Moleon relishing CIYMS challenge
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
IT might be just the second week of the Ulster Bank NCU Premier League season, but today’s contest between Instonians and CIYMS could potentially reveal a great deal about the credentials of two of the likely title challengers.
Following a busy winter in the NCU, with some clubs adding significantly to their squads while others lost key players, this is a meeting between two sides who began the season unquestionably stronger than they finished 2011.
Much has already been said and written about CIYMS’ impressive winter of recruitment and they began the 2012 campaign solidly, beating Civil Service North Down with an attritional performance at Stormont last Saturday.
The strengthening at Shaw’s Bridge though has rather gone under the radar. In terms of numbers it has been more low key than CI, but the additions of Mike Delaney, the Australia fast bowler, and Zach Rushe, the left-arm spinner, are possibly the two missing pieces in the Instonians jigsaw.
In terms of personnel at least, these are the two teams with potentially the fewest weaknesses in the division. Waringstown’s worrying shortage of seam bowlers was exposed against Ballymena on the opening day and North Down have a similar deficiency following the withdrawal of their first-choice professional Anwar Ali.
The signing of Delaney, a move inspired by the Australian coach Dave Wilcox, promises to repair Instonians’ primary Achilles’ heel, the lack of a new-ball partner for Eugene Moleon, the captain.
Moleon, still fit at 35, has often cut a frustrated figure, single-handedly making inroads over the years only to see his good work undone with no firepower available to complement him at the other end.
“I think everyone in the NCU is looking forward to seeing Mike bowl,” said Moleon. “He has settled really well into our team environment and we are hoping he will give us something different to what we have had before. People have been talking about his pace, but he has a good cricketing brain too, and he should have no problem adapting to the conditions here. He is also a more than useful batsman.
“I think there has been a shortage of really fast bowlers in the NCU over the years. The likes of Peter Connell, Waringstown had a West Indian and there were a couple of Sri Lankan boys, but no-one who stood out since I’ve been here. It’s a definite boost for us to have someone like Mike available.”
With the top flight reduced to eight clubs, this promises to be the most intense, and perhaps the closest-run title race in years. North Down, the dominant force for so long, are perhaps the weakest they have been since their glorious era began in 1999, but Moleon is writing no-one off.
“It should be one of the tightest leagues for sure,” he said. “For the league you usually can’t look past North Down or Waringstown and history shows you that. We have challenged over the last few years and that’s what I want to see this club do every season. Hopefully we can get into a position to challenge for more trophies.
“If you don’t hit your straps in any game you play in this league you will be left behind so that’s what we have to do against CI. They have some high quality cricketers in their side, I’m sure they will be up there challenging, but all we are going to do is focus on our plans and on the things that we do well. You can’t get too distracted by what other teams have.”
As ever with Instonians, so much hinges on Ireland. At the minute, the international fixture list doesn’t look too crowded so Andrew White, James Shannon and Rory McCann should be available for the vast majority of matches. It’s essential that they win these pivotal matches against title rivals like CI when all the big guns are available.
CI meanwhile will be encouraged by the resilience they showed in adversity at Stormont, where at 26 for three, there were few signs of a glorious new era emerging. But Jeremy Bray and Ryan Butterworth repaired the damage and they went on to beat an under-strength CSN by 19 runs.
If last week was a tricky first examination where a 70 per cent performance was enough to secure victory, today nothing less than full marks will yield them four points at Shaw’s Bridge.