CIYMS captain Stephen Hughes is ignoring the pre-season hype
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
They might be the NCU club whose name is on most people's lips on the countdown to the 2012 season, but CIYMS captain Stephen Hughes has played down the growing feeling that they are are favourites to win the Ulster Bank Premier League title.
The recruitment of Taimur Khan, Chris Dougherty, Ryan Butterworth, PJ Moor and Jeremy Bray was unsurprisingly the winter's central talking point, with the rights and wrongs of the Belmont signing spree polarising local cricketing opinion.
Whether you agree with what CI have done or whether you don't, what is beyond dispute is that it doesn't half whet the appetite for the new campaign, just as the marquee signing of Craig McMillan did two years ago.
Khan, Bray, Dougherty and Butterworth are proven quality performers and with perennial title winners North Down and last season's cup double winners Waringstown arguably weaker on paper than they were a year ago, it's little surprise that many are tipping CI for a first Premier League title. Resounding victories in pre-season have only reinforced the feeling that they are the team to beat.
Hughes though, is not buying into the hype. Well at least not yet anyway.
"The likes of North Down, Waringstown and Instonians have been winning leagues and cups for years and they will all be very difficult to beat. We will be the dark horses and we will definitely upset a few teams along the way."
Hughes, whose previous tenure as skipper was a successful one, will have a pivotal role. Not only will he have to be tactically astute with the introduction of bowling and batting power-plays into the NCU league and cup competitions for the first time, more significantly he will have to manage a squad who, until just a few weeks ago, were largely unfamiliar with one another.
There will be times when things go wrong on the pitch for CI and it is how the players respond which will dictate whether they sink or swim.
"Will we gel? I would like to think so," said Hughes. "Good players do not turn into bad players overnight and I think that the guys enjoying each other's company on the pitch, and in the changing room, and enjoying a beer afterwards, is a key part of the game. That's why I enjoy the sport so much.
"So far at nets the guys have been getting on like a house on fire, there will be no problem with the guys gelling. We all have the same objective, which is to win cricket matches for CI."
North Down have won the title in the last two seasons having lost just two league matches, with Waringstown, who were defeated on just three occasions themselves in 2010 and 2011, denied by the narrowest of margins. With the league reduced from 18 to 14 matches, Hughes says there will be even less margin for error.
He also plays down claims that North Down and Waringstown will be weaker and identifies Lisburn as other potential contenders. "You certainly can't afford to lose three or four games if you want to win the title, you can only lose once or twice if you want to have a chance. Whatever people say on paper about them being weaker, you can't look past North Down and Waringstown, they have match-winners in their teams.
"Lisburn are also contenders. They have recruited just as much as us over the winter and they have shown over the last few years that they are capable of going on a long run of winning matches.