What a week it has been for cricket in the NCU area with the finals of all three Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 competitions being played.
For one club in particular it certainly was a memorable occasion. Not only was Carrickfergus the host club for the Twenty20 Trophy final but the team was also playing in it.
A remarkable achievement when you consider that only once previously in the club’s history had they appeared in an NCU cup final and that was back in 1967 when they lost the Intermediate Cup final against Ards.
For Carrickfergus it has been a remarkable season which in reality did not begin with a lot of promise. Despite the tag in many people’s eyes as favourites to win Ulster Bank Section One, they lost two of their first three league fixtures.
Since then however the tide has turned, after Thursday’s final appearance they played and won their semi-final tie in the Ulster Shield on Sunday against Holywood and are also in the semi-final of the RSA National Cup.
On top of all that they are now in joint second place in the league with two games in hand of leaders Lurgan. So in many ways it is a bit like buses, no finals for almost 50 years and now the potential of three in one season.
Back to last Thursday though and I had a chat with Ally McCalmont, the Club Welfare Officer, and one of the driving forces behind the organisation of the final and I suggested to him that lavish praise was being heaped on the club for an amazing evening.
“Well it helped that Carrickfergus were in the final and you might say that was a stroke of luck but we knew we were hosting it anyway, so the preparations were well in hand. We sat down and had a bit of a brainstorming session and everyone came up with ideas of what we wanted to do on the night,” he said.
“For me the first thing was we wanted it to be spectator driven and also it had to be something special for the players. Yes, we wanted it to be different, but equally we wanted the opposition Derriaghy to buy in to what we were trying to achieve as well.”
Certainly the club managed to achieve that with the players all being announced to the crowd and presented to the NCU president Billy Boyd.
My next thought was that this was something being driven by Ally himself: “I was merely a focal point, the man on the mike if you like and I wanted to make sure that I did not come across as being too partisan! There were so many volunteers from the club; we all wanted to show ourselves in a good light. The fact that we had good weather and a good game assisted as well.
“We were conscious that there were three finals on successive nights and we wanted to ensure that we were the best of the best. In all I reckon we had about 400 people in the ground.
“We contacted all the clubs that played in the competition and invited them to turn up; I believe that something like this should be a special event. Everyone had the opportunity to buy a tennis ball for £1 and during the interval between innings we set up a stump in the middle and they all threw from the boundary; closest to the stump won £50.
“We had kids along from our Under 11’s and Under 13’s, many with their parents, we had music and a barbeque, and if you like we tried to make it like a county game.”
What I can share is the feedback that I have had from numerous people is that the club did both themselves and Carrickfergus as a town proud, but how was it for the players?
Carrickfergus skipper is Iain Parkhill, who better to ask: “It was a fantastic atmosphere, for both sides, at our level you only dream of playing in a set up like this. Ally came out to the middle for the toss, interviewed both captain’s and basically kept up the interaction with the crowd for the rest of the game. I think everyone enjoyed being introduced to the crowd.”
So how did the game itself pan out?
“We had a fantastic start, Michael Gilmour came out of the blocks like a train and then when they brought the spinners on the rate slowed. It was great to have the experience of Ryan Eagleson and Indrajeet Kamtekar to just knock it around.
“Really at the break we felt the score was just about par. Derriaghy had a good start as well and we didn’t field great at the outset and I always felt they were in with a shout whilst Kaushik Aphale was at the crease.”
What he didn’t say was he was the man who ran Aphale out. For Carrickfergus the three slow bowlers, Eagleson Kamtekar and Jamie Holmes bowled their 12 overs for 50 runs and with 20 required off the last over, I suspect Ally was able to relax on the PA system.
I will leave the last words on the evening to Iain Parkhill: “For me it was a great evening, it did have what I would call the county feel about it that you see on TV. It was great to lift the trophy in front of our home supporters; they have waited a long time.
“I would also like to pay tribute to Derriaghy and their supporters who made it such a spectacle and give them their dues they all stayed for a beer after the match.”
I suspect it won’t be the last final Carrick host and I have no doubt that the NCU will also be looking to replicate the successful format at other games.