Unprecedented club growth marks start of new season

The 2023 domestic cricket season gets under way on Saturday with the NWCU confirming that the number of teams set to participate across all levels has seen another marked increase in the past 12 months.

The Union has confirmed that while there were 94 teams competing in 2019- including midweek, youth, boys, girls, Intermediate and senior, the number starting out this year in those same categories is 143; representing an increase of over 50% in less than 5 years.

It’s a superb return on the work going in, not just at grass roots level but right across the spectrum, and shows that the appetite for the sport remains in rude health.

There will be much to look forward to over the next 22 weeks or so and we’ll bring you scores, reports and photos on the club’s various social media platforms throughout.

For now though, attention turns to what is sure to be a most keenly-contested senior campaign as clubs jockey for position in next year’s new senior Long’s SuperValu league format.

In consultation with its clubs, the North West will this year facilitate one single league of all fifteen senior teams. At the end of the campaign, the top eight will make up next season’s Premier Division with the other seven forming the Championship.

It means a programme of fourteen league matches for every team, plus the cups of course- just as would be the case in a regular 8-team league season. It does mean however that there will only be one game against each opponent rather than the regular home and away format for this one-off year.

The ‘big guns’ are all again likely to be in contention, and it will be a surprise if the likes of Brigade, Donemana, Bready and Newbuildings don’t qualify for the top flight tournament.

There have been one or two personnel changes over the winter but as always, we won’t know the details for certain until Saturday afternoon.

Both Brigade and Bready are among the clubs who have hinted at a couple of ins and outs , however Davy Scanlon was keeping his cards close to his chest until everything has been finalised.

We do know that Irosh Samarasooriya is back too and Bready will be a handful again this year with plenty of runs in that top order.

Brigade have Ireland Academy batsman Cameron Melly in their ranks while Andy Britton had surgery on his troublesome arm over the winter and will be a massive boost to their chances if he is anywhere near full fitness.

Newbuildings, the reigning NWCU champions had long since resigned themselves to losing last year’s popular skipper Jared Wilson to Cliftonville, however Gareth McKeegan’s charges have acquired the services of 21-year old South African batsman, Hanu Viljoen in his place.

They were a formidable opponent last year and were only a cup final defeat away from a clean sweep, and Newbuildings look sure to be in the mix again now.

Donemana look set to be without Andy McBrine for a large part of their season- the North West Warriors skipper has been excellent for the International team on their tour to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and seems set for a busy summer in green.

The club have confirmed that Zimbabwean all-rounder Roy Kaia has signed for the season, and they have also added Irish passport holding Australian David O’Sullivan to their squad.

Mike Erlank is back again at Eglinton, a great boost for Andy Millar’s side, and the villagers have also added Ireland under-19 batsman Liam Doherty, a South African born, Irish passport-holding all rounder.

Those two, with maybe one more still to come in, could well steer Eglinton towards the business end of the table.

Ardmore have lost Tyron Koen but replaced him with South African batsman Aviwe Mgijima, but that’s been about it in a quiet close season at the Green. They’re rarely far away when the chips are down and will be keen to secure Premiership cricket for 2024.

Ravi Karunaratne is back in at Coleraine, as is Gareth Godfrey as Chair, so there could be a surprise or two to come yet on the north coast.

At the minute though there are no changes to report other than Varun Chopra who has headed to the NCU. Gareth insists that this year, the young players already at the club will get their chance, and with the likes of Scott Campbell, Stephen Hutchinson and Marcus Poskitt in there too, the Bannsiders will be OK.

Senior Cup holders Fox Lodge are another side currently on good terms with themselves; Aaron Heywood unsurprisingly keeps the armband with wicket-keeper/batsman Gayan Maneeshan coming in as their overseas player.

Aidan Logue returns after a short sojourn ‘next door’ and the Foxes will fancy themselves for one of those coveted places too.

Ballyspallen have appointed James Thompson as captain with Damith Perera back as their overseas player- however there could also be a couple of changes to be confirmed at Bridge Park.

They’ve done a lot of really good work at their ground over the past few seasons and the place looks fantastic, so ‘Spallen will be hoping to make an impression.

Glendermott are another club to have been working hard both on and off the pitch. As well as improving their facilities, they’ve also brought Bobby Rao in to share his wealth of experience and knowledge with the young players.

Ben Mills stays on as skipper and while another keeper/batsman, Gihan Cloete looks a fantastic signing, the loss of Nathan McGuire is a blow.

Out in Donegal, David Anthony gets the nod to keep the Saints in order and it’s currently the worst-kept secret in sport that they’ve moved to bring in a new player/coach!

Timmy Dougherty continues as captain at Killyclooney who have also opted for a South African overseas player in Blayde Capell.

Often unpredictable, ‘Clooney always have a big performance in them, but have struggled for consistency over the past few seasons.

There’s a change at the helm for Bonds Glen- Raymond Curry takes over as skipper there and it’s expected that they have agreed a one-player swap with Burndennett.

David and Gordon Cooke will still be on hand as the Bee Gees look to bring on some talented youth players in this competitive season.

Also joining ‘Dennett is Golpinath Siva, an Indian student who bats in the top order.

Aaron Gillespie is skipper again at Strabane and although they’ve lost Ehtesham Ahmed who has returned to YMCA, they’ve brought in North County bowler Usman Azhar.

The Red Caps have a few more loose ends to tie up before action gets under way next Saturday.

It’s set up to be a fascinating summer of sport for the cricket fraternity and those coveted top eight places will mean it will be a pretty competitive season for everyone.

The very best of luck to one and all.

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