North West cricket is in robust health with young talent continuing to make a mark in the cricket-mad area.
That's the opinion of North West union general manager Peter McCartney as he looks forward to an abbreviated but competitive season.
From last year's league and cup double winners Brigade to Letterkenny, the newest team in the union, clubs are meeting the challenge and are up for the fight.
"Like most team sports, it is a challenge to keep players - cricket is no different," said McCartney. "But I'm encouraged by the number of teams playing this year. I didn't know how many we would start with after Covid struck but it's the same as last year with 15 senior and six others including Sion Mills, Maghera and Letterkenny, so we have two teams in Donegal now.
"All are playing midweek and weekend cricket and Newbuildings now have a third team, a women's team and a youth section and, only this week, secured £300,000 for pavilion and ground works with the help of Derry council and DAERA."
McCartney also noted the number of young players who played a significant role for their team when the season finally got under way last Saturday.
"Looking through the scorecards, the number of players under 23 who made a contribution in every match, taking wickets or scoring runs, was really encouraging," he added.
"We've done a lot of work in the last three to four years revamping our talent development system and that is now bearing fruit.
"We have 28 players involved in the Pathway games, being played over the next couple of weeks in Eglinton, all happy to take time off work and make themselves available which hasn't always been the case.
"We're really committed to giving those boys a chance to come through the squads, as Kyle Magee and Graeme McFaul have already done. They are also getting a chance with the bat and ball for senior clubs.
"Graeme Kennedy is already a regular on the Warriors side and is probably the most experienced 21-year-old in inter-pro cricket. We want to expose them to that level as early as possible and the fact that we have (Coleraine professional) Graham Hume around raises the standard."
And the girls haven't been forgotten either as the game continues to grow in the area.
"We employed Katherine Rough last year as our women's/girls' development officer and this year we have an Under-13 girls' team," added the general manager. "The Women's League has six teams and there are lots of young ones coming through. We have six players from the North West in the Ireland Women's set-up, compared to just one in recent years."
Wednesday night also saw history being made in Northern Ireland cricket with the first games in the midweek league, this year being played as a seven-a-side T10 tournament.
"We thought clubs might struggle to get 11 players out midweek, and if you are batting eight or below you probably wouldn't bat in a 10-over game," added McCartney. "You still need five bowlers so everyone is involved. The scores were pretty good (St Johnston were tops with a massive 148-3 in the Donegal derby against Letterkenny) and even with a 6.30pm start, it's all done just after 8pm."
It's back to the Long's SuperValu Championship tomorrow and the second round of games in the regionalised group, and the first-day winners in all three of the four-team groups are on a collision course with home advantage for Newbuildings, Fox Lodge and Bonds Glen.
In Group 1, Ballyspallen and Eglinton, both beaten by Coleraine last weekend, meet at Bridge Park.
The Ireland Academy intra-squad matches continued yesterday with two exciting finishes. Team B in the North West used 10 bowlers.
Tomorrow's fixtures: Long's SuperValu T20 Championship: Ballyspallen v Eglinton, Newbuildings v Brigade, St Johnston v Glendermott, Bready v Strabane, Fox Lodge v Burndennett, Ardmore v Killyclooney, Bonds Glen v Donemana.
Yesterday's Ireland Academy intra-squad scores: Eglinton: Team A 131-4 (20 overs, J Wilson 40, R Hunter 34, G Kennedy 26; R Curry 2-18) Team B 128-5 (T Orr 41, G Hume 24, R Curry 22; J Wilson 16). Team A won by three runs.
Oak Hill: Blue Team 150-6 (20 overs, T Tector 59, F Tucker 47; Z Khan 3-25) Red Team 145 (19.3 overs, R Forrest 44, M Donegan 27; R Anders 3-27). Blues won by five runs.