Johnny Morton (www.jmsport.co.uk)
At the core of everything that CIYMS have achieved over the past few years has been wicketkeeper-batsman Chris Dougherty.
The glue that holds the batting order together, Dougherty produced something a bit extra special in 2019, hitting 919 runs at the top of the order as the Belmont club went on to record their best season by collecting four trophies.
That tally put him top of the run charts outside of overseas professionals and resulted in him being crowned Premier League Player of the Year at the NCU Annual Dinner last year.
“It was a great season for me – it’s always great to be scoring runs,” he said. “To have four trophies at the end of it was fantastic. We had a great season and we went into every game believing that we could win.
“With the strength in depth we had, I can’t remember playing in a better club team. I just enjoyed playing with so many good players and having that confidence to believe you’re going to win every game.
“Club wise, there aren’t many teams you play in and you look around that there is so much depth in both batting and bowling departments and we were great in the field as well. We had every area covered.”
His runs return in 2019 was over one hundred better than his previous best since arriving at CIYMS from the North West in 2012 and ironically came at a time when he couldn’t commit himself as much to training as in previous campaigns. The arrival of his first child in July meant much of Dougherty’s focus lay away from the pitch but it was that which helped to bring out the best of him on it.
“We had our first child in July so I didn’t have the same sort of time to commit to training,” he added.
“Before, I was involved with the Knights and Irish stuff and was training a lot but last year cricket wasn’t the number one priority.
“Lewis being born took my mind off cricket a bit but that might have helped me as well. Cricket wasn’t the be all and end all and I had something else to think about.
“I probably felt a bit more relaxed going into my cricket to be honest and it was something to enjoy a bit more.”
CIYMS had been building towards a special season like the one they produced in 2019 as they retained their Premier League title and added another Challenge Cup, a Twenty20 Cup and first ever All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup crown to their ever-growing trophy cabinet.
A harder challenge than winning all those accolades in one season is the task of having to sustain that level of performance as every team tries to improve and knock them off their perch. It is their strength in depth that makes them favourites for most competitions they enter with international experience and quality littered throughout their squad, but Dougherty also credits a simple-thinking process for their success.
“We won four competitions but it was always one game at a time and that’s the way we looked at it,” he said. “Whether it was a league or cup game, we took it game by game and at the end of it we had the success.
“We knew if we broke it down and were able to take it one match at a time that we wouldn’t be far away at the end of the season.
“We made a few good signings and strengthened up in the areas we felt we needed to. Once we had done that, we knew we had everything covered.
“We had won one or two trophies leading up to last season but with the likes of Sparky (Mark Adair) joining us and having a top professional like Obus (Pienaar), we had everything there we needed to win trophies.
“We just had to work together as a team and we knew we would get the rewards at the end of it.
“It wasn’t as if three or four players won us the competitions – it was one to eleven at some point during the season winning us a game.
“That’s great from a team perspective that we weren’t relying on the professional or a few players. It was great to see everybody contributing.”
The Irish Senior Cup now remains the only trophy missing from this current group’s CV and they came close to making their first final last season, losing out in the final over of what will be remembered as an all-time classic semi-final to rivals Waringstown.
That desire to pick up the biggest prize in Irish club cricket is no secret and although they may have to wait another 12 months to even get a crack at it with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Dougherty admits that remains a massive goal.
“With this year possibly being a write off or going to a Twenty20 competition, we will get back next season and go again,” he added.
“The players will be a year or two older and it’s how they come out of it. Hopefully their fitness is still there and some guys might be feeling a bit rusty!
“We will have the experience and same group of players that we have had, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t be up there competing again.
“The Irish Cup is something we have set our sights on. The players have won most competitions, but the Irish Cup is the big one that everyone wants to win, including myself. I would love to add that one.”
A key component to any continued success could be the opening partnership of Dougherty and John Matchett. It absolutely thrived in 2019 with numerous big stands (including two one hundred partnerships in the same day at the All-Ireland Twenty20 Finals Day) and seemed to reach another level entirely.
The pair have been walking out to bat with each other for quite some time now and a deep understanding of each other’s roles has allowed the duo to flourish.
“Matchy and I have been playing with each other for quite a long time now,” said Dougherty.
“He was at the club when I first moved in 2012 so we have a good relationship and know our games really well. He is more of the aggressor and I try to bat throughout the innings.
“Nine times out of 10, if I’m there at the end we are going to win the game with the players that we have. Matchy is great to bat with and takes the pressure off me.
“He plays his natural way and I do my thing. It’s a great partnership.”
Matchett’s own game improved dramatically in 2019 and a red-hot end to the season meant he surged to 838 runs – the eighth highest total of any NCU batsman and over 300 more than what he posted in the previous campaign.
He appears to be the natural successor as captain when Nigel Jones decides to walk away and his form, especially in the shortest format, will have put him in a good position to further push for more Inter-Provincial honours.
“Matchy has all the talent there and it’s up to him really,” added Dougherty. “If he puts in the time and effort, I think he could go all the way with the Knights and push his cricket on a bit more.
“He definitely has the talent and it would be great to see him play at a higher level more consistently.”
Dougherty will be entering his ninth season with CIYMS when cricket eventually gets back underway. The 32-year-old has no plans of going anywhere soon and is determined to keep enjoying the good times while they last.
“It was a good move for me at the time and CIYMS have been very good to me and I’ve enjoyed every season,” he said.
“We have had a few difficult seasons in the middle but the team we have now is great. We have that confidence so I can see myself playing there for the foreseeable future.
“I just keep telling myself that you’ve to make the most of it when you’re winning because it doesn’t last forever. You have to appreciate the success you have. “It really does make you appreciate winning because you know it can’t last forever.”