The starter’s gun is poised a week earlier than normal in NCU Section One, but many of the favourites in what promises to be a fascinating promotion battle will have to wait at least another week to start their campaigns.
Holywood, fancied by many after a winter of signings, are among the early casualties with their match at Derriaghy and Downpatrick’s game with Woodvale already having been called off. More could follow after a cold and wet winter left squares and outfields in a treacherous condition.
Section One’s tendency for the unpredictable should continue in 2018. Armagh were last season’s surprise package and this summer you can’t discount any of Holwyood, Derriaghy, Downpatrick Woodvale or Lisburn. Even Donaghcloney Mill, boosted by the signing of Waringstown batsman David Dawson, could mount a challenge after a fine debut campaign following the merger of Donaghcloney and Millpark.
The key could to it all could be Lisburn, down in the second tier after the longest top flight stay in the NCU was ended by relegation last summer.
David Simpson will remain a potent force with the ball and should score heavily with the bat, captain Adam Berry and his brother Mark should excel, while there are promising young players who could prosper from progressing their senior careers away from the pressure of the Premier League.
Holywood, fresh from the additions of Nathan Burns, the Beverland brothers, Charlie and Paddy, and the return of paceman Mark Adair, have not been talking up their prospects, but if Adair plays most games and is firing, they could be a serious proposition.
BANGOR: IN: None. OUT: Mike Grossett (North Down). PROSPECTS: They had a brush with relegation last summer, but have quality in Taimur Khan, Andrew Nixon and Nicky McCollum. CREGAGH: IN: Jonny Moore (CIYMS), Stuart Smyth (CSNI) Charlie Shannon (Holywood). OUT: None. CAPTAIN: Graham Hassard. PROSPECTS: Promoted from Section Two as champions, there is real excitement around Cregagh’s presence in the second tier. They have recruited sensibly and can hold their own. DERRIAGHY: IN: None. OUT: None. CAPTAIN: Craig Lewis. PROSPECTS: For much of last season it seemed they could experience relegation for the second season in succession before recovering to mid-table. Much hinges on Craig Lewis who should be destructive at this level. DONAGHCLONEY MILL: IN: David Dawson (Waringstown). OUT: None. PROSPECTS: Dawson should be an excellent signing, and a top half finish beckons. DOWNPATRICK: IN: Matt Acocks. OUT: None. OVERSEAS: Acock (Australia). CAPTAIN: Ross Boultwood. PROSPECTS: Capable of beating anyone on their day, but losing to anyone as well. Acock’s quality could be key. HOLYWOOD: IN: Nathan Burns (North Down), Charlie Beverland, Paddy Beverland (both CSNI), OUT: Charlie Shannon (Cregagh). CAPTAIN: Philip McCormick. PROSPECTS: The favourites for promotion, they could be hard to stop if they get off to a flying start. LAURELVALE: IN: None. OUT: None, CAPTAIN: David Sinton. PROSPECTS: Back in the second tier for the first time since 2013, Sinton is in charge for what he says is the final season. They will strive for a season of consolidation. LURGAN: IN: None. OUT: Avadhoot Dandekar. CAPTAIN: Andrew Bingham. PROSPECTS: Dandekar not returning is a savage blow because he was relied upon heavily last summer. They finished four points above the drop zone last summer, and it could be another season of struggle. LISBURN: IN: Jonathan Waite (Waringstown). OUT: Gionne Koopman. CAPTAIN: Adam Berry. PROSPECTS; Publicly they talk of taking a couple of seasons to get back into the top flight, but that reserved approach will change if the wins start flowing. WOODVALE: IN: JJ Strydom. OUT: None. OVERSEAS: Strydom (South Africa), CAPTAIN: Jamie Gibson. PROSPECTS: Regulars in the promotion chase, if JJ Strydom is a success expect them to be right in the mix.