Cricket: Lower level game on a sticky wicket
It was only 10 years ago that Bangor Cricket Club were Premier League champions and Junior Cup holders.
Today, they are just hoping to retain their place in the second tier – having won promotion last season – while the Seconds are trying to do likewise in Junior League One.
They won't win the Junior Cup this year, having made a tame exit last Saturday to Drumaness, and will try again this weekend to record their first win of the season when they meet Instonians II at Shaw's Bridge.
These are difficult times at the club but there remains a hardcore, determined to help Bangor get back to the top.
It will, though, as Ryan Law – captain of the 2nd XI last week – admits, be slow progress.
Law's personal circumstances sum up how the other half live, and play, away from the limelight of top flight club cricket and light years away from the now professional ranks of Irish cricket.
Law should have been playing for the 1st XI against Derriaghy on Saturday but because he has shift work in a bar at the weekends, the selectors did not want to take the risk of him having to leave early for his 6pm start so he was left behind to play for and captain the Seconds.
Predictably, he ended up top scorer, but a quick 18 in a hectic Bangor innings of 87 all out – in 24.3 overs – was never going to be a match-winning one.
"You are never going to win with 87 runs at Upritchard. Mind you, the Firsts have already proved that 69 is not an easy total for us to chase (their target in the first round of the Challenge Cup when they lost six wickets)," explained Law.
"Ten or 20 runs might have made a difference, but it was disappointing to go out in the first round," said Law, a product of Bangor Grammar School, still the feeder for the most promising players who step up to senior cricket.
Law was captain of the side that won the Schools' Cup in 2008 and half of that team form the nucleus of the current Bangor senior side.
"Andy Nixon, Jordan McKeown, Chris Burns, Ryan Murphy and Johnny Parker all played in that team along with Zach Rushe, who has moved on to Instonians.
"The school is not as strong as maybe it was when Chris Harte was there, but we are still working together.
"The Firsts are still a young side and just trying to stay in Section One. It will be slow progress to get back to where we were in 2004 and '05.
"Dropping through two divisions in consecutive years was a shock, but we lost a number of players so basically we are rebuilding the first team," he said.
Law was one of five players in Saturday's Junior Cup match who have played senior cricket, including former Ulster rugby centre Jan Cunningham – "still happy to turn out for the Twos" – and Ross Millar who came hot-foot to Upritchard having scored a century for the school in the morning.
But he was one of five victims for Brendan Gelston, someone at the other end of the age scale in Drumaness's not-so-young side.
Indeed when Gelston and Alan Mills were batting together – they put on 14 for the fourth wicket – there was a combined age of 113 in the middle.
Unfortunately for Drumaness, unlike Bangor, there are no youngsters coming through and indeed the visitors arrived with only 10 men.
Martin Singh, who ended up scoring, was actually asked to keep wicket – never having played a game in his life – to make up the numbers but in the end Drumaness needed only eight batsmen and four bowlers to set up a second round tie at home to Waringstown II.
Singh, along with Mills, is more famous in the village for football exploits. They won four Border Cup winners medals and five league titles as they charged through the Amateur League in the 1980s.
Nowadays Mills, a couple of months short of his 57th birthday, is trying to ease out of the team but Saturday was never going to be an option with James Cunningham, Darren Oldroyd and Neil Gelston all unavailable.
However captain Neil Walsh, one of four family members in the team, made light of their lack of bowlers with two wickets and 37 runs to give them another cup tie.
A game against Waringstown II back in their own postage stamp – "you could fit two of our grounds into Upritchard Park" was Mills' observation – is a plum tie for a team who haven't won the Junior Cup since 1988.
"Cricket is a distant third sport behind GAA and soccer," added Mills.
"And with snooker and billiards also big in the village there is a big choice for the kids, and we're losing out.
"We lost our Seconds team about 10-12 years ago so if we can stay around the middle of Section Two and win a few matches we will still continue to enjoy ourselves."
And at this level, that is what cricket is all about.
Goldblatt McGuigan Junior Cup second round draw: Armagh v Donacloney, Civil Service North II v Academy, North Down II v Laurelvale, Cregagh v Cooke Collegians, Saintfield v Instonians II, Drumaness v Waringstown II, Millpark v Downpatrick II, BISC v Lisburn II. Games to be played on Saturday, May 31.