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CIYMS hoping to make it a Gallagher Challenge Cup hat-trick

Jonny Morton  

Nigel JonesCIYMS will be hoping to make it a Gallagher Challenge Cup hat-trick this season but captain Nigel Jones isn't taking anything for granted.

The Belmont club have won the NCU's premier club competition four times in the past six seasons – including in 2019 and defended it two years later after an enforced Covid delay – and come into this campaign amongst the favourites once again. They enter the fray today against Cliftonville Academy and Jones says his side are as motivated as ever to repeat the feat.

"You know my love affair with the competition and all the guys are excited to get started," he said. "It's nice to travel to the Castle Grounds and we will certainly not be taking anything for granted and we're looking forward to getting stuck in. We're definitely motivated. It's a cup we have some really fond memories in and I know it's cliché, but we live our best game the one we are in and try to add them up and go far in the competition. Hopefully we can get ourselves to where we want to be and the reward we want."

CI have formed a formidable core squad that has also won two Robinson Services Premier League's, two LVS Twenty20 Cup's and an All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup during a golden era for the club while identifying key players that can help build on that success. This season, they signed Ross Adair who has hit the ground running in typical devastating fashion by scoring a century against Instonians and 96 in victory over North Down.

"He has been outstanding," added Jones. "He has fit really well into the club and it's not just about what he's doing on the field – that speaks for itself. He has had a couple of outstanding knocks for us already and everything else he brings around training and the changing room is great. He's always up at the club supporting the other teams and working on his game, so he's a great addition. Having Mark there too and Joanne, Ricky and the other siblings coming to watch as well, it's a family affair and he's fit in great."

Another key component is the arrival of overseas professional Keith Dudgeon – a South African seamer with the ability to score quickly in the middle order.

"It's been a seamless transition for him and he has a bit of Matt McGillivray (former CIYMS professional) about him," said Jones. He knows Matt quite well and that skillset with both bat and ball is something we've been after. It's great having someone who has the ability to take early wickets and close out games with the ball and he's hitting those markers for us. He's fitting in well and I'm sure he's going to have some big games and an impact throughout the season."

With an eye to the future as well as looking to maintain their lofty standards, former New Zealand international Ian Butler has been appointed as Director of Cricket for the current campaign. The 40-year-old represented his country on 53 occasions across formats and has brought a wealth of knowledge.

"It's all part of the club and where CIYMS are going," said Jones. There has been a lot of work over the past five years around the youth section and trying to get the youngsters feeding into the 2s. Ian's brief is very much to push the youth and get that crop of players striving for 2s cricket and performing so over a period of time we can integrate them into the Premier League side. He has been a massive support and is helping out with the 1st team around training, so it has been brilliant to have that extra resource and knowledge around the club."

This is the start of an important month for CIYMS, who will also enter the Irish Senior Cup – the only title that has escaped their grasp so far – in a second round clash against Newbuildings. There is no doubt they step up in the big games and Jones will be looking for more of the same this time around.

"We talk about it often how much we enjoy the cup games," he added. "They are one off, winner takes all to get through to the next round and I think that's where we come to life and we will be looking to do the same this year. It's a great month with the Challenge Cup and an Irish Cup game later in the month. We want to also make sure we are in a strong spot for when the league transitions to a top-6 situation."

Gallagher Challenge Cup second round fixtures:
Cliftonville Academy vs CIYMS, Cregagh vs Muckamore, CSNI vs Ballymena, Dundrum vs Derriaghy, Instonians vs North Down, Lisburn vs Bangor, Waringstown vs Armagh, Woodvale vs Carrickfergus

Gallagher Challenge Cup

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Photo courtesy of David Maginnis - Pacemaker Press