ATHERTON captain Paul Walsh believes the Bolton Association will be the best quality ever this season.

Last season’s double winning skipper says his team are even stronger this year.

He believes a number of their title rivals have also improved the quality of their squads and that the four additional clubs will also raise the general standard.

Walsh led his side to a historic league and Cross Cup trophy clean sweep last summer but believes it will take a Herculean effort to repeat the feat this time around.

“It’s impossible to follow what we did last season,” he said.

“We didn’t go out to do it last year, we just went out to enjoy our cricket, play hard and see what happened.

“That was the attitude and it worked for us. It was an incredible season, but we’re not going into this season thinking we can do anything like that again.

“We will still play exactly the same way. We’ll enjoy playing together and trying to win games and if we win we win, if we lose we lose.

“It will be a hundred times harder this time around because everyone will want to beat us.

“Teams will want to knock us off our pedestal, but on paper I would say our team is stronger than last season.

“The target is to get in the top six because at the end of the season when the league splits and the top six play each other it’s going to be the best standard of cricket ever in the Bolton Association.

“I think a lot of clubs have seen what we did last year with two overseas players and they are doing the same because they’ve seen what it can do for a club.

Atherton have been hit by the loss of one of last year’s two overseas amateurs Jimmy Damjanovski whom they have replaced with Rason Primus who, like their remaining overseas player, Jamar Griffiths, is from Barbados.

“Damjanovski was massive for us last season but he’s gone to university. Our new overseas plays in the same league as Jamar.

“He has represented Barbados at junior levels up to under-18s and he’s coming over here for the challenge.”

Last season Atherton relied heavily on the bowling of Damjanovski and Griffiths who would often bowl right through the innings.

But new rules this year mean only one bowler can bowl 18 overs and no other bowler can bowl more than 10.

“We are not overly worried about the rule change because we won the Cross Cup with the same rules.”

On the new 18-team league, up from 14 last season due to the recruitment of Lostock, Worsley, Winton and Swinton Moorside, he said: “It’s good to have four new teams in the league this season.

“Bury were a breath of fresh air when they came into the league last year. If the new teams can do the same they will bring something to the league.

“It will also be good going to new grounds, it will give us something fresh.”