Simon Johnston feels Northern Knights squad is equipped to hitnew heights

Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston is confident his squad have what it takes to reach new heights when the revamped Inter-Provincial season gets underway in May.

Cricket Ireland released the core squads for each of the four teams ahead of the campaign, which will consist of Twenty20 and 50-over competitions, last week with three new faces in the Knights set-up.

Jeremy Lawlor, Ben White and Luke Georgeson – who all moved to NCU clubs during the winter months – have been included in the 12-man squad while Johnston has lost Shane Getkate to the North West Warriors with the governing body opting for a ‘best vs best’ approach.

Neil Rock and Murray Commins will be playing for Munster Reds while Jacob Mulder won’t be returning from Australia, but Johnston still has at least eight senior internationals to call upon.

Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston.

“It’s something that Whitey (Andrew White), Fordy (Graham Ford) and the other guys talked about doing and when it was discussed with us it was the right thing to do to have the best players in the country playing against each other,” he said.

“Ben and Jeremy have been up training a couple of times and they’ve made a club move, so just by default they had fallen into our system. We were surprised but understood why Gets and Pebs (Rock) had to go.

“It hurts to lose two quality players – one who has played for Ireland and one who I believe will play for Ireland – and they are proper players.

“I have no doubt they will score runs and take wickets against us because they are good players, which will hurt more, but bigger picture it is the right thing to do and I’m fully supportive of it,” he added.

“They (new players) have big shoes to fill because we have lost some good cricketers.

“Jeremy is a classical top-order batter and it’s always good to have extra firepower at the top of your order. Ben White is someone I coached for a couple of years with Ireland U15’s.

“We’ve lost Mulder and what he did for us will be a big loss, but Whitey is a special cricketer and if we can create an environment for him to perform in I will be expecting big things.”

The Knights won the 2019 Inter-Provincial Trophy – their first tournament triumph since 2013 – but finished adrift of all-conquering Leinster Lightning last year and Johnston will be looking to rebound.

“I was a wee bit down last year and I probably didn’t coach as well as I could have,” he reflected.

“There were so many hurdles but that was my job to get over them.

“We couldn’t train as a group and were training on a one-to-one basis, and we probably started to have these excuses in our heads.

“The one big thing that you get out of a year like that is the squad are hungry again.

“We maybe thought we were kicking on more than we were and you look at it and think how did we get to where we were?

“We did all the hard yards and the boring things really, really well, so we have to make sure we keep doing that.

“With a few new fresh faces coming in, they will already be hungry and I know the senior guys are really hungry to do well again.”

The 42-year-old will also be heavily involved in the new Belfast-based coaching hub which should give those players involved even more opportunities to train.

“We have been piecing it together over the past few weeks,” he said. “On paper it looks really good and we will get there logistically.

“Hopefully it will be four training sessions a week – three during the day and one on a Tuesday evening where we can get through the senior Knights, Emerging squad and U19 players.

“It gives guys the opportunity to train three times a week and all a sudden from last year where we just had contracted players, we now might be able to coach 40+ cricketers which would be absolutely fantastic.”

Perhaps one of the biggest changes for this summer is the introduction of an Emerging Inter-Provincial competition, which will pit the best youngsters from around the country against each other across two formats.

The Knights aren’t short of young stars with the likes of Instonians all-rounder James Hunter making his senior debut last summer and it gives a platform for the next generation to further state their case.

“We would want more local players coming through and we have been banging the drum for the Emerging programme for a few years,” added Johnston.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for guys to come through.

“Some of them maybe haven’t even established themselves in their club side but we are really hoping with seven or eight Emerging fixtures that they can establish themselves as talented cricketers in that and showcase their skills.

“We are probably going to go a little bit younger in our Emerging squad.

“It might be an U21 and below side with a few guys above that age.

“If I’m 19 or 20 and I’ve got seven or eight really good fixtures in front of me and a really good chance of kicking on into the senior Inter-Provincial team, I would be absolutely buzzing.”

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