IT HAS been the perfect start to life in the big time for Woodvale in what is set to be the perfect season.

With all club cricket restricted to 20-over matches, there is no promotion or relegation this year so the famous Ballygomartin Road club – who were last in the top flight in 2009 – have what skipper Jamie Gibson describes as a free hit over their eight-match season.

“It’s very rare you have the opportunity to have seven games, eight including the T20 Cup, to bed in. But they are still competitive and a great challenge," says Gibson, one of three survivors from the team that had a one-season stay in the Premier League 11 summers ago.

After wins at Lisburn and at home to Carrickfergus last Saturday, that challenge is upped a notch this weekend when Waringstown and champions CIYMS, in their postponed T20 Cup quarter-final, are the visitors.

“It’s great to get the big teams up to Ballygomartin Road again and show off our facilities. They’ll notice a big difference. The bar will be open and hopefully we will get a big crowd, socially distanced of course!

Apart from the experienced Paul Robinson and Timmy Browne, new signings Harry Warke – son of Woodvale legend and former Ireland captain Stephen – and Pavan Karthik both played Premier League cricket last season, with Carrickfergus and Muckamore last season, but Kyle Walsh, who bowled particularly well in the thrilling three runs win against Carrick has joined from Holywood and is revelling in the higher standard.

“It’s good to have a Warke back in Woodvale,” adds Gibson “and Stephen Bunting, now in his second season back with us, always said he would come back and finish his career here. He was our stand-out last year in our promotion, especially with the new ball in 50-over cricket. He’s difficult to get away early on and got early wickets which led to a lot of wins.”

History repeated itself last week when Bunting removed Carrick’s Scotland international George Munsey with his second ball to set up the win as they defended what appeared to be an under-par 114.

Add Wayne Horwood, another proven winner, into the mix, still very keen and the ideal opener in T20 cricket and Woodvale should be no-one’s pushover in this transitional season.