Donaghadee 1st XI concluded their season this past weekend with a walkover victory over local rivals Ards who, disappointedly, could not field a team despite it being a Sunday and shorter 20 over game.
This would mean that the season would finish on a flat note after a previous 6 week period of utter brilliance when the Dee won 8 games in a row to finish as runners-up in Section 3 and gain promotion for the first time in well over a decade.
It has been a strange old season for the Dee that could be split into 3 spells ...
The first of these being the opening to the season with 4 wins including battling victories against very enthusiastic Newforge and Monaghan sides. The Newforge game being the first time the Dee had scored close to 300 runs in an innings in over 20 years!
A defeat to a Waringstown 2nd XI side in the Junior Cup did not dampen the spirits as key games against the top two sides in Section 3 approached.
However, as in previous years, June would prove to be a problem month with 4 defeats rocking the promotion aspirations of the club. Larne, with one real standout star player, started the run, with follow up defeats to Cregagh in the T20 Shield, Victoria and most worryingly to Ards in game that is always must win for the Dee. Key players were unavailable in this run - none moreso than skipper Jordan McCluskey who's broken finger in the Larne game kept him out until July, as the side struggled to get going again.
However, July brought with it the start of a more positive future. Standard wins against Dunmurry and Dungannon (sides struggling to even get teams out) would be the catalyst to the encouraging form continuing into August as unbeaten table toppers Larne arrived at the Dee. And a 26 run win, by a Dee team missing several players and only taking to the game with 10 players, would leave those watching in awe at one of THE great Dee wins. With the optimism of promotion contenders, key players would then return to the side and contribute in some thrilling victories over Monaghan and Victoria (the most complete performance of the season), culminating in a sensational win over Newforge on a sun-kissed evening at Northfield when the side chased down 152 in a 20 over game.
Throughout the season there were many standout performances from the team in some thrilling wins.
Michael Martin, as with many other seasons, was the star player with the bat. Michael's attacking intent was too much for the majority of teams as he smashed the ball to all parts of the ground. When Michael has his head in the game he is one of the best batsmen in the league. The only disappointment was that he didn’t manage to take one of his 3 scores of more than 50 and turn it into the maiden century that he so deserves. Captain McCluskey, and Gavin Fraser were the other top performers with the bat, both averaging over 30 - the latter hopefully being available to play much more in 2017. Neil Spiers, opening the batting, and Ross Martin also had contributions throughout the season in a team that, when at a strong level, could bat all the way down to it's tail.
Phil McNamara would again take the spoils with the ball taking 28 wickets in his 14 games at an absolutely unbelievable average of under 10. The usual opening pairing of Ross Walton and Chris Walton were perhaps unlucky in not getting more wickets - Walton in particular showed towards the last 3-4 games what genuine pace can offer at this level. Cameron Ferris and McCluskey also bowled well throughout the season and were both unlucky to not end up with higher wicket amounts. This was probably down to the introduction of Luke Husson into the team. Husson was the real star of the team in the final third of the season, gaining the "Goldenarm" reputation as he took wicket after wicket. The Larne victory at home saw him take 4 wickets in a particularly impressive showing of line and length bowling. If the season had another 3 or 4 games it would have been interesting to see how close he would have got to McNamara's haul.
Another player deserving of mention was the returning Adam Williamson. His energy in the field, bowling and middle order batting was a welcome addition to the team after not playing for a couple of years. As was Warren Martin who made himself available for every game for the second year running. If only this same dedication was replicated not just at the Dee but throughout the NCU.
As runners-up in Section 3, the Dee will (barring another league restructure) ply their trade in Section 2 in 2017. To do this, the club will need to counter balance the main threat of player unavailability which is crippling teams in the NCU. It certainly seems the further you go down the NCU, the more this issue is highlighted. The club would applaud the likes of Dungannon and Dunmurry who played games with only 8 or 9 players at times. The club, in addition to bringing in a couple of new players, will need their 1st XI players to be committed to playing at least 75% of games next season if they want to compete in this higher section of local cricket.
Roll on 2017!