Neil Gill has been one of the stalwarts of the NCU for almost 20 years but he still has one ambition – to captain Muckamore in the Premier League next year, the club’s 150th anniversary.

The Antrim-based club could not have made a better start with 14 wins out of 14 in all competitions this season before they face their ultimate test, a Challenge Cup quarter-final at The Lawn tomorrow.

But, Gill insists that is just a distraction. The main focus is winning Section One this year and he believes that if they succeed – and they are in pole positon, albeit just a third of the way through the league programme – he believes they will be challenging for a top six spot next season.

“As a club we are very keen to get promotion,” says Gill, in his first year as captain in his second spell at Muckamore. “There’s a real good buzz about the club, winning every week helps, of course.

“It’s a hard league to get out off, though, but if we do get up there are six or seven Premier League players living in Antrim and I would like to think we will get half of them, throw in a top South African pro and I think we could compete very well in that Premier league if I look at some of the teams around the bottom this year.”

That planned recruitment is no slight on the class of 2023 because, after a fifth place finish last season – Gill’s first on ‘returning home’ from Carrickfergus - they have a 100 per cent record due to this year’s personnel which Gill is happy to heap praise on.

“We’ve brought in a couple of cracking cricketers in Vinoth Srinivasan  and Satish Suresh, Ted Britton has joined us from CIYMS and is getting back to his best, last year’s pro Kyllin Vardhan is still doing what he does at the top of the order and our new pro, Ben Calitz hit 60 in the National Cup on Sunday which will help his confidence.”

Srinivasan had a finger injury so is only starting to bowl now, he has also got a few runs up top while Suresh has taken 32 wickets already, got a few 30s and is proper good all-round cricketer.”

Gill was always going to finish his career at Muckamore – “not that I have any intention of stopping any time soon, I’m feeling better than ever" – but he actually returned to Moylena a couple of years earlier than expected, because of family commitments and has taken on the captaincy a year earlier than he really wanted.

“I want to be captain next year in our 150th anniversary so it would be great to be playing it in the Premier League," adds the 36-year-old. “I’m still enjoying cricket as much as I always have, if not more so and also the captaincy, although it helps that you have a good team and we are winning. It makes my job a helluva lot easier.”

After appearing at the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka – a team captained by Eoin Morgan and which included seven future Ireland internationals -  the former Ireland A player was unable to make the step up but, looking back, he has no regrets.

“I probably didn’t want it enough. I had a good World Cup in 2006, I bowled very tightly, and then trained with the full Ireland squad, under Trent Johnston, at North County but I never wanted it as much as the other guys,” Gill honestly admits.

“I use Gary Wilson as an example, a player who wasn’t gifted with natural talent but he always wanted to be a professional cricketer, Wiliiam Porterfield was another. But going up and down five hours every Sunday to Dublin for training, as much as cricket has been my life, and I love it, I never really wanted to do that. “

“So I have no regrets, you either wanted it or you didn’t”

As for tomorrow’s clash at The Lawn, all Gill wants is for the players to give a good account of themselves.

“The boys are really looking forward to going down there, with no pressure, and as long as we put on a good show, put in a good performance. Then who knows. But it’s a nice distraction away from the league,” he adds.

Elsewhere tomorrow, holders CIYMS must negotiate a tricky quarter-final hurdle at Carrickfergus, but last year’s beaten finalists, Civil Service North, will start firm favourites at home to Derriaghy. The other game gives Lisburn a chance of revenge for their Irish Cup defeat by Instonians three weeks ago