After losing key players over the winter, Holywood have put a huge emphasis on their youth structure and some of those youngsters will take to the field against all-conquering Waringstown in the Gallagher Challenge Cup on Saturday.
Holywood came within four points of clinching promotion to the Premier League last season but ultimately lost out to Lisburn in the race for the top-flight and have started the 2019 campaign off with two wins from four Section One matches. Captain Andrew Haire has had to deal with the likes of Irish international Mark Adair departing the club and he says the main aim is to stabilise a strong position at Seapark.
“This year for us is just more about stabilising the position that we are in and making sure that the four or five younger players in our team get more opportunities,” he said. “That didn’t happen so much last year with making that push for promotion. We have four or five guys under the age of 19 who are all in the team and getting more chances to improve their game.
“They are the future of the club and you have to make sure you’re looking after that side of things. That has taken a big shift in terms of our thinking while also trying to win every match. We are looking to make sure we finish in the top half of the league.”
Holywood have one of the biggest youth sections in the country and Haire strongly believes in all the good work being done by the club.
“The potential for the club this year is huge in terms of youth development,” he added. “This is the highest amount of registered youth players that we have had - we have 250 underage players from 4-15. When I joined the club a few years ago, we only had 30.
“It’s been a big shift but with that you need to embrace the responsibility and make sure there are chances to progress. There needs to be a clear pathway for them to progress from the youth teams into the first XI.”
Opening batsman Ross Adair has started the season in brilliant form and undoubtedly has the talent to play Premier League cricket, and if Holywood are to have any chance of pulling off a huge upset, the 25-year-old will have to fire.
“He has been called up to the Emerging Knights which is fantastic news and huge for us as a club,” said Haire.
“With Ross, we need to make sure we give him the platform that he has and he sets the tone for us opening the batting. He has embraced the responsibility of being a senior player and vice-captain this year. It is clear to see watching him bat that he is a Premier League player. We are lucky to have him. There is no doubt that on his day he is as good a player as any in our league.”