Melchett: Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field.

Blackadder: Ah. Would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy? It's the same plan that we used last time and the seventeen times before that.

Melchett: Exactly! And that is what is so brilliant about it!

And so Ballymena stumbles unto the breach once more. This year, we - like Blackadder - will be underequipped, underpowered, and unlikely to survive the inevitable batterings from the big guns. And, like in seasons past, we'll go in with much the same team and much the same attitude.

Consequently, we are realistic about the difficulty of the upcoming season. There is no hubristic inanity about challenging for honours, nor is there any obsequious guff about buying in players and calling that 'progress'.

We could enjoy a few good days, but we know the bad days will be more frequent. In fact, we know there will be some horrendous days when the boundary and the fielding rings might as well be the first few Circles of Hell. Still, there are worse things than getting thrashed at cricket, and even a few reasons to be positive.

First, our losses from 2014 are not as significant as they seem. Rab and DK may have retired, but they scored only 170 runs between them in 2014; Bob McKinley is progressing rapidly in England and will only be home for a few matches, but he didn't play much last year either; while this season we have a professional - Azeem Ghumman - who will be here for the entire season.

Second, we're unlikely to get hammered at Eaton Park. In this way, I've always thought that we are a bit like Stoke City: we are not gifted, but we fight and we're difficult to beat in our own backyard, even if we are prone - like Stoke until this season - to be thrashed away to the big guns.

Third, we haven't been relegated yet. Every year, without fail, we are named as favourites to go down, annually depicted in pre-season summaries as already having one foot in the trapdoor . Even in 2011, when we came third and when we were top of the table with a month to go, we had been a surefire bet for relegation.

Of course, some year, our number will come up. It might well be 2015 and, if so, we'll just have to keep our sticks by our sides and maintain that stiff upper lip for the Big Push.


The weekend past we travelled to Terenure, where - in a very peculiar friendly - we won by one run. Both sides were missing a number of players, with Terenure already having suffered an almighty exodus over the winter. The quality of cricket, therefore, was frankly questionable: much of the fielding, at least, would have embarrassed our 4th XI. Still, the weather was fine, the opposition was hospitable, and so this was a Good Thing. We should do it again sometime.


This Saturday, for the now-traditional league opener, we travel to Comber, where in six years Ballymena has won only once. That victory came in 2012, when Kaushik Aphale produced an innings so brilliant that Ballymena actually appeared to have played cricket that day, rather than simply 'playing at' cricket.

On the other five trips to North Down we have tended to lose heavily, often coming third of the two teams. This year, however, will be a completely different experience.

Not, perhaps, in terms of the result, but at least in terms of personal contests. Over the past few seasons I'm not sure that I have bowled at any North Down players other than Terrett, Haire, and Larkin - and almost always without success. So it's nice that, in a few days' time, I will have the opportunity to improve the batting averages of some different batsmen.

I will report on that match in this column next week.