WHEN Illingworth St Mary’s landed back in the Halifax League last year there was one clear target - to get to the Premier Division as soon as possible.
The Ben Robertshaw-led first team are firmly on track to do that in two seasons while Karl Gornall’s seconds are threatening to make up for lost time this summer, with an unexpected cup final appearance thrown in for good measure.
Robertshaw’s side have lost only two league games out of 35 since their return from the Aire/Wharfe League and after winning Division Two last season have a 14-point lead in Division One this time.
Both Halifax League defeats have come at the hands of Clayton, Saturday’s visitors to The Ainleys, who are also their nearest pursuers in the title race.
The manner of that second loss, at the Bradford club just three weeks ago. gives Illingworth extra incentive to pull out all the stops.
Clayton made a modest 183 but Illingworth were soon 9-4 in reply, their casualties including the prolific Dan Murfet, who has 728 league runs to his name this summer.
Luke Brooksby, who handed over the captaincy to Robertshaw before last season, took the visitors close, adding 31 to his earlier 6-51 haul.
Illingworth were just one run short of Clayton’s total, with nine wickets down, when Brooksby was trapped leg before by Sam Wilson in the most dramatic of finishes.
Robertshaw said: “Everyone was a bit gutted, particularly Luke who had bowled a long spell and batted so well.”
Whether Brooksby will get a chance to gain revenge on Saturday depends on when his heavily-pregnant wife gives birth but Robertshaw said that Illingworth hoped to be at full strength.
There is no place in the side for Ben Clarke, available again after a month’s absence because his replacement, off-spinner Matty Watson, has been picking up wickets.
Other Illingworth players having a successful 2018 include brothers Steve and Callum Cooke, who have 852 runs between them at the top of the order, and 32-wicket Jamie Moorhouse.
Looking at the broader picture, Robertshaw said: “When we came back into the league, what everybody at the club said was that we should try to get to the Premier as quickly as we could.
“Last year the firsts took step one and we are hoping to get promoted again this season.
“If we win on Saturday we will break clear but Great Horton Park Chapel and Sowerby Bridge are other good sides and there is still a long way to go.”
Illingworth seconds had a disappointing 2017, finishing fifth in Division Two, but have a three-point lead over neighbours Bradshaw at the top this time.
Gornall’s men have really caught the eye in the Crossley Shield, with Mount and holders Triangle among their victims as they have booked a home final against Blackley on August 19.
For the firsts, though, their ‘cup final’ is on Saturday. It will be the fifth league encounter in two seasons with Clayton and the score currently stands at two-all.
“They are a decent all-round side,” said Robertshaw. “We will all be up for it.”
Three pages of cricket in Friday’s ‘Courier’