Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston is very confident that his side will be competitive in all formats of the 2018 Interpros.
The Knights are set to face North West Warriors in their first 50 over match today, before a three day game against reigning champions Leinster Lightning at Comber, starting on Tuesday.
They have lost their first two Twenty20 matches, but have had a plethora of injuries, including captain James Shannon and seam bowler Nathan Smith, who were both included in Ireland’s historic first Test squad against Pakistan earlier this month.
Johnson says they face a tough period with personnel on the sidelines, but wants all of the squad to fulfil their potential in the coming season.
“I suppose it was a learning year last year and I seen so much ability in the boys and some of them didn’t show what they are capable of,” said Johnston.
“I thought three weeks ago we were in a really good place and if we don’t win, we would be very competitive.
“With our seam attack now depleted, if we can just get through this period and get our squad through it, we will know more in the summer.
“It has been a bit unprecedented but you can’t make excuses and we just have to get on with it.”
Shannon has been the talisman in the Knights squad for the past couple of seasons, and after scoring 754 runs in all formats in 2017, was named Interpro Player of the Year, and Johnston says he has reaped the rewards for making brave decisions.
“Shanno is now our X-factor batsman as everyone knows,” he added.
“He is on the verge of breaking into the Irish team and establishing himself there.
“He has to get runs to do that as he knows. When you watched him last season in the Interpros, he was just a level above most things on show with the exception of some of the Leinster lads.
“He is a huge player and as a captain has been brilliant for a couple of years now. We need to get him firing.
“Not a lot of people know that he quit his job last year to focus fully on cricket.
“I remember he called me and his boss at the time for a meeting and said he wanted to go all in.
“We both tried talking him out of it but he said it was something he wanted to give 100% to and give himself the best chance, and look at the rewards.
“His season spoke for itself, his work-rate and attitude is just fantastic.
“I know he didn’t play much in the winter tour and he was 12th man a lot, but I heard the number of balls he hit and the fitness work he did was outstanding.
“That stands him in good stead. Hopefully he can have the year I know he is good enough to have.”
Johnston has also welcomed two new players into the squad, with wicketkeeper Neil Rock and batsman Harry Tector joining from Leinster.
He has previous experience working with the pair in Irish underage squads, and says they will add a lot to the group.
“One of the main reasons it was those two guys we went for was because we know them so well and what they can bring to our team,” he said.
“They’ve fit in really well and it was a big thing knowing what they would bring, and they are the right age profile for us. It’s something we needed - a bit of fresh blood coming in and they have been fantastic.
“They train once or twice a week when they don’t have school, and they have bought into everything.
“They are going to stay a lot over the summer and help out with coaching in the NCU during the day.
“I know a few guys who wouldn’t be willing to do that, so it’s perfect that they are.”
The ultimate aim for players now will be to represent Ireland at Test level, and Johnston says everyone has the opportunity to grab the attention of selectors with quality performances during the season.
“It’s all about Ireland caps here,” he added.
“It’s about putting your hand up and putting performances in for the bigger honours.
“We have two guys on senior contracts and a massive thing for me last season was getting Nathan Smith and James McCollum on part-time contracts.
“That shows we are doing the right things and I’m hoping the likes of Shane Getkate, Gary Kidd, James Cameron Dow, Nikolai Smith all stick their hands up this year. We have a lot of good young talent and they have to make sure they perform.
“If you put in those good performances then hopefully they will be rewarded with higher honours.”