Waringstown’s ‘remarkable’ ends in Premier League title glory
Waringstown captain Lee Nelson hailed the character of his squad after they sealed a 31st top-flight title at the weekend.
The Villagers suffered a heavy 175-run defeat in their second Premier League game of the season to North Down - but haven’t looked back since, winning 10 matches on the trot to pick up a title they last won in 2017.
Their success was secured with a 12-run victory over defending champions CIYMS on Saturday before being made official following North Down’s 15-run loss to Woodvale the following day.
Waringstown were in the driving seat for most of this season and Nelson believes it’s the best league triumph of his career.
“We are over the moon,” he said. “I said at the start of the year that this was going to be one of the toughest Premier Leagues to win in quite a while and to get over the line I’m delighted and very proud of all the boys.
“Certainly in my time of playing, in terms of league titles, this has probably been the best campaign I’ve been involved in.
“We started off with that heavy defeat at Comber and haven’t lost a game since, so I think that’s remarkable.
“The collective team effort has been superb.
“A lot of people will just look at Andre’s runs or Humey’s runs from when he came in, but from the start of the year there have been people chipping in with big scores or big spells throughout.
“It has been a real team effort and I think that has been the most pleasing thing about it.”
It was hard not to get excited by the batting line-up Waringstown had put together over the winter, with proven overseas professional Andre Malan and Graham Hume joining the likes of Nelson, James McCollum, Adam Dennison and Greg Thompson.
It’s one thing looking good on paper but that unit more than delivered when it mattered most, posting four of the six largest team totals this season, which included going past 300 on four occasions and scoring a mammoth 420 against Carrickfergus.
Nelson had a huge amount of firepower at his disposal despite losing James Hall to Woodvale and once he figured out the right combination, Waringstown began to motor.
“For us, it was just about finding the right balance,” he added. “People forget that we lost our all-time leading run scorer (Hall) and leading wicket-taker (Gary Kidd) in one winter, so to have the character to come back from that has been great.
“It’s not easy when you lose big players like that and Phil Eaglestone was injured and awaiting an operation, so we effectively lost three.
“Andre came in and was magnificent and the signing of Graham was top-drawer.
“We got our recruitment right – the people we brought in were right for the team and for the club.
“We struggled a bit at the start in the T20s but it was just a matter of who bats where and who will bowl where.
“As soon as we worked that out, everything started to click.”
Malan and Hume were brought in to deliver silverware and they contributed heavily, with the former scoring 937 runs at an average of 78.08 and chipping in with 18 wickets while Hume also averaged over 50 with the bat and picked up 27 wickets.
“When we brought them in, we wanted to change a bit of the culture and add a bit of steel to the team,” said Nelson. “And I think they have done that in more ways than one.
“Every time we have been under pressure, Graham seems to have been in the middle with the bat or bowling and he has been outstanding.
“I can’t praise him highly enough.
“You just have to look at Andre’s stats – he nearly scored 1000 runs, went home early and some of those innings are in T20 cricket.
“He’s definitely one of the best batters I have seen over here.”
Coming into the season, many believed CIYMS - going for a third consecutive crown - and North Down would be the main challengers for the league title, but that wasn’t a thought process followed at The Lawn.
Nelson knew what his team were capable of and the challenge now is to evolve and improve once again heading into 2022.
“Outside people may have thought one thing but inside Waringstown the goal is always to win the league – it’s never anything else,” he added. “We would never go into a league campaign thinking it would be ok to just finish third or fourth, that’s not what it’s about.
“Everything that we enter we try and win it.
“Obviously, that isn’t always going to work, but at the start of the season that always has to be the aim because it has always been that way, and I wouldn’t want to see that change.”
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