“EVERYONE agreed a small change was needed and although Leinster Lightning will still be the team to beat, all the teams look strong on paper.”

The words of MTB Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston ahead of this year’s inter-provincial matches, which will start the 2021 season next Saturday with Lightning facing North West Warriors at Pembroke.

The Knights start their campaign three days later at the same venue. For the first time, players no longer have to play for the union where they play their club cricket and the Ireland selectors – the head coaches of the three main teams plus Ireland head coach Graham Ford and chairman of selectors Andrew White – were tasked with levelling up the standard of the teams without significantly disrupting the parochial base.

Northern Knights Head Coach Simon Johnston

Each of the four teams – Munster Reds make their debut in the 50-over Cup - were given a core squad of 12 with Shane Getkate and Stephen Doheny moving to the Warriors, the Knights boosted by the transfers to Civil Service North of Irish qualified Luke Georgeson and Jeremy Lawlor and while Leinster Lightning have ‘only’ eight internationals this year, Munster get the best of the rest.

Knights and Warriors played an intra-squad training match on Friday at Comber and although Knights skipper Harry Tector and Paul Stirling took no part in the match, they should be available for the opening game on May 4.

Tector had laser eye surgery on Friday with an expected recovery time of 7-10 days and Stirling is nursing a calf injury although he did have a 45-minute hit in the nets and, according to Johnston, “looked in very good touch”.

Boyd Rankin may have lost his Ireland contract but he was bowling well and at good pace and if he stays fit can only strengthen Warriors ambitions, especially with new head coach, retired international Gary Wilson on board.

The batsman who impressed most was Georgeson, a 22-year-old Irish qualified New Zealander. Johnston watched him on a live stream scoring an 80 and a 70, opening the batting for Wellington earlier this year and his Knights coach describes him as “a classy left-handed bat who bowls more than useful medium pace and, like most Kiwis, one of the nicest kids you could meet”.

Georgeson, though, will have to be satisfied with a No 4 slot in the Knights line-up with Stirling and James McCollum the current Ireland openers in 50-over cricket.

Johnston is excited by the season ahead.“It shows the strength of Leinster that I don’t think they are weakened much and the Munster team will win games of cricket this year, I’ve no doubt.

“We know the quality Gary will bring to the Warriors set-up but, it’s not rocket-science, if you get better players you become better.”

And at the moment there is no one better in the Ireland team than Stirling.

With potentially a full season in Knights colours, this year’s inter-pros promise to be compulsive viewing.

Inter-pro squads

Northern Knights: H Tector (capt), M Adair, J Cameron-Dow, D Delany, L Georgeson, J Lawlor, G McCarter, J McCollum, R Pretorius, N Rock, P Stirling, B White.

North West Warriors: A McBrine (capt), R Allen, S Doheny, S Getkate, G Hume, G Kennedy, N McGuire, C Olphert, W Porterfield, B Rankin, W Smale, C Young

Leinster Lightning: G Dockrell, R Anders, A Balbirnie, P Chase, JJ Garth, J Little, B McCarthy, K O’Brien, S Singh, J Tector, T Tector, L Tucker

Munster Reds: T Kane (capt), C Campher, A Cawley, M Commins, G Delany, G Ford, M Ford, F Hand, S Lynch, C McLoughlin-Gavin, PJ Moor, A Sidhu.