It started with January laps around a school sports hall and ended with a 137-run win over Donacloney Mill eight months later, but it was all worth it for Lisburn who can call themselves a Premier League club once again.
They often say champions are created when no one is watching, and that has been the case for Adam Berry’s side this season.
After a torrid time in the Premier League last year, they put in the hard yards during the off-season and will return to the top flight once again in 2019 after winning 15 of their 18 league games on their way to being crowned Section One winners.
Captain Berry and David Simpson both registered half-centuries in setting their visitors a target of 221 before the latter did further damage with the ball as Donacloney were dismissed for 83.
Since 2006, Simpson has taken 279 wickets in top flight competitions - a record bettered by only six players - and he says the hard graft put in by the whole squad set them up for success in 2018.
“We had a disappointing season last year and we had to re-group,” said Simpson. “Neil Doak was instrumental for us as a coach. Coming from a professional sporting environment, he knew what to do and when to do it.
“From January, he pushed us really hard. Every Sunday he had the guys in a sports hall in Wallace school or at the Football Factory in Hillsborough, and it was running laps, and it was brutal, but this is the reward you get for it. The guys have worked so hard. There is that challenge now of going up to the Premier League, but it is something we relish and we know what it takes to compete up there.”
Berry came to the crease with the score at 5-1, and he played an innings full of class and maturity, helping guide his side to a winning total, and he says the occasion is a massive moment for the club.
“It’s been a great squad effort from the guys all year round,” said Berry. “It’s been brilliant to have all the support down too. Everyone has backed us and it’s great to bounce back and give something back to the club. It’s great to have Cecil Walker here enjoying the occasion too. It’s a special day.”
The challenge for clubs coming up from Section One is to try and close the obvious gulf that currently exists between teams in the Premier League, but Simpson feels the group are more prepared for the task than they were 12 months ago.
“We will have to assess what we can do between now and next summer,” he added. “I think we are more prepared. We have guys who have got the chance to bat a bit longer and score runs. Adam Berry has over 600 runs this year, so he knows what it’s like to bat time. Mark Berry has come along, Michael Glass is 16 and has taken vital wickets this season. This year has been brilliant and hopefully we can take a lot of confidence into the Premier League.”
After a dramatic day at the bottom of Section One, Lurgan were the team relegated to Section Two alongside Laurelvale.
Lurgan lost their first eight league games of the season and it looked like they were certainties to be playing in a lower league in 2019, but an inspired mid-season run gave them a massive chance of pulling off a great escape.
They knew they would need to beat Bangor at Pollock Park and league-leaders Lisburn to defeat Donacloney Mill, and they came within two balls of both boxes being ticked.
Having finished their 50 overs on 208-8, Lurgan left Bangor requiring 52 from 10 overs, and the away side crawled over the line with two balls to spare thanks to 46* from Bates and opening batsman Chris Burns, who blasted 45.
It will be a tough result to take for Lurgan having got so close to securing survival, and they must now find a way of rebuilding in a new league next season.
In spite of a heavy defeat, Donacloney Mill will remain in the division due to having a better run-rate.
Young bowler Conor Woods is definitely one to watch for Donacloney, with the 17-year-old taking 4-59 from his 10 over spell against the champions at Wallace Park.
Holywood finished second after winning their seventh consecutive game with a 15-run victory over Cregagh at Seapark.
Jordan Wilson’s side started the day four points behind Lisburn, but with a superior run-rate they would have been crowned champions if their rivals slipped up.
It wasn’t to be, but they finished on a positive note as Wes Hurn took 5-32 to help the home side defend 151.
They will be favourites to gain promotion in 2019 with the current squad they have, but will have to try and keep everyone together.
Mark Adair is a regular for the Northern Knights and would be a quality performer in the Premier League, so clubs in the top flight will undoubtedly come calling.