There is a sense of added expectation at Muckamore this season and captain Sam Gordon is looking to embrace it rather than shy away.
The Moylena club have spent three of the last five seasons in the top-flight and will be considered by many as early favourites to win the Robinson Services Section One title in 2022. Last season was a disappointing one for Muckamore, who won 7 of their 18 league games and ultimately finished sixth in the table, but this campaign has a fresh feeling to it albeit with old faces. Former captain Neil Gill is back at the club after spending two years with Carrickfergus and opening bowler Pavan Karthik has also returned from Woodvale.
Add into that South African overseas player Donald Dinake and the experienced Kyllin Vardhan – who has previously played for Coleraine, The Hills and North West Warriors – and you can see why Gordon is so pleased with the squad he has at his disposal.
“Bringing the likes of Neil, Pavan and Sunny (Stephenson) back and Kyllin has been great,” he said. “It has brought a bit more experience to our side and we still have the youngsters running through it with Luke Allen and Ewan Wilson who had a great season last year so hopefully he can back that up. We have a lot more depth now. That was the problem when we would lose a few through injury or unavailability the depth just wasn’t there, but we absolutely have it now. Our bowling has let us down over the last couple of years so having Giller and Pavan back at the top makes a huge difference.”
Muckamore started their campaign off with an emphatic 160-run win over Bangor and will be hoping to follow it up against Dundrum today after Saturday’s encounter with Ballymena was postponed. Gordon led from the front, scoring 93 before picking up figures of 4-23, and he is looking to continue in that form after a ‘bad season’ last time out.
“It was a fantastic win and it was a real team performance with everybody chipping in,” he added. “We have put a lot of hard work in during pre-season over the past 8 weeks or so, and since Donald came in he has led the sessions with Thommo (Simon Thompson) and it has been fantastic. I had a bad season last year and I have to right the wrongs of that and make sure I’m putting in good performances. It was good to start off well with both bat and ball and fingers crossed it keeps going that way.”
This season has brought a massive change to the league with the introduction of white-ball cricket, which you’d traditionally associate with more aggressive batting and higher scores. With the quality of their line-up – which includes Jamie Magowan who has been promoted to the top of the order – Gordon feels the change suits his men.
“I think it’s a good thing for us,” he said. “Any batting-dominant team will enjoy it and good players will enjoy playing with the harder white ball. Bowling wise, you don’t have as much swing so I think you will see a lot higher scores this season.”
Gordon is aware that the season is long and a lot of cricket stands between right now and their ultimate goal come September, but that doesn’t dampen either his confidence in the team or his willingness to put his goals out there. Having grown up through the ranks at the Antrim side, Gordon wants to guide the club back to where he feels they belong.
“We take our cricket seriously and we back each other,” he added. “We aren’t going to jump ahead of ourselves this year and say we’re going to win the league, but the plan is in place and hopefully we can perform. Promotion is what we are really after. We want to be playing Premier League cricket. We have done a lot of work around the club on and off the pitch, so now it’s about the cricket and making sure we get to where we want to be.”