Josh Manley targets better showing for Northrn Knights at Twenty20 Festival

Josh Manley is fully embracing life back at the Northern Knights and will again play a key role this weekend in the second Inter-Provincial Twenty20 Festival of the season at Bready.

The Lisburn seamer enjoyed a successful campaign on loan with Munster Reds in 2021, picking up 23 wickets in 14 matches and is now leading the Knights bowling attack alongside new captain Mark Adair.

Manley has started in a similar vein this season by collecting figures of 4/23 in the last Festival against the Reds and also shone in a 50-over clash versus his former side, finishing with 3/56.

The time spent with the Cork-based outfit helped Manley secure an Ireland A call-up for their tour of Namibia earlier this year and has set a platform from which to springboard.

Northern Knights player Josh Manley

“It’s one of those ones that without it, you think where would I be right now if that hadn’t happened?” he said.

“Things might have been very different so that gave me a lot of confidence. I was just desperate to get some game time and showcase what I’m capable of.

“I was fortunate to get a chance to do that and now it’s lovely being able to go back and people know what I can do and I can use that experience.

“It has been interesting (being back with the Knights). There has been quite a lot of change since I was there in 2020.

“Mark is now captain and he has been really good with bringing a new dynamic to the side and there’s a real buzz.

“It has been great being part of the group and playing with those guys every week with the Knights is fantastic.”

Although Manley will ultimately be judged by the number of wickets he takes, he also plays an important part in the changing room and is often credited for his positive attitude around camp.

Head Coach Simon Johnston refers to him as ‘Mr Sunshine’ and Manley is all too happy to help in any way he can.

“I’m generally a positive guy so if guys can be lifted up that couple of percent it can help massively with performances and keeping team morale high,” he added.

“It’s a big part that I try to bring to a team. It adds a light feeling around the camp. People are more relaxed and when you go out onto the field you’re just playing with your mates.

“As soon as you take the massive occasion out of the game and realise it’s just a game of cricket and that my mates have my back, it’s easier to do what you need to because there’s less pressure.”

The results Manley has been involved with at inter-provincial level are in stark contrast to fortunes at club level, with Lisburn sitting top of the Robinson Services Premier League and progressing in the two major cup competitions.

They are undoubtedly the surprise package of the season, but what is the secret to their success?

“It has been fantastic,” said Manley. “We brought a couple of new guys in with Dave Miller and Neil Whitworth which has added a lot of stability, a change in captaincy and Faiz (Fazal) is doing Faiz things.

“Jonny Waite has been amazing this season and is batting brilliantly, and then you have guys like Mark Berry who has taken 20 wickets in eight or nine games.

“The team is doing really well and it comes down to all the prep the boys have been putting in during the winter. It has been awesome having Uel (Graham) there to add the structure too.”

Callum Atkinson’s side host Woodvale today as they look to extend their lead, and Manley – who will be keeping an eye on scores from the North West – is happy to fly under the radar as they look to pull off something remarkable.

“It’s always easier to come with the underdog mentality and we have nothing to lose,” he added.

“Nobody was expecting us to do well so that’s totally fine – there’s no pressure on us and we can just go play our cricket and that’s when the results come.”

Manley’s attention will be on helping the Knights against Leinster Lightning today before Sunday’s meeting with the Reds and he has full confidence they can turn their form around.

“The confidence is in the side,” he added.

“We chatted after the last Festival weekend and obviously it wasn’t great coming out of it with three losses but there were positives to take from it.

“We have three Festival’s in the season so we have two more to go and our season isn’t over in this competition. We’re still in the mix and it’s a good challenge to come out guns blazing this weekend and I know everyone is raring to go.”

Robinson Services Premier League fixtures (Saturday): Carrickfergus vs CSNI, CIYMS vs Cliftonville Academy, Cregagh vs North Down, Lisburn vs Woodvale, Waringstown vs Instonians