THEY may be top of the table only on alphabetical order but Armagh after one match on their return to the big time can look down on the rest of the teams in the Premier League.
It’s been a long wait – 60 years out of the limelight – but Armagh made the perfect start on a day of upsets to start the new campaign. But a first-day victory gave skipper Matthew Steenson extra satisfaction.
“Some people have written us off saying we wouldn’t win a game – I didn’t like that – because this team has the talent to win games,” said Steenson. “We might get a hammering when we come up against Waringstown or CIYMS, for example, but if we do we’ll take it on the chin and move on to the next game.”
If Armagh could have hand-picked their first two fixtures they couldn’t have come out any better, away to Muckamore – one of the winnable games – and Waringstown at home, the glamour game to bring top class cricket back to The Mall.
Unfortunately this week’s rain puts tomorrow’s clash against the defending champions in severe doubt – a decision could be taken today – but it allowed Steenson to reflect on his side’s heroics last Saturday.
“It was fantastic to get off to a winning start. We’ve been working hard over the winter, been in the nets since January, with Bruce Topping as coach – ‘it saves the boys listening to me!’ – and we can already see the benefits. There were a few nerves but we were focused on the first game.
Star of the show was South Africa professional Shadley van Schalkwyk who scored 56 – three times more than any of his team-mates – and took two wickets.
“I’ll take credit for getting Shadley,” adds his captain. “He only flew in on the Wednesday and is a genuine great fellow and plays the brand of cricket which myself and the others want.”
‘The others’ impressed with the ball against Muckamore, with the experienced Neil Gelston taking three wickets and Ben Mackey and Sam Wilson two apiece.
“It’s a fair call to say we have a stronger in bowling than batting,” says Steenson. “Ben Mackey is in his first year at uni, and took 30 wickets last year. He opened up with Shadley and has great potential. I’m surprised none of the bigger clubs have been interested in him.”
If tomorrow’s game is postponed, Armagh will have to wait until June 16 for the next home league game, with only an Irish Cup game against Balbriggan scheduled for the picturesque Mall, a ground which should be on everyone’s ‘must-visits’ this year.
This week’s poor weather has already forced a change of venue for the clash between two of the other teams who recording opening day wins, with Instonians switching their game against North Down to The Green.
Instonians’ perennial injury injury woes have started early with Stephen Bunting joining Robert McKinley on the sidelines for a game when the winners are assured of staying ahead of Waringstown, following their shock opening day defeat by Carrickfergus.
Carrick are due to host last year’s runners-up CIYMS tomorrow while Muckamore are at home again, this time to Civil Service North who also lost their opening game.