Fresh from a winter of cricket in Australia, Read skipper Kyle O’Connor is hoping to push the club towards a first Ribblesdale Cricket League title in 11 years.
The 28-year-old notched 183 runs and claimed seven victims during his stay in Melbourne where he represented Williamstown CYMS.
But after landing on home soil the Whalley Road captain is eager to guide the Twenty20 kings back to the Section A summit having culminated last term in fourth.
“Expectation this season is to finish in the top four again and keeping pushing towards the title. We are a very young side this year but the youth at the club are very strong and they’ve now got a couple of years experience at senior league level. That should help us achieve what we’re building towards.”
Having beaten Cherry Tree in the Twenty20 final at Preston Old Road nine months ago, the club’s first success in the competition, he added: “We’d love to have a Ramsbottom Cup run this season as we haven’t had one due to being knocked out in bowl outs because of the weather. Also it would be great to make finals day again in the T20 and retain the trophy. I really can’t wait to get going.”
O’Connor has strengthened his squad with the addition of former Lowerhouse batsman Ben Gorton, though they’ve lost Kieran Grimshaw and Mohammed Zafran to Accrington and Droylsden respectively while Jon Harvey has announced his retirement from the game.
“Ben has been very impressive at nets and he’ll strengthen our batting,” he said. “He scored some good runs last season at Lowerhouse and I’m expecting him to be a big player for us this season!
“We’ve lost Kieran, which is disappointing, but I wish him all the best while Zafran has joined his brother Jamal. The retirement of Jon is a big loss but this now opens up a place for our juniors who were impressive in the second string last season.”
O’Connor, who has landed South African Keegan Petersen as professional for the term, added: “He’s a highly rated batsman that bowls leg spin. Looking at his stats he looks very impressive and I’m looking forward to watching him bat and I believe he will help us push for a place in the top four.”
Meanwhile, Padiham captain Callum Clarke has revealed that the club’s committee has drafted a three-year plan in a bid to bring top flight cricket back to the Arbories.
Clarke’s side were condemned to a spot in the bottom section of the Ribblesdale Cricket League’s re-invented structure having finished bottom of the division with 101 points in 2013.
Disappointingly the club culminated last term in fifth, but Clarke is determined to address that in a bid to match the club’s ambition. “The club’s committee has put a three-year plan in place which starts off with promotion back to the top tier. That’s definitely the ambition.
“We’ll look to establish ourselves in the top division in the second year and aim for a top four finish in the division in our third year. The club wants to get back to where it was previously, back to pushing for a spot in the Lancashire Cup.”
Padiham haven’t won a league title since 1999 and the Ramsbottom Cup has evaded their grasp since 2008, but the club’s recruitment in the winter months has bolstered hopes of claiming a piece of silverware this year.
Brannon Varley has arrived from Ribblesdale Wanderers, Phil Haggerty has signed from Lancashire League champions Lowerhouse while Ben Heap, who fired 542 runs for the West Enders last season, will be the club’s paid man.
After a narrow loss to Kendal, which saw Darren Braithwaite’s knock of 96 help the hosts knock off Padiham’s 208-5 total with five balls remaining, Clarke said: “I’m looking forward to it now. We’ve worked hard over the winter and we’ve had a good 10 weeks indoors.
“We warmed up for the season with a very good performance against Northern League side Kendal too. We pushed them all the way and they play at a very good standard. Brannon got 72 runs and four wickets which is a great start and Phil will start the campaign as our opening batsman. We’re throwing him in at the deep end.”
Clarke, who will lose Anthony Hall for the season, added: “Ben started really well too. He got 36 runs and a couple of wickets which we were happy with. He’s been looking good in nets as well. I’m looking forward to a good season from him.
“He’s a winner and he won so much at Lowerhouse. He’ll strengthen us in every department plus he’ll add that winning mentality. He knows how to do that. It’s a great signing for us and he’ll bring a lot to the team. He’s a good all-rounder.”
Padiham begin the new campaign against Euxton at Balshaw Park on Saturday, starting at 1-30 p.m.