NCU Section One going down to the wire
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
WARINGSTOWN are due to receive the Premier League trophy tomorrow ahead of their penultimate game against Carrickfergus and with no relegation, all eyes will be on Section One where the final promotion place will be decided.
With the Premier League reverting to a 10-team league next season, two teams will be promoted with Cliftonville Academy, just three years after their merger, already assured of playing in the top flight next season ahead of their final game at Derriaghy.
Ironically, the Queensway club are one of the two teams who can also make it into the top ten next season but they must win tomorrow and hope Cregagh lose one either tomorrow at Muckamore or on Sunday at home to Saintfield in a 20-over match.
Two wins for Cregagh, with their superior run-rate, will confirm their promotion along with Cliftonville Academy, the current leaders, who are also certain to finish above Derriaghy on run rate.
But with the Section One title at stake, there is plenty for Cliftonville Academy to play for tomorrow to complete a remarkable turnaround for two clubs who were relegated from the division in 2017.
At that stage, Cliftonville had no ground they could call their own; they were using the City of Belfast Playing Fields at Mallusk and Academy, whose clubhouse was at nearby Hydepark - were struggling for playing numbers. It seemed the perfect merger.
With agreement from Belfast Royal Academy, who own the Castle Grounds, one of the most scenic in the NCU, the clubs agreed to amalgamate and took their place in Section Two in 2018.
A third place finish that year kept them in the third tier for another season but in 2019 they made no mistake, winning the league to gain promotion to Section One. But, with no league cricket last season because of the pandemic, they had to wait another year to play in Section One again.
Strengthened by the signings of Max Burton, Marty McCord, Richard Hood and Robbie Moffett, they had set their sights in on a top three-four place but a bowling attack of McCord, Hood, the experienced Brian Anderson; who won the league title with Cliftonville back in the mid-90s; and Andrew Forbes, plus the slow bowling of Burton and Ben Kane they have consistently bowled out sides this season, including their two promotion rivals.
The batting star has been Burton who is just eight runs short of 1,000 for the season and rest of the top order, Neil Cahill, Johnny Terrett, Moffett and skipper Adam Kelso have all chipped in around him, resulting in 15 wins in 17 league games.
Premier League here they come.