs in all competitions at a strike-rate of 70.63, but fast forward 12 months and his statistics are impressive for someone still developing and making their way in the game.

Opening the batting for Instonians, Metcalfe sits 16th in the runs list for 2019 after hitting 550 runs in 23 innings at an average of 25, but he has also improved his power hitting and is playing with more freedom as illustrated by a strike-rate of 92.44.

An Irish Senior Cup century against Cork County (123* from 103 deliveries) was the highlight of his season while he his other score of over 50 came in the same competition against Rush (53).

He also impressed in the Gallagher Challenge Cup final against CIYMS, hitting 48 while wickets fell around him and he was also able to show that day that he can adapt to different situations, scoring his runs from 73 deliveries to help give his side a chance at the time before they eventually went down by 98 runs.

Metcalfe is a very exciting prospect, not just in terms of club cricket but looking further into the future for international honours.


Metcalfe batting the Gallagher Challenge Cup final. ©CricketEurope

John Matchett

Matchett formed one part of a superb opening partnership with Chris Dougherty this season as the pair set a platform for CIYMS to win four trophies and have the best campaign in their history.

His ability has never been in doubt but this was the season that Matchett really announced himself properly, hitting 838 runs at an average of 33.52 and a strike-rate just under 100 (99.76).

What was even more remarkable was his consistency, registering eight fifties in 28 innings – a number only Ruhan Pretorius could match – while also scoring two centuries.

He was on absolute fire for the last few weeks of the season, hitting two half-centuries in one day as CI lifted the All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup crown and he blasted 72 from 45 deliveries to help his club tie with Instonians to seal another Premier League trophy.

The shortest form of the game is the one where he seems to thrive most, scoring 276 runs in T20 cricket at an average of 55.20 and strike-rate of 142.27 – the kind of form that might make Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston take action next season.

All those statistics have improved beyond sight from 2018, where he scored 526 runs in all competitions at an average of 25.05.


John Matchett. ©CricketEurope

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IN REVIEW: Instonians captain Andrew White has ‘mixed feelings’ about 2018 season

Instonians suffered from a plethora of injuries during the 2018, with many key personnel missing at different points throughout the campaign, but they still finished fourth in the Premier League.

The Shaw’s Bridge side also reached the Challenge Cup semi-final before losing out by 72 runs to CSNI.

Here, captain Andrew White reflects on his first season in the job.

How do you look back on 2018?

I suppose I have mixed feelings, as do many of the guys in the squad. Generally at the start of every season you set out to try and win trophies, and we were certainly no different this year. Those best laid plans were quickly changed from an early part of the season when injuries to key players happened.

When you sit back now and reflect on how your season has gone, you look at the opportunities it gave to young players, and in some cases very young. When you see them do well, it gives you a good lift and all the senior guys really enjoyed watching the young players perform in the way they did.

It was your first season as captain. Was it tough with all the injuries?

It was my first season as captain and I couldn’t have done it without Gavin Rogers, who was a strong man behind the scenes and the support from the committee was outstanding.

They were fully supportive of playing the young guys. We could have kept turning to the likes of Eugene Moleon, who has been a great servant to Instonians over the years, but it got to the stage we knew there was a long-term benefit in playing the young lads, and they certainly didn’t let us down.

It feels as though you will be much improved with these young players getting a season under their belt?

The great thing about the guys who are pushing for representative honours, and that’s not just at senior Knights level – you have the likes of Oli Metcalfe, James Hunter and younger guys, and that’s really exciting to see them pushing themselves to achieve those targets.

The environment that we are trying to breed at Instonians is one that we want to see our club players achieve their potential, and that is at representative level as well. We are mindful of that.

The competitive edge of all of us wants to win trophies though, and that won’t be any different next year.

Nathan Smith returned to action late in the season. I’m sure as an Ireland selector and also Instonians captain you’re delighted to see him back?

He had a nasty injury, but the Irish medical staff and Nathan himself in terms of his attitude to getting back fit were great.

He went through a lot of hard yards behind the scenes with the medical staff and he certainly has the right attitude. Hopefully he can winter well and come back stronger next season.

You were the only team in the Premier League without an overseas professional this year. Would you look to get one in next year?

The last two years we have done it. We were in winning positions against Waringstown twice, we were in a good position against Civil Service North in the Senior Cup semi-final, and it’s in times like those that teams rely on their professional. We have been no different in time gone by in terms of those critical moments where the experience of a professional can be the difference.

I don’t know what the plans are in terms of looking ahead to next year and a professional. That decision might be dictated by the number of players we have lost through injury or representative honours.

You want stability, especially around the coaching side of things. A lot of guys who are in the Knights do a lot of coaching, so if they are missing midweek for one reason or another, it puts a strain on the coaching side of things. Those are all areas we will have to look at.

Looking to 2019, it sounds like you want to get back to winning trophies?

I suppose that is why we play at the level we do. We want to be competitive and we want to win. If anything, this year has probably demonstrated to us that when we are at full strength, we are more likely than not to be at the challenging end for trophies.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still quite a lot of pressure on the Knights guys to deliver in the club game and make sure they are putting in match-winning performances. There should always be a pressure on those guys to help us win trophies, and nothing will change from that point of view.

There was a lot of good cricket played around the country this year. The batting was certainly stronger than the bowling across the country, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that CIYMS won the league because they have the most well-rounded bowling attack.