Focus on Eglinton
Nearly time to roll the covers back now and we’re starting to round off our series of pre-season previews with a trip down to Eglinton this week to see how things are shaping up at the Village club. Andy Christie’s men failed to build on a very promising 2008 campaign last time and having finished in the top four in the league 12 months earlier ended up in the bottom half in 2009. A club with a really proud tradition they will be looking for a better showing this time around but as is fairly common knowledge at this stage they look set to lose two of last season’s first team squad ahead of the new campaign.
Player/ Coach Bobby Rao has joined first division new boys St Johnson whilst Craig Averill seems certain to be playing his cricket at the Rectory this summer. Rao’s loss is huge, primarily because the former Indian Test star was the driving force behind a wonderful underage set-up that has slowly been beginning to bear fruit whilst he was also a more than useful “go to” bowler on many occasions. There was probably only a season left in the great man in a playing capacity anyway but it is his influence as a coach that will be sorely missed.
Averill’s development, whilst not the sole preserve of Bobby, was still heavily influenced by him and his decision to up sticks is no help either. Having lost Richard Wylie to Brigade ahead of the 2008 season, Eglinton have become less and less enamoured with the paying culture and whilst their feelings are understandable they have also accepted that they themselves have been down that route in the past. Club stalwart Brian Allen was in reflective mood when I spoke to him recently but it was clear that the former opening batsman was somewhat disillusioned with how things are working out, particularly over recent weeks.
“I suppose when you’ve only been involved with one club and by and large played all your days alongside people who were in the same boat, you’re always going to look at things differently. On a personal level I believe that the culture of paying players has ruined the standard here; you only have to look at the quality of teams now compared with say twenty years ago to see that. There is little loyalty now and although you can’t blame players for taking advantage of the money on offer it has done nothing but harm to the sport locally. I am fully aware of the irony too;
"I know Eglinton have offered terms to players in the past but I like to think it was slightly different in that we brought in players who had made themselves available to us. Similarly we only looked to bring in one player each time that we thought would help the young lads in the side to progress and offer them some cast iron support on the field as part of their development. I would point to Jeremy Bray as a case in point; he came into the side at a time when we were breaking the likes of Stuart Thompson and Craig Averill into the first team and he also provided the confidence for people like Richard Wylie to be able to go out and express themselves. We never for a second considered going to other clubs and tapping the talent that they were developing but then I suppose it’s a different culture now and we just have to get on with it.”
The new professional at Eglinton this season is 24 year old Australian Adam Knezevic, a left arm bowler and middle order batsman. The Queenslander is something of a sporting all rounder having played representative rugby as well and is also believed to be a top level coach. He replaces Simon Jackson, the West Indian seemed out of his depth at times last year and despite his obvious talent, lacked the experience required to make the difference between winning and losing games.
Andy Christie retains the armband for another campaign as Eglinton look to consolidate but it is far from all doom and gloom as the new season draws ever closer. The Villagers are believed to have a couple of irons in the fire themselves and still have plenty of quality in the shape of Nigel and Stuart Thompson, Richard and Neal Stewart, Stephen McCloskey, Jason Browne and Johnny Gardiner, as well as emerging youngsters such as Jordan Magee, Ross Allen, Jamie Millar and Andrew Pierce. Simon Olphert is one player that Eglinton are really excited about and the club that produced one of the best keepers the region has ever seen in Shaun Bradley is confident that the youngster, already capped at under- 15 level by Ireland, could well be the next.
Turning to those youngsters Brian Allen indicated that although hopes were high for all of them, they would be allowed to develop at their own pace and that despite the loss of Rao the grass roots coaching ethos would continue. “Bobby was a fantastic influence on the young players here over the past few seasons but he didn’t do everything. There is a dedicated band of people who helped out and will continue their efforts this season and our new professional will be given plenty of work during the summer”.
“The fact of the matter is that you don’t need to be churning out half a dozen new players every year. The nature of our sport is such that if you find one or two talented players every few years, coupled with the players already at the club you have the nucleus of your senior side. You only have to look at Donemana over the past 20 years to see how that infrastructure works; they seem to unearth a Ricky Lee Dougherty and Andy McBrine every few seasons and those two will provide the impetus when they progress into the first team. Then, as the older players step back a bit those young lads will move into that role and the next generation of young players will take their place.”
In terms of expectation then whilst Eglinton will probably be a bit weaker without Averill and Rao there is definitely no notion of anyone at the club feeling sorry for themselves. They know that in Andy Christie they have a captain who can get the most out of his players and whilst they may not all yet be ready for first team duty they have several young players who are shaping up very nicely. The Villagers have a reputation to live up to as well; theirs of course is the setting for our senior cup final and the first ground considered when International hosting is on the North West horizon. The club is fiercely proud of everything that it adds to cricket here and rightly so, and an interesting season looks in store.
Strictly from an observer’s point of view there can be no argument that on their day Eglinton are capable of crossing swords with the best of them. Last season, in the space of a week they travelled to two of the championship chasing sides, Strabane and Bready, and turned them both over. Unfortunately they followed those up with a capitulation of their own against Killymallaght.
I know they have lost a couple of players and that the competition around them looks really hot this year but for my money Eglinton’s biggest drawback is their own inconsistency. Take care of that, and there is no reason why they can’t, it could be a very decent campaign for Christie’s boys.