Lisburn crowned Premier League champions

The ultimate NCU underdog story was completed on Saturday as Lisburn were crowned Robinson Services Premier League champions for the first time since 1996.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Callum Atkinson’s men knew that if CIYMS were to lose against CSNI in a repeat of last week’s Gallagher Challenge Cup final and they got over the line away to North Down it would open up an unassailable lead with two games to spare.

The first scenario played out rapidly as CSNI recorded a convincing seven-wicket victory, leaving Lisburn on the brink of history and they took the opportunity with both hands by bowling their Comber-based opponents out for 130 to record a 123-run triumph.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s a deserved reward for Lisburn who have defied the odds and pre-season expectations to lead the title race from virtually start to finish, losing just one game from 12 along the way in what is a campaign that will live long in the memory of the Wallace Park faithful.

Lisburn celebrate winning the Robinson Services Premier League after beating North Down in Comber on Saturday. Pic PacemakerLisburn celebrate winning the Robinson Services Premier League after beating North Down in Comber on Saturday. Pic Pacemaker
Lisburn celebrate winning the Robinson Services Premier League after beating North Down in Comber on Saturday. Pic Pacemaker

They finished bottom of the table last season and it was only four years ago that they were playing their cricket in Section One after suffering relegation to the second tier.

From there they have built, recruiting a coach in the shape of former player Uel Graham, bringing in the likes of David Miller and Neil Whitworth to complement their local talent while Atkinson took over captaincy ahead of the current campaign.

Overseas professional Faiz Fazal has been sensational in leading the way on the batting front, scoring 517 league runs at an astonishing average of over 64.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

With the ball, no player has taken more wickets than Mark Berry (24) and they also have three players in both the best economy rate and best dot ball percentage categories which has helped set up a lot of their success.

“This is a contribution from everybody – coaches, players, supporters,” said Atkinson. “It all started in January by bringing in Uel Graham who has done an excellent job in providing us with structure.

“It was a fresh start for us bringing in Dave Miller and Neil Whitworth who are not just two quality cricketers but competitors as well which has really helped.

“Everybody has worked really hard and I go back to this previous week where we trained four times and Dean (Simpson) had two grass wickets prepared for us, so I don’t know if many clubs have that or are training that hard in August.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Everybody has been excellent and the motivation has been really high.”

Many have compared Lisburn’s feat to Leicester’s shock Premier League triumph in 2015/16 and there are undoubtedly some similarities in the way they shook up the league and showed that there is a way to compete with – and beat – the perceived bigger teams.

The Foxes haven’t been able to find that magic again since but Atkinson is determined that his side will enjoy a different journey as they aim to come back even stronger as defending champions in 2023.

“For teams in the Premier League, it shows it can be done and for teams in Section One it wasn’t long ago that we were relegated and got promoted with 11 local cricketers and built from there,” he added. “Hopefully it does give guys in other clubs a lot of motivation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“A lot of people are saying this is similar to Leicester City, but what we are saying is Leicester didn’t do it in year two and we are really motivated to keep building on this.

“We want more success and we won’t be resting now. We have an Irish Cup final coming up which will be a great day for the club but even next year we will be looking to go out and defend this.”

While the reality of winning the title hasn’t quite sunk in for Atkinson, a player who has progressed through the ranks at Lisburn to becoming a club captain that ended their 26-year wait for another league crown, he was thinking about legends past and present as their champions status was confirmed.

The pavilion at Wallace Park is named after Cecil Walker who would have turned 90 on Saturday – the same day Lisburn sealed the title – while perhaps no player deserves this moment more than all-rounder David Simpson after 22 years of brilliance.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It has been an emotional week even leading up to this,” said Atkinson. “It would have been Cecil’s 90th birthday on Saturday so to do it then was really special.

“I was speaking to his daughter Gloria on Saturday night and she was over the moon.

“Gloria told me she put a cricket ball on his grave yesterday morning so that was a really nice touch and it was great to do it for him.

“We have another legend in our club that is currently playing in David Simpson. He has played for 22 years in our club and it was great to win a big senior trophy for him as there is nobody more deserving than him.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.