9 December 2015

Welcome Arthur J Gallagher to the Northern Cricket Union as the new sponsor of the Challenge Cup, and well done to the Sponsorship Committee for attracting such a quality sponsor.


The International Insurance Brokers are a quality brand and their involvement will add significant status to the competition. The three-year deal heralds a new era in the ‘Senior Cup,’ and let’s hope both the sponsor an the union seize the initiative and bring the sparkle back to our oldest competition dating back to 1887.

The Senior Cup enjoyed some great years in the 1980s under Touche Ross/Deloitte Touche sponsorship with the ebullient Sam Goldblatt at the helm. There were Man-of-the-Match Awards at every game, widespread publicity and a final worthy of the name. Corporate hospitality was a big feature of the showpiece and the guest speakers featured some of the biggest cricket celebrities in the game. There were good crowds at the final and the hospitality tent was the place to be as the game moved into the final stages.

There was a cup final programme, television and newspaper previews, and the teams wore special cup final shirts and dressed for the occasion. The Senior Cup final had status, and it had atmosphere. The players and spectators loved it, and the crowd included many neutrals, including visitors from the North-West and occasionally, Dublin. It was also an occasion for former players to meet old friends and roll back the years.

Sadly, the final these days has lost a lot of its sparkle, and is in dire need of rejuvenation. Indeed, the whole competition needs a facelift and with Arthur J Gallagher on board maybe the time has come for its rebirth. Let’s start with a Senior Cup committee working from yesterday to make the Challenge Cup Competition special again. Let’s bring back the glitz and invigorate the whole culture of the competition. We should have Man-of-the-Match Awards for all the games, a special Player-of-the-Round Award presented at each draw, and much more focus on the semi-finals.

The final always needs to be played on one of our best grounds, and the hosting club remunerated properly for providing quality facilities. We need a corporate presence with hospitality and special guests to boost the status of the occasion. We need to invite former players and NCU hierarchy to the final and to entice more and more spectators to attend. The ground facilities should include food and beverages, perhaps a bar service around the ground, and toilets! We must have a cup final programme. We need a good PA system and maybe we also need some music and entertainment during the innings?

We should also treat the media with the highest respect throughout the competition and encourage television build-up and coverage on match day. The presentation ceremony should be a lively affair and a fitting finale to a special competition.

Not much to ask is it?

The announcement of the new sponsor was not the only important news at the NCU Press Reception as the draw for the 2016 competition was also announced. By the luck of the draw the eight Premier clubs were kept apart, so if any team outside the top tier is to win the cup, they will have to be a giant-killer from the outset. The tournament features eight Premier and ten Section 1 clubs and the full draw is:

Premlinery Round    
Donaghcloney v Academy
Saintfield v Armagh

First Round

Carrickfergus Bangor
CSNI v Saintfield/Armagh
Donaghcloney or Academy v Derriaghy
Downpatrick v North Down
Lurgan  v Lisburn
Muckamore v Instonians
Waringston v Ballymena
Woodvale v CIYMS


Five Premier League clubs will have to win on the road to reach the second round and relegated Ballymena received the toughest assignment on offer with a daunting away trip to the Lawn. Holders CIYMS make the short journey across Belfast to Woodvale and like their peers in the top division, they should emerge unscathed.

A lot has been said and written about the gap in standard between the top two sections in NCU cricket, and if what is being said is true, then the eight quarter-finalists will be from the top tier. However, cup matches are one-offs and there’s no bigger incentive for the underdog than to capture a big scalp.

Welcome on board Arthur J Gallagher, and let’s hope the 2016 AJG Challenge Cup brings back the glory days of well promoted and marketed cut and thrust cup cricket.   

Photo: Chris Dougherty, Captain of holders CIYMS with Gordon Markey, Broking Director of Arthur J Gallagher, and Peter McMorran, President of the NCU.

Clarence Hiles


« Back to Features