It only seems like last week I was writing my wrap up of the 2013 season and already we have completed a full weekend programme of 2014 in the NCU.
First stop for me; The Lawn where joint champions Waringstown accounted for newly promoted Muckamore. Regular readers will know that Muckamore had their fair share of coverage in Total Cricket last season.
Partly I wanted to how they would acquit themselves; but mainly I wanted to have a chat with Andy Clement the new chairman of the NCU. I don’t think anyone can fault him on his first “playing Saturday” in the job that he wanted to watch his home club in action.
Now not only is Clement NCU Chairman, but on Sunday with the election of Joe Doherty as President of Cricket Ireland in succession to the NCU’s Robin Walsh, who was an excellent ambassador for Irish cricket, he stepped into the role of chairman of the cricket committee of Cricket Ireland.
Arguably this makes him currently one of the most influential men in Irish cricket, charged with overseeing the development and strategy for the game, so I asked him about his perceptions on the strengths and weaknesses:
“I believe Irish cricket is on the up and up, performances on the field have been magnificent, despite a recent blip. We have an Inter-Pro structure back in place. There is still a lot of work to be done but I look forward to working with all the Unions.
“Weaknesses – probably that we don’t actually get more people playing the game. I think we always want everybody to be good, but that’s not the case and we must encourage more people at whatever level to actively participate in the sport. We have to be aware of complacency; if we don’t look after them there are plenty of other sports out there only too happy to facilitate participation.”
So what of the pathway now laid out that gives Ireland the chance to play test cricket?
“It is a tremendous opportunity which we within Cricket Ireland have campaigned for. I just wish I was 30 years younger. For the current crop of players and those aspiring to play for Ireland how good would it be to play in our first actual test?”
Perhaps it is a misnomer to refer to Andy as the new chairman of the NCU, with six months of hard work behind him as he explained.
“It has been pretty full on since October and I have to say 99% is enjoyable and 1% frustrating. I want to get a wider opinion on what we are doing and it was a little disappointing t0 put a development plan out to the clubs with little feedback.
“Listen I want feedback, happy that it should be either positive or negative, is much preferable to silence.
“I reckon that as a management board we are pretty approachable. The time has flown in.”
There is a real sense that Clement is committed to the NCU as a whole, the board structure and rather than seeking the limelight for himself, he sees it that he just happens to be the man in the chair at the moment. He touched on a number of highlights.
“We now have development squads at all levels from Under nine up. We have a number of coaching workshops, a new coaching association and more people showing an interest in coaching. I am delighted with our link with University of Ulster, which I believe will bring great benefits.
“One of the keys in the Development Plan was to put in place a new development officer, what I refer to as a domestic cricket development officer to work with the grassroots in the Union and we are making good progress with this initiative.
“I believe the NCU website is tremendous with the work done by Wylie McKinty. For me we all need to be seen to be human, we are upping what we do on social media and I intend to be active myself tweeting about what is going on. I also plan to be visible at all grounds throughout my tenure.”
We then spoke about some of the more tangible aspects of the first six months in office, particularly around sponsors:
“As Northern Knights we are delighted to have brought on board two sponsors with three year deals, PWC and Connect Telecom.
“The on-going commitment of Ulster Bank to the senior and schools cricket is greatly appreciated and I am delighted that names like these see something in the NCU and cricket in general.
“It is amazing to think that the new sponsorships came about through a conversation started with a parent at one of our underage squads and we are continually working to develop more partnerships.
“Speaking of the Knights we are looking to build and improve on last year’s performances;there is no doubt it is a learning curve. We now have a pathway, with a high performance, squad, an emerging player’s squad and an Academy in place.
“We must also focus our attention on the grassroots; there is no point in having strength at the top now if we are not securing our future.
“New initiatives to get more people interested in the game are vital; one thought is a corporate day with local businesses competing against each other.”
As we wrapped up our conversation Clement was at pains to make one final point:
“PWC have sponsored our Fantasy League and I definitely won’t be picking Richard Keates in my side, but I am coming under pressure to go public with my line-up.
“The first games are this Saturday and we hope to have well in excess of 200 entries and there will be great interest in who comes out on top,” he added.