As fate would have it, North Down just had to be drawn against Irish Cup holders The Hills in Saturday’s first round.
Nothing summed up the Comber club’s 2014 season more than the thrilling semi-final between the clubs at The Green.
As new captain Marty Moreland rightly recalls, North Down had one foot in the final, They were 126 without loss, seemingly cruising to a modest 221 to win before it all went spectacularly wrong. A last-ball defeat hurt more than Moreland cares to remember.
“We should have beaten them,” Moreland said.
“We threw it away. We had a really good start with the bat but we struggled when they brought spin on, that was our problem all season.
“The wickets at The Green were very different over the last couple of years, there was very little grass, and we weren’t used to playing on a turning pitch. Our batsmen were going dot,dot, dot, and then got out playing a big shot.”
North Down’s batting line-up at Milverton will be significantly different.
Ryan Haire, the talisman, has gone along with Jonathan Terrett and Nick Larkin, but Pieter Malan, the South African with 15 first-class centuries, comes in.
He has had few opportunities to showcase his talent because of the inclement weather but first impressions are good.
“He looks very correct in the way he goes about his batting,” Moreland said.
“He won’t play across the line but his stats show that he can hit the ball. He will maybe take a bit of time before he goes for his shots. From what I gather he plays a bit like Rassie van der Dussen (of CIYMS).”
With Malan alongside Taimur Khan, Alistair Shields, Peter Eakin and Andrew Sutherland, North Down shouldn’t be short of runs.
But Moreland acknowledges that teams may look to target his more inexperienced bowling line-up. Malan and leg-spinner Jacob Mulder will add depth to the attack that Ballymena scored 259 for five against on the opening day.
This is Moreland’s first experience of senior captaincy in his mid-thirties but he is enjoying the experience. The new tag of underdogs is one that this team could relish.
“Over the winter players were going and there was still talk about whether Ryan (Haire) was going or not,” said Moreland.
“But once the indoor nets got going it was enjoyable. It was a good match to start off with against Ballymena and we are looking forward to testing ourselves against some of the better teams, starting with The Hills.
“The boys are enjoying it, there are a lot more smiles about this season. There is a lot less pressure on us now, this year the likes of Waringstown and Instonians are expected to beat us.
“When we play them the pressure will be on them rather than us. We can go out and enjoy ourselves and we could surprise a few people. We certainly won’t be lying down against them.”