Knights hopeful of strong campaign
2018 could well be the year that Leinster Lightningís stranglehold on the interprovincial scene is finally broken.
The Northern Knights have been working hard behind the scenes to redress the playing and resources imbalance and with their winter training well underway look set to hit the ground running when action resumes in May.
While the Union is to be lauded on their policy of relying on Irish based players, they have shown there is no restriction on players who learned their cricket elsewhere but are now embedded in the local cricket scene.
Jacob Mulder, Nathan and Nikolai Smith have all made telling contributions to the Knights cause, and they will be joined for the forthcoming campaign by Marc Ellison, a former New Zealand Under 19 World Cup captain.
Ellison, a former overseas player with CSNI and Malahide, returned with his young family to Northern Ireland towards the end of last season, and has been involved with the winter training squad.
The addition of Ellison will add experience and strength to the squad, especially in the longer form of the game with his multi-day cricket experience.
Ex Warwickshire all-rounder Mark Adair is also training with the Knights and if he can regain full fitness, then he will be in the shop window again for Ireland and a possible return to the county scene.
While his recent injuries may restrict his bowling, his clean striking could be a useful weapon in the shorter formats.
Also making a return to white-ball cricket are the North Down duo of Peter Eakin and Ally Shields. The former Irish youth internationals are both very talented performers who will add quality and depth to coach Simon Johnstonís ranks.
The biggest asset though for Johnston may well come from a player already firmly established in the side. Waringstown left-arm spinner Gary Kidd has declared himself available for Irish senior selection again, some eight years from his last appearance against the West Indies in 2010.
Kidd has been bowling brilliantly for a number of years and at just 31 has clearly a lot to offer the Irish set up. The spin bowling stocks for Ireland arenít exactly overflowing, and strong displays in the interpro series will exert great pressure on the Irish spinning core.
Two Knights have been wintering Down Under with great success. Robert McKinley has recently made a superb 160 and the Instonians man has also taken a five-wicket haul in a series of impressive displays.
The big success story of the winter has been James McCollum. The Waringstown opener became the first player to score a century in the first-class championship last season and has carried that form to Adelaide, where he has been the outstanding performer at the Darren Lehman Academy.
Playing for his club side, Adelaide University, heís averaging 41 in first grade, while his average of 88 in T20 cricket has been a major factor in them reaching the state T20 finals to be played at the Adelaide Oval.
With Knights skipper James Shannon having the security of a full-time Ireland contract, he could well form a formidable partnership with McCollum that drives their team to success.