Carrick facing crunch clash with Ballymena
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
CARRICKFERGUS captain Ross Gelderbloem is candid enough to admit that just about everyone at Middle Road regards today’s NCU Premier League match with Ballymena as a must-win for his side.
It is mid-July and Gelderbloem’s team have yet to register a victory in the league, but then again they haven’t played for over a month because of the dreadful summer weather.
Ballymena were in exactly the same predicament until they surprised Instonians at Eaton Park a week ago, and a win for the visitors today would go a long way towards cementing their top flight status.
Defeat on the other hand for Carrick would leave Gelderbloem’s men staring into the abyss. Lisburn might also be involved in the relegation scrap, but after today Carrick are set to be without talisman Ryan Eagleson for virtually the remainder of the season because of his commitments as coach to Ireland under-19s in Australia.
The weather has deprived them of the opportunity of getting points on the board while Eagleson has been available, heightening the pressure against Ballymena.
While Simon McDowell’s side are a battle-hardened and experienced unit, Carrick have a more youthful look. The question is what make-up will be better suited to a relegation battle.
Gelderbloem said: “Ballymena are a really experienced side, they have a lot of older players, and they work really hard for each other. They are a tough side to beat, as they showed last season when they finished third in the league.
“Their professional (Kaushik Aphale) has been in great form, but if we can get him and DK (David Kennedy) early then we have a good chance. They will know they can beat us but it is my job to make sure my players know that if they step up we can beat them. I believe this game is really about who pitches up on the day. If we play to our best we can give anyone in this league a tough game.”
The perceived reliance on imported players at Middle Road over the years has come in for criticism from certain quarters, but it is ironic that just as a fine crop of young players is emerging, Carrick may just fall through the relegation trap-door.
Wicketkeeper Jordan McClurkin, dashing batsman Michael Gilmour and all-rounders Alex Haggan and Matthew Kernohan have the potential to become fine Premier League cricketers and Eagleson apart, none of the current team are over 30.
Runs should not be a problem, as Carrick demonstrated by posting 235 in their last match against Instonians on June 9, but they desperately need Gelderbloem to return with the new ball after a back injury. The South African has not played since May 26, that long forgotten weekend when the sun last shone.
Gelderbloem said: “I desperately want to get back playing. I will be fine to play against Ballymena but bowling wise there is a bit of doubt in my mind. It’s a mental thing, I have been bowling off a few paces in the nets when the weather has allowed me to, but there’s a big difference between the nets and out in the middle in a game of this importance.
“There is a feeling around the club that this is a must-win game. But in my mind it’s not a must-win. There are still plenty of games for us to win, but there is no doubt that Eagy (Eagleson) going to Australia is a big loss. After this weekend we will only have him for one more match if the games go to schedule.”
There are two other Premier League games today, this time affecting matters at the top of the table. North Down, the champions, host a dangerous Civil Service North side at The Green, while Instonians face Waringstown at Shaw’s Bridge.