For the first time in 15 years, Kyle McCallan will be able to concentrate solely on club cricket this summer.
The then 19-year-old was an opening batsman and occasional off spin bowler with Cliftonville the last time it happened. In the intervening seasons, McCallan chalked up the little matter of 226 international appearances for Ireland, a record haul that is sure to stand for at least another couple of years.
His availability for Waringstown could be the key to retaining the Ulster Bank Premier League title. As captain Johnny Bushe admits: “It’s like having a new player again — and not a bad one at that.”
McCallan will believe he can still perform at the peak of his powers — he chose to leave the international scene because of work and family commitments — and he is joined in the joint champions’ line-up this year by Englishman Jonathan Nation, another off-spinner, and the Villagers new professional, Victor Mpitsang, an opening bowler who was South Africa’s youngest ever ODI player.
First up for Waringstown tomorrow is a home game against Carrickfergus who can always be relied on to introduce new players at the start of the season and 2010 is no exception. Michael Thaiaroa is a top order batsman from New Zealand and Danny O’Shea a left arm Australian slow bowler. Both have Irish passports.
Instonians also have a home match in their first defence, against Ballymena, and the movement has all been one way at Shaw’s Bridge — out of it. Stephen Bunting has, surprisingly, returned to relegated Woodvale and Daniel Graham to North Down and even overseas player Divan van Wyk, despite agreeing terms at the end of last season, will not be returning. The joint champions have snapped up a pretty useful replacement, however, in Davy Jacobs, formerly professional at Carrickfergus.
Ballymena have signed Andy Kirkpatrick from Woodvale and with former Derriaghy pro Kaushik Aphale on board with captain James Kennedy and Ireland international David Kennedy there should be no shortage of runs.
North Down, who finished out of the top two last season for the first time since 2000, have also brought back Andrew Haire from Carrickfergus and have an unknown quantity in Kieran Donnelly who took a few wickets last weekend. However, they have lost Iain Robertson and Ralph Coetzee while Joe Montgomery and Marty Dalzell will only play in emergencies. The new professional is Australian Daniel Harding.
The Comber side are involved in the top match of the day, when they travel to Lisburn who have lost the runs of Gerry Strydom and Craig Ervine but have snapped up Yasas Tillakaratne from Bangor.
In the other opening day game, Civil Service North, without their skipper Nigel Jones, in the West Indies with Ireland, and injured international Regan West until at least August, could find it difficult against CIYMS who have the winter’s most attractive signing in Craig McMillan and fellow New Zealander Ben McCord, an opening bowler.
The two promoted clubs, Downpatrick and Lurgan, with many familiar names from their last
appearance in the top flight in 2007, are in Irish Cup action tomorrow. Lurgan, still captained by Peter Maxwell, face a massively tough game first round game against Rush, semi-finalists in 2008 and 2007 and beaten finalists the previous year, while Downpatrick host Old Belvedere who knocked out Woodvale, in a bowl-out, and Brigade last year.
Opening day fixtures: Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup (12.30): Downpatrick v Old Belvedere. Rush v Lurgan.
Ulster Bank Premier League (1.00): Civil Service North v CIYMS, Instonians v Ballymena, Lisburn v North Down, Waringstown v Carrickfergus.
Section One: Armagh v Saintfield, Bangor v Holywood, Cliftonville v Woodvale, Derriaghy v Muckamore, Laurelvale v Dundrum.
Section Two: Donacloney v Cregagh, Larne v Drumaness.