CIYMS Nigel Jones is back home for debut

Nigel Jones
Nigel Jones

When Nigel Jones arrives at Stormont on Saturday you can forgive him if he mistakenly walks into the home dressing room.

After all Jones has been virtually part of the furniture at the Civil Service North ground for the best part of 10 years.

Two Challenge Cup final victories over Waringstown and a Twenty20 Cup success last summer were just some of the New Zealand-born all-rounder’s stellar achievements as captain at Stormont.

But over the winter Jones surprised just about everyone by switching allegiances to CIYMS, a club that have become CSNI’s fierce rivals over the last five seasons.

Jones’ presence is CI colours is unlikely to lower the temperature in what has become one of the more heated Premier League fixtures, but those expecting the former CSNI captain to stir the pot will be disappointed.

“In some ways it’s nice that the game has come so early in the season, it’s probably good to get it out of the way straight away,” said Jones.

“I’m looking forward to playing against my old mates, that should be fun. But there’s also a real rivalry between the clubs. I’m looking forward to it but I’m trying to get my head around it too. I will always have a soft spot for my old club, that will always be there.

“I had a chuckle to myself when the fixtures came out. I had a couple of reactions, the first was to think, ‘typical’ and the second was to think that it’s maybe not a bad thing.”

Jones comes into the season more refreshed than he has done for many years after a winter without the headaches that accompany the captaincy all year round. He has also been training just one night a week and believes the relative rest will freshen him up for match-days.

“CI have been great allowing me to settle in, I have had a quiet winter for the first time in a long time, I spent more time with the family and obviously with work. CI have been great in acknowledging and understanding that I needed that time away.”

Jones’ influence at Stormont wasn’t just limited to runs and wickets, or even the captaincy. His leadership and sheer force of personality helped establish CSNI as a force. If he has helped develop the likes of Christopher McMorran and Jason van der Merwe at Stormont, CI want him to do the same with Aaron Johnstone, John Matchett and Jack Beattie.

He has already been coaching that promising trio and others but what about CI’s prospects this summer? Jones urges against getting carried away by the hype.

“When you are looking at the league, you have to go on proven form and what has been done in the past. At CI we have some good names on paper but that does not make it an end product or a team. We have to build that and we have to click. The ambition is there with the squad and it would be a surprise if we did not get our hands on something. We have to aim to have a good run in the league and pick up a cup.

“It’s going to be tough. Look at Instonians, sometimes you think they shouldn’t win the games that they do, but they fight and scrap. Waringstown were unlucky with the weather last year, they will be keen to bounce back and my old club CSNI are still strong.”

The neutrals will no doubt be licking their lips at the prospect of Jones batting alongside Rassie van der Dussen, the South African professional. Neither player, you imagine, will hold back.

Whatever happens at Belmont this summer, it’s unlikely to be boring.