Anyone watching Instonians playing North Down this month could have been forgiven for thinking they were in a time warp. With Andrew White bowling to Ryan Haire and James Shannon, it was 2012 all over again.

Three veterans of the game in the NCU were still plying their trade but it was the appearance of Shannon back in the middle, which was the most pleasing and welcome sight. And not just because he top scored with a superb 86 in North Down’s win against his former team-mates.

It is five years since the Ireland international last graced Shaw’s Bridge – indeed any ground in Ireland – when he was struck down with mental health problems that forced him to announce his retirement from all cricket that winter.

In 2019, Shannon was captain of Northern Knights and, as he told me at the time, had so much to look forward to, including winning back his place in the Ireland team – the previous summer he had hit the crack India bowling attack for 60 off 35 balls in a T20 international in Malahide.

“Unfortunately things didn’t work out. There were some things I couldn’t control that happened. It was a really difficult period playing cricket at that point, I just couldn’t go back and just had to step away.”

That is as much as the 34-year-old can say on the subject – he doesn’t want to revisit those bad times – and now he is looking forward again.

“I was working in London last year and played some games for Richmond in Middlesex. I had been away (from cricket) for four-five years and it helped that no-one knew me. I did quite well and enjoyed it, so over the winter put a message out to say I was looking for a club here.”

There was no shortage of offers and with Instonians, as he puts it, “pretty full at that point with a lot of good kids coming through and they had Shane (Getkate) then and Murray Commins coming” he wanted a team which “looked to me to score the runs”.

“When North Down said they wanted me to come I jumped at it. I have always had an admiration for that club, for the way they played their cricket in the late 2000s. I really liked their mentality and they inspired the (successful) Instonians team I played in in the early 2010s when I was coming through.

“They have good wickets and good people there and I get on well with Peter Shields, the Morelands, Ryan Haire and his dad, Robin. Also they have such good wickets - and I need everything to go in my favour - so it was a pretty easy decision.”

Shannon admits that with no longer any thoughts of playing representative or international cricket he is looking forward to playing without pressure – but not for fun!

“I always have that competitive streak and the fun element comes from actually doing well and winning games and that’s really important. So that’s the way I’m going to go this year and hopefully score some important runs for the team.”

So it is full steam ahead with North Down for Shannon and he insists a top six finish when the league splits in July is “non-negotiable”.

Shannon adds: “We didn’t play a good game against CIYMS, it was a real opportunity to follow up our win (against Instonians) at Shaw’s Bridge. I know the guys and supporters really want that.”

Everyone in Comber would also love an extended run in the Irish Cup – they haven’t reached the semi-final since 2014 – they travelled to Ardmore last weekend for one of the closest first round games, winning by 14 runs.

“We are not going to be a team that blows the opposition away but if we are smart about how we set up we can do well,” insists Shannon.

And everyone in cricket is hoping that Shannon can play a huge part.