NEWLY appointed North West Cricket Union Chairman Brian Dougherty is going to fight the region’s corner with the big brass of Irish Cricket.
Dougherty admits that the game at grass roots level particularly in the North West is in trouble and he believes the NWCU need to start telling the Irish cricketing governing body what their needs are both on and off the field.
The former Creevedonnell man, who has taken over from Andrew Fleming, feels clubs need to have more of a say with not just their players but their futures and in the recent weeks and months he will be making contact with all the clubs in the area.
“North West club cricket is my priority,” he insists.
“I’ll be prioritising the youth structure the women’s structure, the umpires and the Warriors are my priority. I know national Cricket Ireland have developed beyond recognition over the last five or ten years and you have got to applaud that and embrace it.
“It’s early days and I’m still trying to find my feet, but the way I like to work is start from a blank canvas and see where we are at as a Union, it’s no secret the fact that I have always been kind of more geared towards local cricket.
“I have been involved in cricket for 35 years and it has always been a passion, obviously I had a stressful time with Creevedonnell and there was quite a bit of work, but I have always been aware of the importance of the ministration to the North West I was quite keen to give something back.
“One of the criticisms and whether it’s right or wrong was that one of the issues that the North West had, which goes back generations, was that we are kind of one of the poor neighbours in terms of Cricket Ireland and that’s gone back to times whenever people were complaining that we weren’t getting enough caps for players in the North West.
“Now I do believe that we have been a wee bit top heavy at Cricket Ireland maybe that’s because they are trying to establish themselves on a global stage and I think that has been to the detriment particularly the North West, because cricket in the North West is a working class sport a completely different dynamic to even the NCU (Northern Cricket Union) and certainly a different dynamic to Dublin. The North West has different requirements and needs.
“Club’s here don’t have the same capital resources, for example priorities for a rural club in the North West is making sure you have covers in place, making sure that we have the ground maintenance equipment. For example Cricket Ireland are insisting for us raising the standards of playing facilitates, but that’s fine whenever you have the resources of maybe a rugby club behind you or a major investor behind you, but most of the clubs here are working to a very tight budget and do most of their fundraising to cover running costs, so it’s getting that recognition from Cricket Ireland that we have different requirements in the North West and ensure that they do their best to meet those requirements or at least in my role in Cricket Ireland that I put that message across.
“I will be telling them that these are our requirements and if they want cricket to grow in Ireland then you need to have these clubs properly resourced. Whereas in the last four or five years the onus has kind of been towards Cricket Ireland. I think generally what you want is if you have Cricket Ireland on the left and North West on the right, somewhere in the middle is where you want to be and I think over the last few years we have been leaning towards Cricket Ireland, I’m going to pull it back more towards the clubs and make that the priority and that always includes the Warriors as well.”
Dougherty, a former Policing Board member, is well used to holding talks and he hopes his time in office will mean the long-term future of the sport in the area cannot just improve but flourish and doesn’t want the game he loves to go down the rugby route.
“Part of our problems and structures have been driven by Cricket Ireland as they are saying this is what we need, but I think we need to step back and I suppose say is that best for us because if clubs are folding and players are moving away from the game then there’s no Cricket Ireland, It has to be bottom up, I know it’s sound a bit socialist, but it has to be,” he added..
“You can’t have a situation where the pathway to international cricket is the only route, yes it’s important route and young people now have the opportunities, which they have never had before, but that’s maybe the minority of people who are playing cricket and you have to look at the whole picture. What my concern is, that I draw examples with rugby.
“In the international rugby stage Ireland are second in the world, but grass roots rugby is dying, because the ownness has been put into the top-level sport and we have to be careful that doesn’t happen to cricket, unfortunately it looks as if it is.
“If Cricket Ireland are centrally contracting the Andy McBrine’s and Stuart Thompson’s and then they have control rather than Donemana or Eglinton you are in a really sticky wicket, the reality is that Andy might only play 8 to 10 games for Donemana this year and if you have your best players being taken away from clubs who need those players, then you are in a really precarious position.
“All it takes is for any single club, it happened to us at Creevedonnell, if you lose two players and they are your best players that balance can change very quickly and people can start wondering am I giving up my whole day and making this huge commitment to play in a team, that is going to get stuffed every week, so it takes very little to change that equilibrium and clubs can fold on the back of that or be badly effected by that, so we have to be very careful that we look at all that structure and ensure that clubs are looked after first and foremost.
“Look is costs £10,000 to run a club every year, before you even start looking at other stuff like buying new equipment and see the amount of volunteers in cricket is second to none compared to other elements in life. I can guarantee that people are putting in more hours than any community group and you have to value those people as well and you can’t burn them out and you have to support them.
“Maybe something like telling them if you raise your £10,000, we’ll buy the club it’s new lawnmower or other equipment, which every club needs.”
The 49-year-old, who is also on the Institute committee, is very conscious that both the clubs and association have to take some responsibility to ensure the game continues to grow and some tough decisions may to be taken.
“I think as someone who ran a club with all the same responsible, issues and difficulties that clubs have I think I’m in a strong position to recognise and understand what club’s needs, so what I’m doing and what I’m going to continue to do over the next few weeks is speak to clubs individually. We have been doing a kind of health check exercise with Brian Allen and I’m going to get involved in that process as well, I suppose I have a fair idea of what I’m going to hear, but I want to let he clubs know that I’m at the end of a phone.
“I’m going to speak to them and I’m going to take their issues on board and do our best to address it.
“I think where we have fallen down in the past before was that we haven’t looked at where we are within Derry. We did a bit of work a while back that it has been recognised at council level that cricket is actually the third most played sport in the Derry and Strabane council area, behind soccer and Gaelic and that’s something we have never really promoted.
“I don’t think we have built a strong relationship with the people that we need to like the sports department at Derry & Strabane council.
“I suppose they are starting to recognise that, but there’s still a bit a of work to be done there, maybe the council could also support, the clubs, the Warriors and the international fixtures, a bit more. Sport NI have been getting away with murder in my opinion in terms of how they have ignored clubs here.
“For example, there has been a number of clubs who have put in applications for ground maintenance equipment in the last round and Ardmore were the only club that were successful, and they were the only single cricket club in the whole sport in Northern Ireland that got funded. There’s a lobbying roll to think what we need to be doing there with organisations like that.
“If Stormont ever get back up and running we need to be looking at what their input is in terms of funding Bready for example. The Dublin government have been very good at supporting cricket, our government hasn’t, the Dublin government have been very good in supporting the building of the stadium in Malhide, we have had nothing coming from our end, so there’s a huge role in that respect too.
“We also have to get a proper high-profile international fixture at Bready, I know we have had fixtures in the past, but we need an England, a West Indies a South Africa, to generate the local interest in terms of sponsorship and we need to raise that profile. There was a huge issue that year with the lack of investment from Cricket Ireland in the international fixtures that happened in Bready, so we need to make sure that they devote the same time and resources in terms of PR promoting the international games here.
“We have other kind of local challenges, which sport generally have as numbers are decreasing. Only recently we lost Drummond, we lost Limavady at the start of the year and other clubs are struggling, even established clubs are losing their third team, their fourth team, so we have to work out is that sympathetic to sport in general in the area or is there something that we in the North West aren’t doing properly, to address that I think it’s a mixture of both.
“Young people seem to like to consume sport, rather than actually play, they’ll go and watch it or play it in front of a screen rather than participate and we have huge pressures in cricket in that respect, as we are asking a young person, not even young people, people in general we are asking for eight hours of their day. Look if you are playing football if you plan to turn up it’s pretty much played, but you could turn up at 12 o’clock on a Saturday at cricket and it could be raining and your day’s wasted or you could be there to 10 o’clock at night and the match might not even be completed and that puts a lot of pressure on people.
“People are now working weekends, that weren’t years ago, people are working shifts, which also didn’t happen much years ago, so their time is becoming more precious, so you are competing against that too, so we need to look at more elements like that in terms of maybe going down the T20 route, make it more attractive in that respect, reduce the number of overs, they are all discussions, which are on-going and we need to address.”
The passionate Leeds United supporter was quick to praise his predecessor and believes that Fleming has done a fantastic job for the union.
“I would like to put on record the work that Andrew Fleming and the staff have done has been kind of remarkable, it’s a different beast now whenever Andrew took over,” he said.
“I think his first meeting was in his house and there no structure or support mechanism and he navigated that fantastically, maybe at times he didn’t get all the credit he deserved, but he has left the North West in a pretty strong position.
“We have a General Manager in Peter (McCartney); David Bradley, we have employed two staff and we have a whole support staff with the Warriors and it’s a really professional organisation, which I’m stepping into and that creates different challenges.”