Cliftonville Academy out to be a major force: Terrett
It's been quite a first year for Cliftonville Academy, who meet Templepatrick in the GMcG Junior Cup final at Moylena on Saturday.
The merger of the two clubs has been an unqualified success so far as the 1st XI have also won their first nine games in Section Two, while the 2nd XI are in the Intermediate Cup final and the 4th XI play in the Minor Qualifying Cup semi-final on Sunday.
There was no danger of either club folding, but for years Cliftonville and Academy played almost next door to each other at Mallusk (after losing their home ground in Greenisland) and Roughfort, and for the greater good of both it was an obvious amalgamation, as Johnny Terrett, the new club's most experienced player, explains.
"After chatting, there were things Academy did well and Cliftonville did well, and they happened to be things the other did badly or didn't have," said Terrett.
"Cliftonville didn't have (enough) adult bodies, Academy II were in Junior 2, much higher than Cliftonville II, and they (Academy) had a lot of 20- and 30-somethings which we (Cliftonville) tended to lose.
"Cliftonville had been working hard to get our youth section working, so we had around 50 kids, at Under-15, Under-13 and even Under-11s, and it is growing every year, plus the experienced heads with Premier League experience."
With Academy now playing home matches at the school's Castle Grounds - probably the most scenic ground in the NCU - "and a good pitch with a bit of bounce", it has proved a win-win situation for everyone.
And the Cup final team on Saturday will have six former Cliftonville players and five ex-Academy, so at 1st XI level all has worked out fairly.
Because of the restructuring of the NCU Senior Leagues, both Cliftonville and Templepatrick found themselves in a 15-team Section Two and, to be brutally honest, are head and shoulders above the rest, as nine wins out of nine would confirm.
"We have been pushed a few times," said Terrett. "But both teams have struggled to get bowlers overs and everyone batting time but hopefully it's just for one season and both get promotion to Section One next year."
The league game between the teams was due to be played last Saturday but, like everything else in the NCU, was a victim of the torrential rain. So the Cup final will be the first clash to decide which is the better team.
Academy have the experience of Junior Cup deciders, with five victories out of five in finals between 2005 and 2014 - Cliftonville's only win was in 1961 - and with Cliftonville having lost the final in 2016, Terrett is hoping to tap into Academy's success.
"The Junior Cup is a massive thing for Academy and something Cliftonville haven't experienced so hopefully it will all come together on Saturday," said Terrett, who was good enough to play seven inter-provincials for Northern Knights, and in seven years at North Down won three Premier League titles and played in three Challenge Cup finals, winning in 2010.
But his heart was with Cliftonville and nothing will give him greater satisfaction than picking up a Junior Cup winners' medal.
"I'm back to where I learned my cricket, where I grew up," he said. "I won the North Down Batting Cup (he averaged 40) in my last year but I was always going back to help Cliftonville, and hopefully after this amalgamation we can be a force again in NCU cricket."
It is 10 years since Templepatrick played in the Cup final - losing to Academy. There could be four survivors from that game with John Busby, Ricky Greer and Arty Campbell also in the squad, but David Menaul will be the only Cliftonville Academy player involved again.
Templepatrick captain Ross Bryans said: "Saintfield are the only team to score over 100 against us this season and we still won by nine wickets.
"This will be our first real test of the season but I'm really looking forward to it."