Champions Waringstown will now raise bar, says Thompson
They say the only thing harder than winning a league title is retaining it, but Waringstown captain Greg Thompson is determined to disprove that theory and believes he has a squad capable of keeping the Robinson Services Premier League trophy at The Lawn.
"We will be trying to replicate last year's success and while nobody is under any illusion that it will be an easy task, we will work hard throughout the year and see where we end up," is Thompson's take on the new NCU season which gets under way tomorrow.
To exactly replicate last year, Waringstown will have to win four of the six competitions they have entered and to do that once is a remarkable achievement, to do it twice would put them in the record books.
The key to their success last year, according to Thompson, was a "happy dressing room" and the emergence of youngsters who played such a vital part.
"James Mitchell and Marcus McClean broke into the 1st XI and did very well and with James McCollum and Adam Dennison, still young but now established players who scored big runs, there is no reason why we can't do it again," says the skipper.
So strong is their squad that David Dawson, Morgan Topping and Jonny Waite have all moved on.
"They are all good enough to play 1st XI cricket but I couldn't guarantee them that at Waringstown and I wish them all the best," he added.
Matthew Purse, from Ballymena, is the only new face at The Lawn but although "he will get his opportunity" he will not be making his debut against Carrickfergus tomorrow.
The Villagers actually lost two of their first three matches last season and were on the ropes against Muckamore in the fourth before scrambling home by two runs. It proved the turning point of their campaign and they lost only two more games all season.
Yet they still only won the title on run-rate from CIYMS and Thompson believes the Belmont club, along with North Down, who finished third, will again be their closest rivals.
CI have last year's top batsman and the club's leading wicket-taker Matt McGillivray back for a second season as professional and with the return of James Cameron-Dow, who has Ireland ambitions, there is no reason why they cannot go one better.
North Down also look stronger with the return of Ryan Haire, after his flirtation with Muckamore, and his under-estimated bowling could play as important a role as his prolific run scoring.
The teams meet at The Green tomorrow in the most attractive match of the day so immediately one of Waringstown's title rivals will be playing catch-up, assuming the champions get off to a winning start. But despite twice beating Carrickfergus convincingly last season, Thompson will be taking nothing for granted.
"Carrick have dangerous players. Pat Botha is back as professional and Dan Poulton impressed last year," said Thompson.
Armagh are the newcomers after winning Section One but could be relying on new overseas player Shadley van Schalkwyk, a 29-year-old South African all-rounder, to make an instant impression, starting today at Muckamore who will have former Instonians professional Fahad Iqbal as their paid help.
The other opening day game is at Stormont when Instonians are the visitors. Civil Service North have employed Andre Malan and if he is anywhere near as good as his brother, Pieter, then CSN should be on the up.
Tomorrow's fixtures: Robinson Services Premier League: CSN v Instonians, Muckamore v Armagh, North Down v CIYMS, Waringstown v Carrickfergus.
Section One: Laurelvale v Donaghcloney Mill, Lisburn v Holywood. Postponed: Bangor v Woodvale, Derriaghy v Lurgan, Downpatrick v Cregagh,
Section Two: Cliftonvile Academy v Victoria. All other games postponed