Seven months after one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the Western Premier Division came to its conclusion, the next is about to begin. Clydesdale’s last-over victory in the title decider against Ferguslie will live long in the memory of all those who were there to witness it: 224 days on from that dramatic day at Meikleriggs, however, last year’s champions are focused solely on the new journey that now lies ahead.
“We had our championship photo taken last Saturday,” said skipper Paddy Barbour, “in front of the pavilion with the cup and so on, and I said to the guys that as far as I was concerned this was the last time that we would discuss last year and what we won because, come April and the new season, it’s not relevant any more. It’s a fresh slate: there are a couple of new teams in the league and others have new personnel, so everyone is starting afresh.
“We are the current champions and have a target on our back – we know that everyone will want to beat us – but we were top of the league from the first or second week last year so have already experienced that sort of pressure. We’re looking forward to it, and hopefully we’ll end up there or thereabouts this time out as well.”
COVID-19 made 2021 a season like no other, with two rounds lost at the start of the campaign to the restrictions that limited travel in and around the Glasgow area. The tightening of border controls had its effect, too, as clubs were unable to engage professional and amateur players from overseas. Their return adds further strength to Clydesdale’s challengers for the title.
“They add a bit of quality across the board,” said Paddy. “There’s already a decent bit of quality in the top four or five teams, but that gets spread about a bit more: last year was maybe the truest representation of where each club is actually at. But it’s always a good test, especially for younger players who might not have played against players of that calibre much before.”
While Clydesdale have brought in all-rounder Kess Sajjad from Poloc, the most eye-catching moves of the winter have involved newly-promoted Ayr, whose acquisition of Scotland star Hamza Tahir from Sunderland and Neil Flack from Greenock has added extra class to an already exciting squad.
“Ayr is the trending favourite, if you like: they’re being talked about a lot, which is definitely fair,” said Paddy. “Hamza is a fantastic signing and they’ve retained Michael English and the McElnea brothers too, so they have a steady six or seven guys who are very good.
“Ferguslie have strengthened as well with the inclusion of their overseas amateur [Elliot Moses], who played for them before [in their title-winning season of 2018] and is a great player. And then there’s [2019 champions] Uddingston, who will be right up there amongst the favourites too.”
While Ayr open their campaign at Nunholm, also-promoted Calero Kelburne entertain Langside at Whitehaugh, the latter having signed young prospect Bahadar Esakhiel from Clydesdale. M8 Driving Ferguslie and SM Cricket Stirling County meet at Meikleriggs in a fixture that ended in a one-run win for the visitors last time out, while Tunnock’s Uddingston and Prestwick, two teams that stayed in title contention for much of last season, renew their rivalry at Bothwell Castle Policies. The champions begin their bid for an eighteenth WDCU league title at Hamilton Crescent, where McCrea West of Scotland will be looking for a good start of their own after following up their runners-up spot in 2019 with a sixth-place finish last year.
“West always have good cricketers in their ranks, but for whatever reason they haven’t [been consistent] in recent times,” said Paddy. “But they’ve got a couple of guys from Australia [overseas amateurs Joe and Tom Colgan] which will add a bit of strength.
“But I’m just looking forward to getting the coloured kit on and getting going,” he added. “I like going to Hamilton Crescent: there’s always a good smattering of locals there.
“It’ll be a great way to start the season.”
Western Premier Division – 30 April 2022
Your Move Dumfries v Ayr (at Nunholm)
Calero Kelburne v Langside (at Whitehaugh)
M8 Driving Ferguslie v SM Cricket Stirling County (at Meikleriggs)
McCrea FS West of Scotland v Clydesdale (at Hamilton Crescent)
Tunnock’s Uddingston v Prestwick (at Bothwell Castle Policies)
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