As the awards were handed out last night at the Northern Cricket Union’s Annual Dinner, the 2023 season has been described as a success but there are challenges ahead for all the clubs.

That’s the verdict of the union’s Domestic Cricket Director, Alan Waite, as he looked back on a season which saw Instonians win the Premier League title for the fifth time, the Cricketer of the Year beating off his rival by a single vote and a 43-year-old finishing the season as the leading wicket-taker, just one short of his matching his age.

“It was a considerable test of everyone’s resilience because of the weather so everyone has to take great credit and there was a lot of good cricket played,” says Waite.

“We had had 11 new men’s teams in 2023 and more soundings are already going on about the formation or, in some instances, the re-creation of some clubs in 2024, so there’s considerable growth taking place in the men’s game.

“On the women’s side, more matches were played than ever before. Out of 54 scheduled fixtures in Section One, 51 took place which is fantastic to see. It is also likely we will be back to six teams in the Premier League with two teams promoted who now feel comfortable they have the resources and strengths to play with the other four teams.”

Lisburn were also the first NCU team to win an All-Ireland girls’ title – they actually won two at Under-13 and U17 level – and that was one of the reasons why club coach Johnny Waite was named coach of the year at last night’s Dinner in Belfast.

Jonathan Waite - Coach of the Year

The Cricketer of the Year is Waringstown’s Morgan Topping, one of four players who topped 1,000 runs in the season and hit the second highest ever score (150) in a Challenge Cup final. He, surely, has an exciting future.

His club captain, Greg Thompson was pipped to the main award but the 36-year-old still picked up the Top Batter and all-rounder awards, but Andrew White can give him seven years, the former Ireland international taking the Top Bowler prize after an exceptional season as he played a major part  in Instonians’ title success.

Alan Waite, remarkably, continues to play on for Waringstown Seconds, “next year will be my 50th playing adult cricket” and as I go round the grounds I’m delighted at how active clubs are in improving their facilities. With funds and grants available there are a lot more clubs taking advantage of them.

“But the pace of change is at a level never seen before and while it offers opportunities for men and women, it also challenges clubs how they adapt to that change.

“If I had to identify two things, it would be finding more facilities for teams to play on and greater access to coaching. But I look forward to 2024 with great optimism.”

Three stalwarts of the game were honoured at last night’s Dinner with recently retired former Ireland captain Kyle McCallan, the NCU’s first Women’s international, Donna Armstrong and Muckamore stalwart John McCormick, still active about the club in his ninth decade, inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Last night’s winners – Premier League Cricketer of the Year: Morgan Topping; Batter: Greg Thompson; Bowler; Andrew White; All-rounder: Greg Thompson; Wicket-keeper: Chris Dougherty;. Section One: James Kennedy; Section Two: Stephen Johnston; Young (U15): James West.

Women’s PL Cricketer of Year: Amy Caulfield; Batter: Amy Caulfield; Bowler: Staci Maxwell; All-rounder: Amy Caulfield; Wicket-keeper: Ali Cowan; Section One: Rebecca Lowe.

Coach of year: Jonathan Waite (Lisburn). Hall of Fame Inductees: Kyle McCallan, Donna Armstrong, John McCormick.