As the dust settles on the 2018 North Lancs/Cumbria Cricket League season, Carlisle Cricket Club and champions Cockermouth Cricket Club have both had reasons to celebrate.

For Cockermouth, a 129-run home win over Wigton in their penultimate Premier Division fixture of the campaign confirmed their title success before they concluded their season with another home victory against Millom.

Skipper Gareth White says this year’s title win was a culmination of a number of years of hard work.

“It’s been a really good season,” he admits.

“We have taken time to build this team over a four or five-year period, knowing when we brought young players in around 2015 when I took the captaincy on with Alex Grainger as vice-captain, that we had a four-year plan where we wanted to win the league in either the third or fourth year.

“It’s come to fruition this year which is great.”

At Edenside, a fourth-placed finish marked another encouraging season for Carlisle in just their second term back in the top-flight after promotion from the first division in 2016.

Carlisle captain Marc Brown has been pleased with what he has seen from his troops, particularly his younger players, this season.

“From a first-team point of view, the one major positive I look at is that we do have some very, very good young players,” he reveals.

“We probably have five or six lads between the ages of 16 and 21 that are going to be the future of the club and they, individually this year, have progressed again. We have lads underneath [first-team level] that are going to be constantly pushing each year, as well.

“One of the most positive things I’d like to highlight is this is the first team I have played in where, genuinely, 15 people want to play first-team cricket which means I have to leave people out each week. This is the first time I’ve been in that environment, certainly as captain.

“In terms of the season, I think the best team has won the league.

“I think that’s pretty clear. Cockermouth have a strong batting line-up and they have a good balance with their attack.”

White agrees with Brown that his batsmen have delivered, although Sam Scully did win the wicket-keeper award and Christopher Hodgson Hodgson the leading amateur wicket-taker award in the Premier Division.

“If you looked around amateur cricket anywhere in the country, I don’t think you’d find a stronger top six or seven,” he adds.

“I have played professionally and every other member of the top six has played minor counties cricket.”

But White concedes Cockermouth’s youthful team could, potentially, improve even more ahead of the 2019 season.

He enthuses: “That is the frightening thing!

“The average age of the team is about 20/21, there’s no fear about the team coming towards the end.

"I’m 40 next year but still able to deliver the goods. We are looking for this to be the launchpad for us to kick on and really dominate over the next three or four years.”

For the second successive season, Carlisle reached a cup final, losing out to Furness in the CN Higson Cup final at Cleator, just as they had done in the 2017 County Cup Final.

“The club is going in the right direction but, at the same time, I think we have frozen in the big games, I think,” Brown concedes. “You probably will do with a young team in any sport.

“But we have beaten Furness at home and last year’s champions [Workington] in our first game this season. So, we have won some big games against good teams.

“We beat the best side and the second best side [in the league], in Cockermouth and Cleator, to get to the CN Cup final.

“If I’m going to be honest, next year we will push for the league again, but our best chance of a trophy next season is probably going to be a cup.

"But we need to know how to rock up on that game. We have found this year that we have not quite rocked up on those big occasions.

“So, overall, it’s been a positive season but there are small margins, one per centers, we need to work on to improve.”

One major positive Carlisle can take from the season is the form of openers Ben Davidson, and especially, returning Tom Benn.

“Tom has probably had his best season since he started playing the game,” Brown accepts. “He has been quite outstanding.

“He has gone out his way and was getting coached by Keswick’s professional Geeth [Kumara]. He didn’t started well, but then looked at his game, and he was intelligent enough to think ‘this is what I want to do’.

"Ben has been a good partner for Tom. Ben will probably say himself he has got in a lot but he hasn’t converted those starts into big scores.”

Brown, who himself accepted he had suffered one of his worst seasons with the bat as a result of leading a young side, highlighted some of his fast bowlers for praise.

“With the ball, I think Fraser Conn has been a tremendous find,” he says.

“Henry Walker is going to be our leading wicket-taker at 17. That is progress for him from last year.

"I think we have some committed players like James Bell. He hasn’t taken a lot of wickets but he has contributed to some performances.

“Looking at young players, Jonathan Davidson has been a really good find for the season. He is 17 and can bowl now, as well. We have some positives, it’ll just be about keeping the team together.”

Meanwhile, both Brown and White gave an update on where they stood with regards to their 2019 overseas professionals at this early stage in planning for next campaign.

“Haseeb [Azam] was really good for us this year,” White admits.

“He fitted in very well and, although he didn’t get a shed load of wickets himself, at Bacup and Benwell Hill, if he didn’t deliver the goods, they lost. It was that simple.

“But I think he found playing in a good team enjoyable.

“We are still in touch with Haseeb. We’re not sure his situation next year.

"We will be engaging a professional but whether our finances fit in with what he wants, we’re not sure.

“That’s the only situation which is pretty fluid at the moment.”

Brown adds: “We are reviewing our policy as a club.

"We will get someone for next year but, with the amount of cricket played in the world now, the only guarantee of keeping a bloke, it’ll probably have to be a Sri Lankan because their season starts in November and finishes in March.

“There’s so much T20 cricket and, because that is financed well, if you look at Derval [Green], he was getting paid three times the amount of money we were paying him for three weeks’ work [in the inaugural Global T20 Canada tournament].

“He is a 29-year-old fast bowler, bowling four overs in a game, and they have to look after their bodies to make as much money as they can while they can. I don’t blame him for leaving.

“But, for clubs, it’s very, very hard and we had a rough deal with him leaving early in June. But we played five games without a professional and won two, losing two very narrowly.

“It’s tough but it’s not the be-all and end-all because we do have some talented players.”

Elsewhere in the North Lancs/Cumbria Premier Division, Cleator ultimately had to settle for second behind Cockermouth after making an impressive start to the season, while Furness came third but claimed both the CN Higson Cup and the County Cup trophies.