Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
Armagh’s cricketers have long been regular spectators at the The Lawn, home of Waringstown. Captain Matthew Steenson reminisces how on vacant Saturdays or Sundays, his players enjoyed afternoons watching last year’s Premier League champions in action.
But if tomorrow’s match between the sides at The Mall survives the weather - and that looks unlikely at the time of going to press - then Armagh will be on the same pitch as the team that won four top-flight trophies in 2017.
Steenson said: “If you got to choose who you would get first up at home, then it would have been Waringstown. Any time we didn’t have a game over the years that’s where we would have gone to watch. They are local guys who we supported but now we are playing against them and it’s exciting for all of us. It’s going to be a good challenge.”
Persistent rain on Thursday might well have put paid to the game, The captains briefly mooted switching the game to The Lawn, but with Waringstown’s seconds and thirds playing each other, that has been ruled out.
It will be disappointing for Armagh not to be able to start their home campaign. A team written off by some before a ball had been bowled in anger started life in the top flight with a stunning win at Muckamore.
Steenson says, without hesitation, that he wasn’t surprised to have recorded a victory at the first time of asking.
“We started preparing in January with indoor nets, we got Bruce Topping involved and he’s been very beneficial in improving techniques of players and introducing new drills,” said Steenson.
“He’s been a massive factor in getting us ready. It was a massive game to have first up, but we didn’t want to make it a do or die game.”
Professional Shadley van Schalkwyk played his part, first making an important half-century as Armagh posted 171 for eight, and then taking two wickets along with new-ball partner Ben Mackey as Muckamore’s run chase barely got off the ground.
Neil Gelston, the all-rounder, contributed three key wickets. Steenson added: “Shadley arrived last Tuesday and he has fitted in really well, he’s a great guy and looks to be a top player. It was a green, April pitch at Muckamore and he looked very solid. We had seen him bowl on TV and he definitely looks to be very good and most importantly he has fitted in really well with the rest of the lads.”
Life will get tougher for Armagh. Muckamore, shorn of many of their key players from 2017 and without a pro, were beatable first up.
“We didn’t want to celebrate as if we had won the league, I expected us to win the game,” Steenson said.
“We know it’s going to be tough, we’re not going to roll over, we will get the odd hammering here and there, we accept that, but we will stick together and see where it takes us. “It was great to get the win, it gives everyone’s confidence a boost, but we have not come across the Waringstowns or the CIs yet, we still have to test ourselves against that standard, with no disrespect to Muckamore.”