Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
It’s been quite a first year for Cliftonville Academy who meet Templepatrick in the GMcG Junior Cup final at Moylena on Saturday.
The merger of the two clubs has been an unqualified success so far as the 1st XI have also won their first nine games in Section Two, while the 2nd XI are in the Intermediate Cup final and the 4th XI have a rearranged Minor Qualifying Cup semi-final on Sunday.
There was no danger of either club folding but for years Cliftonville and Academy played almost next door to each other at Mallusk (after losing their home ground in Greenisland) and Roughfort and for the greater good of both it was an obvious amalgamation, as Johnny Terrett, the new club’s most experienced player, explains.
“After chatting, there were certain things Academy did well and Cliftonville did well and they happened to be things the other did badly or didn’t have,” said Terrett.
“For example, Cliftonville didn’t have (enough) adult bodies, Academy II were in Junior 2 which is much higher than Cliftonville II were playing and they (Academy) had a lot of 20 and 30 somethings which we (Cliftonville) tended to lose after losing the ground
“We had been working hard to to get our youth section working so we had the youngsters, around 50 kids, at U15, U13 and even U11s, and it is growing every year, plus the experienced heads with Premier League experience.”
With Academy having moved their home matches in recent years to the school’s Castle Grounds - recognised as probably the most scenic ground in the NCU – “and a good pitch a bit of bounce”, it has proved a win-win situation for everyone.
And the cup final team on Saturday will have six former Cliftonville players and five ex-Academy, so at 1st XI level all has worked all fairly.
Because of the restrucuring of the NCU Senior Leagues, both Cliftonville and Templepatrick found themselves in a 15-team Section Two and, to be brutally honest, are head and shoulders ahead of the rest, as nine wins out of nine would confirm.
“We have been pushed a few times,” says Terrett, “but both teams have struggled to get bowlers overs and everyone batting time but, hopefully it’s just for one season and we’ll both get promotion to Section One next year."
The league game between the teams was due to be played last Saturday but, like everything else in the NCU was a victim of the torrential rain. So the cup final will be the first clash to decide which is the better team.
Academy have the experience of Junior Cup finals, with five victories out of five in finals between 2005 and 2014 – Cliftonville’s only win was in 1961 – and with Cliftonville having lost the decider in 2016, Terrett is hoping to tap into Academy’s success.
“The Junior Cup is a massive thing for Academy and something Cliftonville haven’t experienced so hopefully it will all come together on Saturday,” says Terrett, who was good enough to play seven times at inter-provincial level for Northern Knights and in seven years at North Down won three Premier League titles and played in three Challenge Cup finals, winning in 2010.
But his heart was always with Cliftonville and nothing will give him greater satisfaction than picking up a Junior Cup winners’ medal.
“I’m back to where I learned my cricket, where I grew up,” he says. “ I actually won the North Down Batting Cup (he averaged 40) in my last year there but I was always going back to help Cliftonville and hopefully after this amalgamation we can start moving forward and be a force again in NCU cricket.”
Templepatrick were beaten in last year’s Junior Cup semi-final but it is 10 years since they last played in the final – losing to Academy!
There could be four survivors from that game with John Busby, Ricky Greer and Arty Campbell also in the squad but David Menaul will be the only Cliftonville Academy player involved again.
“Saintfield are the only team to score over 100 against us this and we still won by 9 wickets,” said Templepatrick captain Ross Bryans. So this will be our first real test of the season but really looking forward to it.”