After leading Armagh’s first team for six seasons and guiding them to two promotions, Matthew Steenson has announced he will step down as captain ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Steenson took over from Michael Villiers in 2015 and had immediate success as The Mall outfit won the Section Two title, Junior Cup and Twenty20 Shield in a memorable season.
Just two years later, Armagh were crowned Section One champions and secured their place in the Premier League for the first time in 60 years by finishing four points ahead of Woodvale.
Memories created under Steenson’s leadership will live long in the memory of not just the players but everybody associated with the club, but with more work commitments, the batsman has decided now is the right time to hand over the reins to Michael Hoey.
He was able to achieve a childhood dream by captaining his hometown club and steps down as one of the most successful in the club’s long history.
“I loved being captain and the thrill of it with making the tactical calls on the field, dealing with players and seeing them do well,” he said.
“I just don’t have the same commitment that I need to do it and I don’t like doing things half-hearted – if I can’t fully commit it would be annoying personally so it’s right to step down.
“It’s something I always wanted to do when I started playing for Armagh.
“Right up from youth cricket with George Breakey you keep an eye on the first team and something you always want to do is captain the firsts.
“It was a huge honour to do it for six years and we had fairly good success.
“We went from Section Two right up to the Premier League, so we achieved all we could and it was great times for myself and the club.”
That run to the Premier League was undoubtedly Steenson’s highlight of his tenure and although it ultimately didn’t go their way in terms of results, he believes there was a wider impact felt around the town by that success.
“It was brilliant,” he added. “Getting up that season was class and when you’re winning on the pitch everything else is rosy. The morale of everybody is up, you have more down watching and that was brilliant.
“It was great for the town too because we had people who hadn’t watched cricket before coming down and taking an interest. It was really good for the club and it boosted cricket in the town I think it’s fair to say.
“We would always have kept an eye on the Premier League and we would go over to watch matches at Waringstown on a Sunday when we didn’t have a game.
“To get there and compete alongside them was great and something we always wanted to do.”
That level of sustained achievement isn’t possible without a committed group of players willing to give their time and efforts game after game, season after season to the cause. Steenson had that in abundance with the same core group bringing the side from the third-tier to the pinnacle of NCU cricket.
Armagh at Stormont
“You could mention everybody,” he said. “We have a really tight team here at Armagh and we are always having the craic but backing each other the whole way.
“It was good to get the guidance of Gareth McCarter and Colly Russell when I started out as captain and then the professionals that came in too.
“Kammy was fantastic with me and even when he wasn’t here he was somebody I could chat to and talk about cricket.
“Shadley came in and showed us how players at the top standard do it and brought a different aspect to training.
“Harry Doyle was my vice-captain for years and anything that needed done he was always there to help out and didn’t usually complain too much!
“We all came through together from youth cricket and were able to keep the team together with a few players coming in along the way.”
Steenson will now be able to enjoy turning up on a Saturday without the pressures that captaincy brings with it and is excited to focus on his own game.
“I’m really looking forward to not having to rush home from work or the farm and getting my mum to drop the cricket balls down to the boys so they can train!” he added.
“I’m going to be available for every game and I want to concentrate on my own game without any pressure and try to do the best I can to help the team.”
Hoey is a very capable replacement and despite being aged just 26, the all-rounder has been a mainstay in the side for a decade. He has scored in excess of 1000 runs and taken over 100 wickets so will be able to lead from the front with his performances, and Steenson is confident he has what it takes to succeed.
“He has been about the club since youth cricket and is a senior man now having played a lot of games,” he said. “He has the respect of the team too and I have no doubt he will do a brilliant job.
“He can turn to anybody and ask them for their advice if he needs it.
“He will learn quickly that there are a lot of people giving him advice but it’s up to him to take the pieces he wants to.
“I had a gut feeling for things and backed that – if it was right that’s great but if it was wrong then I was the one that held my hands up.
“I’ve told him I am here whenever he wants any advice or help, but I’m going to let him do his own thing.”
Hoey’s first game as captain will come this weekend when Armagh get their league season underway at home against Bangor.