Pembroke completed the senior double by winning the LHW Financial Planning Premier League with a thrilling 1-wicket victory over Merrion in the inaugural Grand Final in Anglesea Road on Saturday September 7th.
In front of a huge crowd, estimated at close to 500, the two best sides in the Premier League all season played out a brilliant encounter that had everyone living on their nerves right up until player of the match Ryan Hopkins struck the winning runs.
All this came after drama on the final day of the round robin phase of the League when Pembroke jumped from fourth place to second in the table, and The Hills who had led the League for long stretches of the season finished third.
It was the first iteration of a play-off system in the Premier League which provided competitive cricket for all sides to the very end of the season, including Phoenix who won the first ever Plate Final with a 3-wicket win over YMCA in the Park.
Pembroke – Champions
(2018 Position – 4th)
Pembroke defeated Merrion in the Grand Final at Anglesea Road, their second victory over them in the play-offs of 2019.
On the 6th July Merrion beat Pembroke in the group stage but when it came to the play-offs, Pembroke ruled the roost with a 73-run victory in the qualifying semi-final and then that dramatic Final on the 7th September.
Pembroke’s side is made up of a core that have played together since under-11s, with three sets of brothers and ten players brought up through their club system playing in both the Irish Senior Cup and Premier League triumphs.
The addition of Shaheen Khan (18 wickets at 14.61) for the 2019 season has added that extra ingredient as they have gone from strength to strength.
It would be easy to assume their success was built on the four senior internationals Andrew Balbirnie, Barry McCarthy, Lorcan Tucker and Josh Little, however at various stages throughout the League campaign Jack Balbirnie (16 wickets at 14.63 & 34 avg with the bat) Theo Lawson (2x50’s and 48), Fiachra Tucker (9 wickets at 19.22) and Khan himself have delivered match winning performances at vital points.
A balanced, experienced and close-knit side, depending on Inter-Provincial and international commitments over the next few seasons, Pembroke with a new-found taste for success could be a force to be reckoned with.
Merrion – Runners-up
(2018 Position – Champions)
Last season’s champions came oh so close to retaining their title, only to be edged out by Pembroke in the final.
One wicket was all that stood between them and glory, and having topped the group phase of the League, they had a clear run of home matches in the play-offs through to the Grand Final.
Despite dominating The Hills to win by 125 runs in their elimination semi-final, ultimately it was the two defeats to Pembroke in the play-offs that saw them finish as runners-up.
John Anderson (avg 68.25 with a high score of 130 v Lein) is overseeing a change in Merrion as some players retire and others approach the twilight of their careers. Yet, year after year they challenge for the major trophies as their experience and nous is complimented by young, energetic cricketers who are always given an opportunity under Anderson’s watch.
Peter Forkin, taking 5-fer on debut against Leinster, is one such young buck but there are others there slowly introducing themselves to the first team, ready to make their mark.
With the likes of Tyrone Kane and Max Sorensen (7th most PL wickets with 13) performing well alongside their ageless captain, everyone knows the youngsters must be good enough to force themselves through.
Without doubt, Merrion will be there or thereabouts next season. Particularly if they can pick up an overseas professional as effective and well received as Oliver Newton in 2020. A guaranteed wicket taker who always targeted top-orders and didn’t just feast on the tail. Newton made a big impression on Leinster cricket being the highest wicket-taker with 29 at an average of 9.79 and an economy of just 3.76.
The Hills – 3rd
(2018 Position – 6th)
After a quite magnificent start to the 2019 season, The Hills’ season rather petered out towards the end which was a real shame.
They went unbeaten throughout the Leinster Senior League Cup campaign and began the League series in a similar vein.
Unfortunately defeats to Pembroke (6 wickets) and Merrion (5 wickets) over the final two weekends accounted for their position atop the table.
It could have been so different however, as they travelled to Dublin 4 on the final day of the season knowing victory over Merrion would guarantee them first place and a spot in the qualifying semi-final. Instead Merrion defeated them, and with Pembroke winning, The Hills dropped to third.
This meant an elimination match against Malahide and when that was washed out, they went through to the semi-final having finished higher than the Villagers in the round robin phase.
The Hills didn’t take advantage of the opportunity for revenge and were defeated by Merrion once again as their season was ended.
However, with a trophy to celebrate in the centenary year of Cricket Leinster and the 50th Anniversary of their own club, it was far from a bad season for the men from Skerries.
Malahide – 4th
(2018 Position – Division 2 Champions)
Malahide played at the top level in 2019 and certainly made their presence felt. Two victories over Leinster and Rush, who both finished below them in the table, could perhaps have been foreseen as games to be targeted by The Villagers.
Their other two victories coming against Merrion and Pembroke, who would go on to contest the Grand Final, showed that Malahide are more than capable of mixing it as this level.
Further evidence of their talent was their victory in the Alan Murray Cup which brought them to the final of the All-Ireland T20 competition.
They are much more than the Ford brothers and proved that time and again this season. While undoubtedly talented players, Matt and Greg were supplemented by Damien Mortimer (43.67) and Fintan McAlister (42.40) having the highest batting averages for the side in the League.
While with the ball, Kelvin Donnelly took 12 wickets to finish as the tenth top wicket-taker in the Premier League.
YMCA – 5th
(2018 position – 5th)
It was a middling season for YMCA and their crop of young starlets in Claremont Road. Having finished fifth in the round robin phase, they defeated Rush in the Plate semi-final but fell foul of former player Simi Singh in the final to end the 2019 Premier League in fifth position.
Given the strength of their batting line-up, it’s hard to consider they weren’t challenging for the top four play-offs and the title itself.
Three of their batsmen placed fifth to seventh for 2019 batting averages. Harry Tector (56.40), Bobby Gamble (52.40) and Jack Tector (50.40) all averaged over 50 while James Parkinson and Rory Anders weren’t far behind.
Parkinson (11 wickets at 19) and Anders (9 at 27.44) showed their value as all-rounders and John Cassidy (14) had the most dismissals of any wicket-keeper in the Premier League.
Given the statistics for the season, it’s most likely a narrow defeat to The Hills and a washed-out match against Leinster were the reasons YMCA found themselves in the Plate Competition.
With another Tector (Tim), Mitchell Thompson and Fionn Hand a year older and more experienced they will expect to challenge near the top in 2020.
Phoenix – 6th
(2018 position – 8th)
After a series of off-season changes, Phoenix got a little further than expected in 2019.
The plan to bring in James Shannon didn’t work out but bringing in Simi Singh revitalised the club after a tough 2018 on and off the field. Singh scored a vital 89 against his former side YMCA in the final of the Plate competition guiding the side to victory.
A series of commitments to the youth section and driving the future of the club has yielded results already with the likes of Louis McDonough getting regular game time with he first team in 2019 and taking the gloves from more experienced players. Indeed, in the seven matches McDonough kept wicket for Phoenix in the Premier League, he had nine dismissals putting him third among all keepers in the League.
The Plate competition was introduced to ensure all clubs played meaningful cricket to the end of the season. As a result, having defeated Leinster in the semi-final, Phoenix went on to beat YMCA in the final and finish sixth in the league.
Leinster – 7th
(2018 position – 7th)
It was very much a case of the same again for Leinster in 2019. They relied heavily on Gareth Delany (7 wickets at 19.71 in 4 matches) and George Dockrell (avg 31.75 with the bat in 5 matches), and if one or both didn’t fire, they struggled to put up a challenge in a strong competitive league.
One who did make a big impact in 2019 was Monil Patel who consistently got starts in his six League matches and ended the season with 200 runs and an average of 33.33.
The likes of Finn Conaty (5 wickets in 4 matches) and Tristan de Beer (4 wickets in nine overs bowled) have the potential to be outstanding players and will be the better for not getting things too easy at a young age, but they do need time to find their feet at the highest level.
Rush – 8th
(2018 Position – Division 2 2nd)
Rush endured a difficult season in the Premier League as they lost every match and were then also beaten by YMCA in the Plate semi-final that rounded off the year for them.
In many ways however, Rush were a victim of their own success across the summer of 2019 as they regularly had to do without the services of their youngest and most promising players.
The likes of Neil Rock, Stephen Doheny (2nd highest batting avg of 75.20 from just five matches) and Nathan McGuire (scored 107 against Malahide on July 6th) were involved in many Ireland squads at varying levels and while that was testament to the great work being done by the coaches in Rush’s youth sections, it meant that they had to play many Premier League matches with depleted resources.
If the young players continue to develop at the rate they are now, it may get easier however, as senior internationals can provide call-offs better than Academy and Wolves matches.