Wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien believes the Steelbacks can return to where they belong and gain promotion to the LV = County Championship Division One in 2012.
The Irish International recently competed in the Hong Kong Sixes Tournament where he was able to display his explosive one-day hitting.
Now back in the UK, O’Brien has a packed winter of training ahead of him before he re-joins up with his national teammates next February for a tour of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Dubai.
But the left-handed batsman has his sights firmly set on Northants’ 2012 season and after they came so close in 2011, he hopes the side can learn from their mistakes and gain promotion to division one.
“The team’s aim is to win the Championship next year,” he said. “Last year was a good season, but we could have done better.
“The team played very well for the first half of last season, but then hit a bit of a stumbling block and we struggled to regain that good form for the rest of the season.
“When you are leading the division for 70% of the season and you don’t get promoted you are obviously going to be very disappointed.
“We had the opportunities but just didn’t take them. We felt that we were the team to beat all season, but unfortunately it didn’t quite happen.
“But hopefully next year I can contribute to a winning side and it’s important that we deliver the goods next April and get the club back into division one where we feel we belong.”
O’Brien has a busy winter ahead of him, even flying out to Dubai to shoot a new Bollywood film – but his priorities still lie with his cricket as he aims to get fit and strong for the new campaign.
“I have just come back from Hong Kong which was a very enjoyable experience,” he added
“It was a new concept for most of us, we didn’t quite know what to expect and the cricket was hard, but we played in front of good crowds, the facilities were great and it was an enjoyable trip and something I look forward to doing again.
“I am going over to Dubai next week to shoot a Bollywood movie which will be exciting. I will then be
back here until Christmas working on my fitness, getting fit and strong for next season.
“I then plan to play some cricket in the New Year somewhere, I’m not too sure where yet but I have got a tour of Ireland in the middle of February so I look forward to get back playing cricket again.”
O’Brien hopes to rediscovery the form that helped him score over 1,000 runs for the County in 2011, but despite the success, he believes his season could have been even better.
“I’m a little like the team really, first half of the season I was playing better than ever before, but then I picked up an injury and I didn’t really find that form again.
“I scored three hundreds for the County in the summer, something I haven’t done before so that was pleasing – I felt that my one day form was as good as anyone at the club.
“All in all I was satisfied with my season, but when I was playing as well as I was at the half way stage you want to maximise that and I feel it could have been even better.”
Alongside his playing career, O’Brien coaches young local cricketers and he has seen them grow and develop over the summer – which has resulted in several of them receiving awards at their respective clubs.
“It is going very well” he added. “I continue to work with six or seven lads on a regular basis and they are seeing some significant progress over the summer.
“They have won awards at their clubs at the end of the season so I am very happy for them. I am still trying to push it as much as I can; trying to get more people to coach, but it is going very well so far.
“It is still a bit of a side-line gig, my cricket still takes preference, but there is definitely something there I can contribute in post-career.”
O’Brien returns to the international game in February as Ireland begin their preparations for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – and he believes they are the team to beat as qualification begins.
“We don’t have any games until February when we travel to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Dubai for six weeks.
“I am very confident of qualifying – we are the team to beat, with that comes a little bit of pressure, but we have shown over the last five or six years that we are well able to deal with it.
“We look forward to those tournaments, everyone wants to see Ireland there and we think we can beat anyone on the day and we just have to get thereand play well.”