Only a matter of days after winning their first Inter-Provincial competition since 2013, the Northern Knights will be looking to put themselves in a strong position to lift another when they take on Leinster Lightning at Stormont today (10:45am).
They didn’t have to take the field last weekend as they picked up the Twenty20 Inter-Provincial Trophy in Bready and a victory against 50-over Cup leaders Leinster would put the Knights top of the table.
Captained by Gary Wilson and with a star-studded squad packed full of internationals, it felt like only a matter of time before they would end their wait for silverware - and head coach Simon Johnston was delighted for his side.
“It was a bit deflating actually winning it like that - we would have loved to win it on the pitch,” he said. “I’m delighted for them. The majority of them have been with us for two years and have been slowly building up to it, so we are happy to get over the line in one.
“I’ve been harking on for two years that I don’t think the boys in the room knew how much ability they had.
“It’s OK me saying it, but I think someone fresh with the respect Gary has coming in and backing it up, I think the guys started to believe at the start of the year.
“The big thing for me is getting guys in the Irish panel and being rewarded that way because they come back with almost an extra zest that they’re good enough and they could be excelling at this level.
“It’s a nice combination of things and getting over the line for the Knights is a big thing.”
The Knights will enter this fixture against all-conquering Leinster with the upper hand for perhaps the first time after beating them twice in June before performing well in the rain-affected three-day game earlier this month.
James McCollum and Graeme McCarter are set to miss the match but Johnston says he’s glad to see his squad pushing their Dublin-based counterparts.
“It’s really good to beat them because they’ve beaten us enough!” he added. “They haven’t all of a sudden became really bad and are still a great side. It’s now two good teams going up against each other and the pleasing thing from my point of view is that if we play well, we can beat them.
“In the past, realistically they had to be off their game a bit for us to win. On the flip side, if we are off and they are on, they will beat us.
“It’s a good competition and it’s good to see we are pushing them because they’ve been the standard-bearers.”
The likes of Harry Tector and David Delany enter the game in superb form, with the former hitting his maiden first-class century against Lightning last month in Pembroke before following it up with another hundred a few days later for club side YMCA.
Delany, the 21-year-old, has been exciting many around Ireland with his express pace and Johnston described his recent spell at Stormont as “frightening”.
“We are very lucky to have them both,” he said. “The reason we took them was because they are two very special cricketers.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Harry and I think everyone knows that’s a future Ireland captain if he keeps his head level and keeps working, which I know he will.
“David is someone I coached at Irish U15s level when he was a star with the bat in the middle order and bowled third change. The spells he bowled a couple of weeks ago - I was frightened.
“I was struggling to think if I had seen anything quicker live, even at international level.
“‘Wilo’ (Gary Wilson) has kept to Lockie Ferguson and Wahab Riaz at Derbyshire and he said that was as quick. That’s the sort of pace you’re dealing with.
“He has came up this year to kickstart it again. He has bought into everything we are trying to do and the guys love him. He’s really enjoying himself and hopefully we can keep getting the best out of him because he’s special.”
So 2019 could be a truly historic campaign for the Knights if they’re able to convert their positive positions into trophies, but Johnston isn’t getting carried away at the prospect of quadrupling their Inter-Provincial haul in the space of one season.
“That’s pie in the sky stuff for us at the minute!” he added. “We are just hoping we can get the white ball stuff nailed and if we can execute our skills, we have a good chance.
“We are really balanced in T20 and are a really good side, 50-over we are getting there and in the three-day stuff I think we are still a bit away.
“If you had said to me at the start of the season that the Knights would win a trophy and we have three or four guys in the Irish panel, I would have bit your hand off.
“Anything else is a massive bonus and the guys are now very keen to keep the momentum going.”
The Knights squad: G Wilson (C), H Tector, M Adair, J Cameron-Dow, D Delany, M Ellison, M Foster, S Getkate, J Mulder, N Rock, G Thompson.