WARINGSTOWN and Lurgan start the NCU Premier League cricket season on Saturday, with the villagers installed as many people’s title favourites while the newly-promoted town side have a survival battle on their hands.
The return to The Lawn of prolific South African professional Obus Pienaar, coupled with the signing of Ireland internationals Greg Thompson and Phil Eaglestone, have earmarked the villagers as front-runners for major trophies.
Lurgan, back in the top flight for the first time since 2010, are talking optimistically ahead of Saturday’s opener against reigning Premier League champions CIYMS at Pollock Park.
Captain Stephen Johnston, who includes new signings Charley Crasborne and Stephen Leckey, insists Lurgan can make a mockery of those claiming they are certainties for the drop.
He said: “We have to be realistic about things, the last time we were in this league we didn’t win a match all season, and it’s a tougher league now than it was then. But this time we are better prepared and the team spirit is much better.
“As much as it’s going to be a challenge I know the lads are all relishing it. I don’t want to talk about a relegation battle, let’s see how the first three or four matches go. We have to go out with a positive mindset and if we get off to a winning start then we can start looking up the league.”
Johnston is optimistic that Lurgan can catch CI cold as the Belmont club start the new season with a much-changed team from the one that clinched the title last September.
He added: “We’re really looking forward to the game. A lot of their guys will be used to fast wickets, but this is the start of the season and we’re going to give them a rattle. I feel it’s the best time to play them.” Waringstown captain Kyle McCallan meanwhile has played down the pre-season hype ahead of the trip to play Civil Service North at Stormont.
The all-rounder believes the eight-team top flight will once again produce unpredictable results.
“The squad is shaping up very well and the only thing I’m concerned about is that while the squad looks very strong on paper, you don’t win anything on paper. Greg, Phil and Obus will bring a lot of quality and experience to be the squad and I’m very excited about the prospect,” said McCallan.
“It’s a tough league, you used to have two or three givens but now there are no easy games. I expect teams to beat each other like they did last year.”
Jonathan Bushe is unavailable because of a suspension while Greg Thompson still has hockey commitments with Lisnagarvey. Keith Morrison will take the wicketkeeping gloves in Bushe’s absence. Gary Kidd plays after returning from a winter in Australia.