CLUB stalwart Julian Russell has revealed Colchester and East Essex have already started planning for their top-flight return.

The Castle Park side have begun preparations for their return to the Shepherd Neame Essex League premier division, after they lifted the division one title.

Colchester are back in the top tier after a two-year absence and their director of cricket Russell has plenty of experience of playing – and scoring runs – at that level.

The prolific Australian batsman says they will ensure that the foundation is in place for them to be competitive at a higher level of cricket, in 2020.

Russell said: “There will be a fair bit of off season planning to make sure that we are putting our structure in place and ramping them up.

“That challenge is there for us, for next year.

“There’s enough of us at the club who have played quite a bit of cricket in that division in the past to know what to expect but it’s also about making sure that the young players are also prepared as much as possible.

“We will be looking to make sure that the structure that we have in place off the field gives us the best possible chance to do well.”

Colchester won the division one title in convincing fashion this season.

They finished 27 points clear of runners-up Harold Wood, with Darren Eckford’s dominant side tasting defeat on just three occasions throughout the whole of their league campaign.

“It was very pleasing,” said Russell, who has hit more than 12,000 Essex League runs for Colchester since joining them back in 2005 boasting a superb overall batting average of 49.27.

“It’s different to some of the things that we’ve achieved in the past.

“Before the season started, we put it together as a project, which was different to the last couple of seasons where we didn’t have the structure that we wanted.

“We set out to get the culture and the environment right and we weren’t sure how quickly that was going to be achieved, so to see the results come through so quickly was very pleasing.

“We tried to take the pressure off ourselves with the on-the-field performances – we just wanted to focus on achieving the sustainability of the club and how we engage with the players and the public.

“That has translated very quickly to a successful playing group.

“You’re never quite sure how quickly things will happen but our young brigade have done it brilliantly and it’s confirmation that we’re building something.

“Any club needs to be looking to the future.

“We’ve always had a strong colts and junior set up and one of the things we wanted to do was to make the pathway from juniors to seniors a bit smoother and that any barriers that were there previously are removed.”