Premier League champs Instonians hail mighty James Shannon
Instonians captain Neil Russell has backed James Shannon to come back stronger than ever after what he described as his "in and out season" with the new Ulster Bank Premier League champions.
Shannon despite being nowhere near fully fit, finished 2014 on a high, sharing a memorable opening stand of 114 in less than 10 overs with Russell to lay the platform for Instonians to win the title outright for only the second time in the club's history and the first since 1962.
"James' knee was so bad in the field that I decided there and then to open up with him in the powerplay so that he could just go out and hit," said Russell afterwards and the out-of-favour Ireland international didn't disappoint, hitting five fours and two huge sixes, off Kyle McCallan, in a 20-ball innings of 38.
"James' quality speaks for itself," continued Russell.
"He has had an in and out season for us but he is still one of the top performers in this league and I have no doubt he will go on and represent his country again.
"He wants to dedicate himself to his studies next year and get his career in place but I have no doubt that he will come back incredibly strong over the next year or two," said Russell.
Instonians lost their first two games of the season but, in an unstoppable run to the Premier League title, won the next 12, culminating on Saturday with back-to-back victories over the morning joint leaders, Waringstown.
And Russell believes they are in a good place for a successful defence.
"We are well placed for next season because the guys have genuinely learnt from what happened this season," he said.
"We have had to put in a monumental effort after those early slip-ups but I'm incredibly proud to be captain of this team," added Russell who reserved his best innings for last.
The skipper hit a sensational 80 from just 44 balls, with no fewer than seven sixes in his 14 boundaries.
As he confirmed afterwards: "Live by the sword, die by the sword, that's the way I've always been.
"I try to keep it a very simple game, see ball hit ball.
"Sometimes it comes off and other times it doesn't.
"When it doesn't you leave yourself open to plenty of stick but when it does ..."
With the help of the Waringstown fielders – he was dropped three times – it came off on Saturday and suddenly there was a huge dent in a tricky target of 158.
When he was dismissed in only the 11th over, Instonians needed just 30 more runs with eight wickets left.
There was a hint of doubt when Andrew White and Jordan McClurkin were both dismissed with the score on 134 and only seven runs came off the next two overs but Ben Wylie and Eric Layard saw them home, Wylie hitting the winning boundary with a comfortable 14 balls to spare.
It was also, surely, a last hurrah for Eugene Moleon who this time last year, after they had shared the title with Waringstown, announced from the Shaws Bridge pavilion that he was retiring. Not quite.
Although not needed with the bat on Saturday, he was Instonians' most economical bowler and still the man Russell turned to to bowl the last over.
You just can't beat experience on the big occasions – title-winning occasions.
Scores: At Shaws Bridge, Waringstown 157-6 (20 overs, J Hall 69, L Nelson 20; E Moleon 2-24) Instonians 160-4 (17.4 overs, N Russell 80, J Shannon 38; L Nelson 2-20, G Thompson 2-20). Instonians won by 6 wickets