Ian Callender (Irish Independent)
IT’S all change in Leinster club cricket this season with the League Cup, which starts today, deciding the line-up for the Premier League and Championship which do not get under way until the middle of June.
The 14 senior teams – Cork County will play in the Championship and take Dublin University’s place no matter where the students finish in the League Cup – have been divided into two groups, with the top four in each group playing in the Premier League and the bottom three go into the Championship.
The top two in each group will play in semi-finals on June 1, with the final, to be streamed live and played at The Hills, to mark their 50th year as a club.
The seeded draw has put defending Premier League champions Merrion in Group B with runners-up Clontarf plus Pembroke and Leinster and three Division 2 sides from last year, Rush, Balbriggan and Terenure.
The busiest club over the winter has been Phoenix who finished bottom of the Premiership last season but, due to the new league structure, have a second chance to preserve their top flight status.
They open their Group A campaign today against Dublin University in College Park with Ireland internationals Simi Singh and James Shannon their star signings plus Nik Pretorius from the The Hills and Poonish Mehta, last year’s Merrion professional, although they have lost the three Anders brothers to YMCA and Reinhardt Strydom who heads in the opposite direction to Shannon and will play for newly promoted Lisburn in the NCU this season.
Merrion, who should have a straightforward opener at home to Terenure, look as strong as ever with the signings of Max Sorensen and New Zealander Ollie Newton, who replaces Mehta, while Eoghan Delany returns to Clontarf and immediately regains the captain’s armband.
Former professional Mick Granger is now settled in Ireland so the Castle Avenue club, who start at home to Balbriggan, have also signed 21-year-old Australian Mac Wright.
Pembroke, at home to Leinster today, are boosted by the return of international Barry McCarthy and have South African Shaheen Khan as their new professional, someone well used to Irish conditions after two years with Irish Cup holders Waringstown.
Railway are the idle club in Group A today but all eyes from next week will be on new professional Sami Aslam who has played 13 Tests and four ODIs for Pakistan.