Half-term NCU marks as fascinating battles unfold at the top and bottom

Justin Kemp will be key to CI's hopes for the rest of the season
Justin Kemp will be key to CI's hopes for the rest of the season

The NCU cricket season has almost reached its halfway point.

Here is a report on the eight Premier League club so far.

CARRICKFERGUS: Premier League: Iain Parkhill’s team got off to a rampaging start, chasing down North Down’s 247 with 10 overs to spare before beating CIYMS. However, the one-wicket defeat to Lisburn was a bitter pill to swallow. Cups: Carrick exited the Irish Cup to Merrion, but more disappointing was an Ulster Cup reversal to Strabane. They are in the Challenge and T20 Cup semi-finals.

CIYMS: Premier League: The suspicion was that CI’s best opportunity of silverware rested with cup competitions and the season so far has done little to dispel that. Nigel Jones’ men lost on the opening day to Derriaghy and were beaten by Carrickfergus. A victory over fancied Instonians has put them back on track. CUPS: They will strongly fancy reaching a second successive Challenge Cup final and YMCA won’t fancy a trip to Belmont in the Irish Cup.

CSNI: PREMIER LEAGUE: Andrew Cowden’s men have recorded one victory from three matches. They won’t win it, but they won’t go down either. CUPS: The Challenge Cup semi-final draw wasn’t kind, handing them a trip to Waringstown. Out of the Irish Cup and T20, they host Brigade in the Ulster Cup tomorrow.

DERRIAGHY: Premier League: What a fairytale start, with CIYMS stunned on the opening day. However, successive defeats to Waringstown and North Down followed. Survival will hinge on home form because it is difficult to envisage them winning many on the road. Along with captain Craig Hughes, slow bowlers Curtis Moorhead and Wayne Hughes have caught the eye. CUPS: As if beating CI in the league wasn’t enough, the remarkable Irish Cup victory over Donemana was arguably the highlight of the season so far. Lewis’ men are in the last eight of the Irish Cup but Merrion away is the most daunting of ties. They are already out of the Challenge Cup, T20 and Ulster Cup.

LISBURN: Premier League: Lisburn started by running Waringstown close at Wallace Park, but then came an inexplicable 90 all out at home to CSNI. The nail-biting win over Carrickfergus was a welcome relief and now an impending T20 replay against neighbours Derriaghy could shape their season. CUPS: Knockout competitions haven’t been kind to Lisburn and they are already out of the Irish Cup, Challenge Cup and Ulster Cup. Their hopes of silverware rest with the T20, and they have home advantage against Carrickfergus on finals day.

INSTONIANS: Premier League: Instonians are an enigma. They looked dead and buried against North Down before winning by five runs, and there was no disgrace in losing off the final ball to a CI team inspired by Chris Dougherty and Justin Kemp. Remain Waringstown’s likeliest challengers. CUPS: Looked to be cruising into the last four of the T20 before losing out on run-rate for the second year in a row and there were few excuses for the Challenge Cup loss to Section One Muckamore or a batting collapse in the Ulster Cup to Brigade. An Irish Cup quarter-final at home to Phoenix offers hope of redemption.

NORTH DOWN: Premier League: Runners-up last season but it was never going to be easy after so many close-season changes. Successive defeats to Carrickfergus and North Down were a stark reminder of that but they are off the mark after beating Derriaghy. CUPS: They were dumped out of the Challenge Cup by Section One Downpatrick and the rain didn’t help against YMCA in the Irish Cup. In the semi-finals of the T20 Cup where they will pose Waringstown problems and tomorrow will be strong favourites against Bready in the Ulster Cup quarters.

WARINGSTOWN: Premier League: Perennial strong starters to a league season, the reigning champions boast a 100 per cent record. But the cynics will say they have yet to meet any of the likely challengers. CUPS:Remarkably, they are still involved in all four cups with home advantage in the Challenge Cup semis, Concerns remain over the fitness of professional Cobus Pienaar and the form of captain Lee Nelson.

As if the controversy over the long wait over the Irish Cup draws wasn’t bad enough, the quarter-finals clashes with the first of Ireland’s five one-day internationals against Afghanistan next month.

There was a possibility, albeit a remote one that one of the remaining NCU clubs, Waringstown, Instonians, Derriaghy and CIYMS, could have lost a player on one of the pivotal days on the club calender. Greg Thompson’s superb form with the bat made him an obvious candidate for an opportunity against an associate nation. Instonians may have been waiting with baited breath as James Shannon was one of the standout performers for Ireland A in the recent game against Scotland in Ayr. For CIYMS, Chris Dougherty could have been an outside bet for inclusion.

Of course, all three clubs needn’t have worried, but none of their players were included in Ireland’s 14-man squad. Instead, Ireland have promoted Sean Terry, the former Hampshire batsman who wants to represent his adopted country. Terry hadn’t made a major impression in interprovincials but a double-century against the Scots has catapulted him above local contenders.

Mark Adair, the CSNI and Warwickshire fast bowler, is a welcome inclusion.