NCU Premier League teams are divided about whether the union’s top flight should revert back to 10 clubs.
The issue was discussed during constructive meetings between representatives of the 18 clubs in the top two divisions and the NCU’s chairman and vice-chairman, Andy Clement and Alan Waite on Wednesday night.
The Premier League is currently in its third season with eight teams, but there is concern that the structure has not had the desired impact.
The meeting with the Premier League clubs discussed the merits of an eight-team, 10-team and even a 12-team top flight, with the possibility of splitting the division midway through the season like Irish League football. CIYMS, Ballymena, Muckamore and Lisburn indicated they favoured a 10-team top flight.
The issue of overseas players in NCU cricket not surprisingly provoked considerable debate. The NCU hierarchy underlined their concern at the current situation with many top flight clubs becoming increasingly reliant on the import of players from outside the union.
Waite told the clubs that the NCU is currently “five years” behind Leinster in terms of youth structure. He pointed out that last year’s Irish under-15 squad contained not a single player from the NCU. There are just two players in this year’s squad with Leinster looking set to dominate for years to come.
A number of options were discussed about how to limit overseas input in the top flight and therefore give more opportunity to young players. The NCU will now consider possible options for the future, although securing a gentleman’s agreement from clubs would be pivotal to introducing restrictions.
There was unanimous agreement on the need for earlier start times, with Premier League and Section One clubs agreeing that all games should start from 11am from July onwards.
Section One clubs told Clement and Waite that they were satisfied with the existing structure in the second tier despite what is often a hefty fixture, especially for those clubs who progress in the cups.
The clubs underlined that they were concerned about some of the long distances that they had to travel in the National Cup competition and thought regionalisation in the earlier rounds should be considered. Otherwise they were on the whole content with the structures.
All 18 clubs also agreed to a review of ground criteria, with moves afoot to force clubs to spend more on bringing their covers and sightscreens up to an acceptable level.
Other issues discussed were the possibility of reverting back to a finals day in the Twenty20 Cup, the issue of coloured clothing in all cricket and the scrapping of bowl-outs in the Challenge Cup.
The NCU will continue to discuss issues with the clubs with a view to long-term planning and improvement. Clubs are free to bring forward any proposals to this year’s annual general meeting.
Clement told the News Letter: “Overall it was a very positive meeting. People were keen to express their views and we look forward to continuing to engage with the clubs, both in the Premier League and Section One. We are also planning similar meetings with clubs in Section Two and Three in the near future.”