Carrickfergus have made the first major signing of the winter in the NCU Premier League.

Matthew McCord, the Cliftonville captain, is moving to Middle Road after attracting interest from a number of top flight clubs.

In an interview with The News Letter, McCord said he was delighted to be moving to Carrick, Premier League runners-up as recently as 2016.

“Carrick is a fantastic club. They are now well established in the top flight and have a good blend of youth and a couple of experienced guys,” he said. “They have finished top half of the Premier League in the past two years and have made the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and T20. So they are capable of challenging the top teams. Middle Road is somewhere I have always enjoyed playing, a fantastic place to play cricket.

“The determination of the group to win games of cricket, and win trophies, was particular appealing.”

McCord said he was “under no illusions” that the Premier League will be a “huge step up” from playing in Section One.

“There is a lot of quality in Section 1, but so much more depth in teams in the Premier League. When you have the likes of Ryan Eagleson and Kyle McCallan batting 9/10 for Waringstown and Carrick respectively, that’s pretty jaw dropping,” he continued.

“But I think it’s a step I’m ready to make. I’m relishing the challenge of playing against the best every week. Every team is packed with quality, full internationals, ex-internationals, Ireland Wolves and Northern Knights players. Who wouldn’t be excited to play at that level every week?”

McCord admitted it was an “extremely difficult” decision to leave Clifonville, although that decision was probably made easier by their relegation to Section Two.

“I would love be able to play Premier League cricket for Cliftonville. I owe a great debt of gratitude to a lot of guys at Cliftonville. Working with the likes of Neil Cahill and Jonny Terrett has really taken my batting up a level. And Brian Anderson is still a genius with the ball. He has been massive in my development with the ball.

“Cliftonville are a fantastic club, and it’s a great environment to learn as a cricketer. Most of the guys still playing 1st XI were in and around the side who won the three Premier League titles in a row in the 90’s. Despite being on the other side of their careers, they’ve a lot to offer the game still, and to the young players such as myself playing with them. It was a privilege to captain the club for two years, and I wish Cliftonville and Academy well with the merger.”

McCord said it had been “very flattering” to attract so much attention from around the top flight, but he had been left with a “very difficult” decision.

His next target is to win trophies with Carrick.

He added: “Carrick have a burning desire for success. They are now well established in the Premier League. They’ve been very close in the past few years to winning a trophy within the NCU, so I have no doubt the team is capable of achieving that. The team is packed with quality players between 17 and 26, who will continue to improve year on year. It’s a very exciting time to join the club.”