North West trio bring a little culture to Healesville
Lawrence Moore (Belfast Telegraph)
This is usually the time of the year when thoughts turn to end of season ground work and the various prize giving evenings but for a small but select band of familiar faces, October these days means sunnier climes and the start of 5 more months of cricket.
The recent trend began about four years ago when Bready's Stephen Campbell joined former Fox Lodge player Jonathan Heywood junior, (or JHJ as he has become known) and the two boys began playing winter cricket in Australia.
The pair loved the place so much that except for a 10-hour flight in 2007 they have remained there ever since, the former becoming a dad in his first year there and the latter about to do likewise this year and both are now firmly embedded in their new home.
This season, two more North West players set off to try their luck abroad, Bready's Steven Clarke heading to South Africa to team up with his former mentor Wian Smit whilst Foxes' all rounder Johnny Robinson has gone to Australia to hook up with Campbell and Heywood.
All three are on the books at Healesville Cricket Club just east of Melbourne and all three are currently strutting their stuff in the first XI at the club. Anyone who played with or against Stephen in his Bready days will remember him as a really likeable character who was never short of something to say for himself and thankfully when I caught up with him at the weekend, little had changed and he was happy to fill us in on how things were working out. I started by asking where it had all began and "Soupi" was happy to pin the blame on fiancé, Courtney Stewart.
"Courtney lived in Magheramason but her parents, Ken and Sharon came to Healesville in the 80's as Ken had secured a contract to play state soccer here and they made it their home". "We arrived in March 2006- it was minus 3 when I left Ireland and 28 degrees when I landed here but I was taken by the place pretty much from the start. Healesville is in the Yarra Valley which is well known for its wine and sure that is no bad thing either!".
"On the cricket scene JHJ was already on the ball and he organised for me to come down to the local team; he had just arrived and was raring to go. We went straight into the first team as they needed a gloveman and a top order bat and we were part of the scenery within a few weeks. They were very good to us, very friendly and helpful but they hadn’t realised that we played cricket back home, and were pleasantly surprised when we did well.
Johnny hit his first century early on and was the talk of the town. I was just the keeper who sledged all the batsmen but they rarely understood what I was saying and even the good stuff was lost on them!" " I have been at the club since I started although JHJ has just come back after playing a season at a another club following his spell home in 2007 and its good to have him back".
On the playing front I asked Stephen about the standard and the format of the games and he felt that although conditions differed, there were other similarities. " The standard is very similar to the NW, the difference is that we play on synthetic pitches (because of the heat and lack of moisture) and use a two piece ball which swings a lot more than the quarter ball. We play a mixture of one day (40 overs) for the first couple of games of the year and then two day cricket (75 overs per innings) with the longer games played over two consecutive Saturdays. It is a very different game but quite enjoyable nonetheless.
The basic rules are that each team has 75 overs to bat, if they are all out or declare before their overs are up, the other side can use up the spare overs. In theory you can bat 60 overs and throw the other side in for the last 10 overs of the day to try and take a few quick wickets. There are no fielding restrictions and the bowlers can bowl as many as they like. It's very strange when you walk out to bat and there are 6 close fielders in who are only too happy to return some compliments that I had shared with them earlier! The bowling standard is quite high and there is a lot of pace in the league which is something that Johnny and probably Steven Clarke in South Africa will have to get used to very quickly".
"On a personal note I have been appointed club coach again this year and am being encouraged to make the club more professional. We had a good 8 week pre-season and we train solidly two nights a week. The club has five senior teams and 6 junior sides and as you can imagine cricket is held in a very high regard and the guys are keen to win and compete".
"Another important difference is that we only have a league here, no cup competitions. There are 10 teams in the league and we play approx 12 games, playing three teams twice. The top four teams then play a semi final and then into a final the winner of that is crowned the overall champions! Our aim is to make finals and go from there".
I turned to the difficulty of being away from home and Stephen agreed that it can get to him at times but that he copes well with that side of things. "Being away from family and friends is always the hardest part, but having Johnny 5 minutes away always helps and he’ll say the same thing. For a while we lived about a 100 metres apart, which made for a few drunken nights and 2 unhappy partners"!
"On the plus side there are many good parts to life out here- good people, good food and of course good weather. The ability to go the MCG anytime either to watch aussie rules or cricket is always a big plus. The ashes are coming and were ready to go cheer the Aussies"!
"I am well settled now and my daughter Maddie is four and will be starting school soon. She has an Aussie accent but it's quite funny to hear the irish influence as well in there such as ‘wee’ and ‘mon da’. I'm not going to become a citizen just yet but JHJ and I are both permanent residents and can now stay as long as we like here.
Johnny and Nicole are now expecting their first child in March so that puts an Aussie stamp on him now as well".
With "Bap" joining the fold too this could possibly be the first Yarra Valley with a NW majority but the culture out here is very excepting and I believe anyone can create a life for themselves in the country".
Turning back to local matters and I asked if the boys keep up to date with events here and as expected, they did. "We both keep up to date regularly; I am constantly onto my mum and Davy Lecky to see how the Bready boys are going, (which from all accounts we did pretty well this season) and I also touch base with Ted Britton to see how he is coping with the highly stressful job of a paid cricketer"!
"I know JHJ is chatting to his dad pretty often chewing the cud on where the foxies went wrong too" he said with a hint of mischief. "The CricketEurope website does a fantastic job and allows guys like myself and JHJ to still be part of the NW cricket scene from so far away so tell the boys to keep up the good work".
With Johnny Robinson there as well now I asked Stephen what he could expect in his first season. "Bap should have a lot of good times out here, he has already been received very well and has had one or two big nights to welcome him in. His first game went well and the guys will be expecting good things from him. We a have a good young squad and his experience will be very useful.
The weather will get better and will heat up so that will be his biggest challenge, batting in 35 degrees but if I can 'keep for 75, he can bowl and bat. The wides have to go off the mat here so he’ll be happy and he has plenty of chances of a legside stumping"!
By the sounds of it, life is pretty good for the boys and Stephen agreed. To be fair to them they're a set of really good lads and they have obviously made a big impression in Healesville. "Soupi" was keen to finish with a message to anyone else interested in trying a move out in future and indeed to all involved in North West cricket.
"Our club is keen to start a relationship with the NW and look at bringing out some young cricketers to play here in the off season and gain some experience cricket and life!
Anyone who wants to talk to us should feel free to contact me at email@example.com, and i’ll send you our club website"
The very best of luck to all our lads abroad this year and especially to Healesville CC. The world is definitely getting smaller!