Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston has named a 12-man squad for their Inter-Provincial season opener against Munster Reds at Stormont on Thursday.
The side has a fresh look to it with Mark Adair taking over captaincy from Harry Tector, while the likes of Max Burton, Matthew Humphreys and Aditya Adey have all been included. Cliftonville Academy’s Burton will play as a wicketkeeper in the absence of Neil Rock and Josh Manley has returned from a successful season on loan at Munster in 2021 which resulted in an Ireland A call-up earlier this year. With Tector’s departure to Leinster mixed with Luke Georgeson and Graeme McCarter no longer being involved, Johnston will be offering plenty of opportunity to the NCU’s emerging talent.
“Where we are with the core 12 we have this year, it’s obviously a bit of a rebuild” he said. “It’s very much about everyone getting to know each other and trying to create a bit of energy and team spirit because it’s quite a new group with a lot of younger guys coming in. The warm-up games are always challenging because you can never get your full team out, but we were able to play nine of our Emerging guys over the course of those games to give them experience too. A lot of boxes were ticked but the injuries have hit us a bit, but that happens and its cricket unfortunately.
“Over the course of two years, we have lost 7 Irish internationals from work, the likes of Wilo (Gary Wilson) retiring, Grum, David (Delany) and Harry are gone, so we have lost an awful lot of experience. The big challenge over the winter was to get the younger guys involved training with the guys. I’d say we are probably the youngest team in the competition now, so you can’t buy experience but we can try to build a team culture where they are playing for each other and going in the same direction.”
This will be Adair’s first senior captaincy role after leading from the front with his performances at both international and inter-provincial level in recent years. The 26-year-old is now one of the more experienced players in the side and Johnston has been hugely impressed by his impact early on.
“I’ve known Mark since he was 14 and coached him with the Irish 15’s way back,” he added. I get on really well with Mark. It’ll take a year – or maybe more than that – to find out how we work but so far, so good. He has totally bought in and is completely realistic about the challenges we have this year and where we are. He has been brilliant with the younger players and super in engaging with the clubs and getting the Knights brand out there as much as you can. It’s great to have a local boy who cares as passionately about it as Mark does, so he has been a revelation. I don’t think he knows what sort of captain he will be yet because he’s working it out and never done it before, which is exciting.”
“He wanted to do it because he cares about the Union and the Knights but it’s also for his own development and he can bring a lot of qualities to it. He has a very good cricket brain and he’s the sort of character that will inspire. I’m excited to see what he can do and everything he has done over the winter has been brilliant.”
Munster’s side has been significantly strengthened over the winter with David Delany and Kevin O’Brien joining international team-mates Curtis Campher and Gareth Delany in Ted Williamson’s side. Murray Commins – undoubtedly a future Irish international – will also play a key role for them and Johnston was full of praise for their opponents.
“I think they are arguably on paper the strongest side,” he said. People can talk about Leinster and they are obviously brilliant, but when you have the quality of the Ireland A and Ireland internationals they have, I think they (Munster) are if not favourites, at least second favourites. I think it’s brilliant for the competition and that’s the reason we brought the fourth team into it. I’m excited because it’ll be a real tough one for us and a big challenge, so I’m excited to see how the boys stack up.”
Squad: Mark Adair (C), Max Burton (WK), James McCollum, Paul Stirling, Matthew Foster, Jeremy Lawlor, Ross Adair, Ben White, Ruhan Pretorius, Josh Manley, Matthew Humphreys, Aditya Adey