Muckamore finding it tough

Pat Fisher, Muckamore
Pat Fisher, Muckamore

When Muckamore secured promotion to the NCU Premier League last summer, finishing with a remarkable 17 victories from 18 Section One matches, it was supposed to mark the beginning of an exciting new era at Moylena.

They were out of the second tier after spending two of the last 14 years in the top flight and the winter was spent diligently preparing for life back with the big boys.

As senior player Richard Keates readily admits, everything didn’t go according to plan. Ian Dev Singh, the Indian first-class batsman, was signed as the club’s new professional but just weeks before the campaign was due to start it was confirmed he didn’t have the necessary documentation to travel to the UK.

Muckamore were able to sign Carl Mickan, an Australian grade player and his compatriot Patrick Fisher, formerly of Civil Service North, at short notice, but neither were ever likely to replicate the runs of a seasoned first-class cricketer.

Keates admits there were approaches to the likes of Andrew White and Gary Kidd, and attempts to persuade Jason van der Merwe to return to Moylena were unsuccessful.

The result has been a chastening season, marked by a series of ignominious batting collapses.

“Our bowling and fielding has been great, we’ve done very well in that part of our game, but everyone knows our batting hasn’t been good enough,” Keates said. “We’ve been close in a couple of games, against CSNI at home and Instonians away but we just haven’t scored enough runs.

“Our big problem is that we don’t have a first-class pro. We had Ian Dev Singh signed but he couldn’t come and we got Carl from grade cricket. He’s a good player but in this league you need a pro who’s going to win you games. You need big money to spend.”

Despite the grim statistics - they have lost all eight league matches and Section One Downpatrick knocked them out of the Challenge Cup - Muckamore are an upwardly mobile club. Money has been spent on securing qualifications for a number of coaches, while the wickets and outfield at Moylena make this a desirable place to play.

The winless run might be stretching towards the last month of the experience but Keates says they have enjoyed the experience.

“It’s been tough but I’ve really enjoyed it, most of the players have,” he said. “No disrespect to Section One, it’s a good league but I don’t want to go back there. The standard here is so much better. In Section One we knew we only had to get a pro out and maybe two other players and we’d won the game. In this league it’s more like eight players.

“I’m not getting any younger and I want to play in the Premier League for as long as I can. I won’t be giving up until it’s impossible for us to stay up.”

Next up on Saturday is another meeting with Civil Service North. Nigel Jones may be missing as he rests a hamstring injury ahead of next week’s Challenge Cup final and that offers Keates some hope.

“Jones is a big presence for them and without him they aren’t the same team, he added. “Saturday is a big game. I still believe we can win a couple between now and September. If we do that it could come down to the game at Ballymena on the last day.”