The Gallagher Challenge Cup got underway over the weekend with five Premier League and two Section One teams securing their spot in the second round.
Waringstown’s clash with Holywood is the only one that fell victim to the weather and it has been rescheduled for Sunday.
North Down also bounced back from a disappointing loss to Instonians in the Challenge Cup to beat Donemana in the Clear Currency Irish Senior Cup on Sunday and set up an all-NCU tie with CSNI.
Here are five talking points from the NCU weekend:
1 - Craig Young is going to be a nightmare for NCU sides:
North Down didn’t cover themselves in any sort of glory with their poor performance against Instonians in the Challenge Cup, but one bright spark was the pace that Craig Young was bowling at and the problems he is going to cause batsmen all around the country.
The Irish international signed for North Down from North West champions Bready during the close season and has wasted no time in proving to be a brilliant acquisition.
They prepare some brilliant wickets at Comber and many say that it’s the best place to bat in the NCU, but not many will be looking forward to the challenge of facing Young on a hard deck with his lightning bouncers and genuine pace.
He caused some real problems for Instonians and Donemana over the course of the weekend and he has one of the most prolific opening partnerships in the country with Ruhan Pretorius.
2 - Jacob Mulder is such an important player for CIYMS:
Mulder helped see CIYMS over the line in the Challenge Cup first round in a tricky situation against Lisburn and it’s becoming more evident just how important he is to the all-star CIYMS squad.
The leg-spinner was named man-of-the-match for his three wickets and cameo innings that secured victory for the Premier League champions after being 100-6 - and this isn’t the first time he has played a vital role in that lower order.
My mind flashes back to his crucial 36 against North Down in the Premier League that helped maintain the league momentum and winning streak while he has also chipped in with big wickets in various matches.
CIYMS have so much firepower at the top of the order with the likes of Chris Dougherty, John Matchett, Nigel Jones and Obus Pienaar. And having the knowledge that the likes of Mulder, Mark Adair and James Cameron-Dow are to come late in the day will only help bring the best out of them.
3 - The gulf between Premier League and Section One is a large one:
Looking back over the last few years of the Challenge Cup first round, there haven’t been many upsets in terms of Section One sides beating top-flight teams and that gulf is only growing by the season.
The Premier League is as strong in 2019 as it has ever been and Carrickfergus, Muckamore and CSNI all strolled past their opponents with relative ease.
Teams at the highest level have huge financial muscle that they are able to (and do) flex and, along with smart recruitment, it has meant the gap is such a wide one that it’s hard to see it ever changing.
Section One is the most competitive senior league in the NCU, with each team so well-matched and even, but making that step up to face Premier League outfits is just such a tough ask.
4 - Lisburn are here to stay:
The team that comes up from Section One tends to be the one you look towards as relegation contenders just because of that gulf discussed above, but Lisburn have shown that they aren’t just here to stay but compete.
Adam Berry’s side performed well in their opening-day clash with CIYMS and did even better on Saturday before going down by four wickets thanks to superb batting from Chris Dougherty.
They were without professional Faiz Fazal for that game as well as their Premier League clash with Waringstown at Wallace Park on Sunday, which went down to the wire before their visitors’ class shone through and secured a 10-run triumph.
Lisburn have already won two matches in the Premier League and have some class acts in their squad in the shape of Fazal, Berry, Reinhardt Strydom and David Simpson among others, so I expect they will once again become a permanent fixture in the top-flight.
5 - Was CJ van der Walt the best winter signing?:
Outside of overseas professionals, Carrickfergus signing all-rounder CJ van der Walt for the 2019 season could be the best piece of business by any side during the close season.
The aforementioned Craig Young would challenge him for that title but van der Walt has been so consistent and produced so much quality at Middle Road that he has to be right up there.
He started the season with 40* and a five-wicket haul against Instonians and also took four wickets and registered a half-century against Woodvale in the Challenge Cup on Saturday.
The 22-year-old South African has been training with the Northern Knights and he could be the missing piece of the puzzle for Carrickfergus to go on a deep run in a cup competition.