Johnny Morton (jmsport.co.uk)
2018 was another fantastic cricket season in the NCU, and it’s now time to hand out some awards.
Waringstown won another four trophies, while CIYMS picked up their first Premier League title since 2012.
Lisburn also had a fantastic season, sealing their return to the top flight at the first time of asking, and Templepatrick won 14 matches in a row to win Section Two.
Here, Johnny Morton picks winners from a variety of categories.
NCU Player of the Year
I have to go with Adam Dennison. The 21-year-old scored 1335 runs at an average of over 50 and a strike-rate of almost 100 in what has been a summer for batsmen to cash in on good wickets.
He hit four centuries (only Andre Malan had as many in the top flight), and the partnership he formed with James Hall was extraordinary.
Notable mentions: Allen Coulter, James Hall, Ruhan Pretorious, Andre Malan, Marc Ellison
Innings of the Year
Going on the batting that I personally witnessed this season, it has to go to Dennison. His 145* to see Waringstown home in the Challenge Cup final was something else, with the score coming from 130 balls and including 12 fours and seven sixes.
Marc Ellison’s 139* on the same day deserves a mention, as does Andre Malan’s 140* against North Down and Michael Gilmour’s 135* on The Mall against Armagh.
Other notable mentions: Shadley van Schalkwyk (142 vs Muckamore), Chris Dougherty (122 vs North County)
Bowling spell of the Year
My bowling spell of the year turned out to be in the second match I covered all season, and it goes to Lisburn’s Mark Berry.
With Derriaghy cruising towards victory in the Challenge Cup first round, Berry returned to pick up three quick wickets to help bring Derriaghy from 125-1 to 144-8 in a chase of 172. It was the tightest match I think I actually watched all year, and Berry’s 4-33 almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Notable mentions: Allen Coulter (vs CSNI, first spell vs Waringstown) Andre Malan (vs North Down).
Overseas professional of the Year
This answer was easy up until about a month ago, but I am still going to opt for CSNI’s Andre Malan. Ruhan Pretorious has shot up the run charts in recent weeks with consecutive centuries, including 188 against Armagh, but Malan’s consistency and quality can’t be overlooked.
In his debut season in the NCU, Malan scored 940 runs (4 centuries and 4 fifties) at an average of 47, and was leading the wicket-taking chart with 43 before he left prior to the conclusion of the season, which is magnificent considering it has been a glorious summer with most wickets hard as the road.
Notable mention: Shaheen Khan
Captain of the Year
Waringstown’s Greg Thompson made some brave calls this year, and one that sticks out most is bowling first in the Challenge Cup final. Most of the ground would have batted first, but choosing to bowl and winning the trophy shows he is a superb captain and has great judgement in pressurising situations.
He led his side to yet another Irish Senior Cup crown, plus two Twenty20 trophies in what was a superb campaign for the Villagers.
Notable mentions: Nigel Jones, James Kennedy, Michael Gilmour, Adam Berry, Ross Bryans
Club of the Year
Waringstown obviously had another fantastic year, but my club of the year is Templepatrick. Their 1sts didn’t lose a single game all season (three trophies) which is quite remarkable, while their 2nds won Junior League 4 and 3rds were promoted from Junior League 7.
The youth also thrived, with the U-13’s and Under-15’s both winning their leagues. The future is bright at The Cloughan.
Other notable mentions: CIYMS, Lisburn
Young Player of the Year
If Dennison is Player of the Year, the 21-year-old has to be Young Player of the Year as well. His performances and statistics put him so far ahead of any player in and around his age, and he would fit seamlessly into the likes of the Ireland Wolves right now and is definitely good enough to be a full international.
Second place for me would be Aditya Adey, while Morgan Topping makes up the top three.
Signing of the Season
Carrickfergus conducted a shrewd piece of business when they brought in Matthew McCord from Cliftonville. He made his First Class debut for the Northern Knights earlier in the summer, and was included again in the most recent squad for the game against the Leinster Lightning, showing he is obviously highly-regarded.
The opening bowler took 27 wickets at a strike-rate of just under 30 and an economy of 4.63, with best figures of 5-36 in what was a solid season for Carrick.
Notable mention: Morgan Topping
Player to watch for 2019
I am going for someone from CSNI, and that player is Matthew Foster. The teenager has been a regular this season and stepped up to open the bowling in Graeme McCarter’s absence after the Challenge Cup, and his spell against Carrick at Stormont was exceptional without much reward.
Taking 20 wickets at this standard at his age is brilliant, and with another season under his belt at the top level, I expect big things from him next season.
Carrickfergus’ 17-year-old Max Burton played one of the best innings this season with his 104 from 44 balls against Armagh, so he is another one to look out for.
Bold prediction for 2019
CSNI have impressed me this season, and if they keep their squad together I think they will win either the Challenge Cup or Premier League next year. You heard it here first.
They have a good record in the Challenge Cup, winning it twice in the last five years and got to the final in 2018, and they are a powerhouse in white ball cricket.
Their league form improved towards the end of the season, and if they can get Andre Malan back and Marc Ellison stays at Stormont (teams would be silly not to enquire about his services after a fantastic season), combined with their young players having another season at the top flight, they are capable of something special.
Add to that the odd appearance from Derbyshire and Ireland T20 captain Gary Wilson and the leadership of James Kennedy, plus any winter signings they bring in, CSNI could have the perfect formula to lift some silverware.
I also believe that James McCollum will play a part in the Lord’s Test against England for Ireland come 2019.