It isn't difficult to be positive and upbeat about a lot of things going on in Irish cricket these days and in regional terms the fact that Unions now have their own Coaching and Development Officers (CDO) certainly falls into that bracket. The parent body is to be congratulated on providing finance that has allowed the North West in particular to have their own CDO but the flat line truth is that we should never had lost ours in the first place.
There is no point in opening old wounds but in 2009 Brian Allen was employed by the now defunct Northern Ireland Cricket Association in the worst thought out plan since Nadine Coyle doing television interviews. It appeared then that a lot of his time was spent doing presentations to various councils and bodies in order to attract finance to keep him in the post but the Fox Lodge man made no attempt to reduce the amount of hours he spent doing the actual job he wanted to do. Such was the impression he made, when the job became available this time, the interviewers looked nowhere else.
Brian Allen is a methodical individual and having witnessed one of his council presentations I can say without fear of contradiction that he goes prepared. Since January this year Brian has been rebuilding the base that he had successfully started years earlier and is back in the schools promoting cricket. One of his main successes during that first stint was introducing the sport into St Columb's College, the first time a cricket bat had ever been used (legally at least) at the Buncrana Road campus since it had opened its doors.
When I spoke to the CDO this week it was fairly clear that while he is delighted to be back doing a job he loves, he was under no illusions that he would be starting at the beginning again. “I'm currently employed by Cricket Ireland with input from the North West Union on a 30-hour per week contract but its not a case of counting hours as there is so much to be done at this stage. The starting point was to contact all clubs in the North West and carry out an audit of their needs and while many clubs have responded already, I'm still hoping that the rest will do so in their own time.
One of the things the clubs were asked to do was to identify any “feeder” schools and once that happened I contacted the schools themselves and we discussed coaching options. I found during that time that basically no cricket coaching had been continued in any of the schools but the majority were very receptive to starting up. As it stands now I am already working in a total of 12 schools, 10 of which are primary”.
“Obviously the Kwik- Cricket programme is one of the better ways to get kids involved and we have a number of festivals upcoming in the next fortnight aimed at this age group starting at Strabane on 23 May; Limavady on 24 May, Eglinton on 25 May and Coleraine on 7 June. The plan is to run two tournaments on each day, one for girls and one for boys as there has been a notable increase in the number of girls expressing an interest. Ladies cricket is a big part of the job at the minute and we're hosting a ladies cricket workshop over the next two weeks starting at Bready on Tuesday 22 May. We intend working with the under-17 and senior ladies at that and a second workshop the Tuesday after (29 May) in order to form an Ulster squad for a T20 triangular series in Leinster this summer”.
“Earlier this year I was also involved in an “Introduction to cricket” seminar which was attended by members of the Ballyspallen and Eglinton clubs. The day was aimed at educating trainees about coaching strategies and how to identify and address the developmental needs of their clubs. That is something I would be looking to continue if clubs wanted to avail of the opportunity”.
I asked Brian about the process of filtering youngsters from schools cricket into clubs and he suggested that it was a two part initiative. “The second part is progressing from what we do in the schools and the Kwik cricket festivals into club cricket but the first part is ensuring that clubs have people and processes in place to handle any new entrants. There is no point in us signposting youngsters or parents to various clubs if the clubs aren't equipped to welcome them properly”.
As well as all of that Brian is of course heavily involved in the new Cricket Development Committee established by the North West “think tank”. “There are lots of good things happening at the minute and that committee is taking its role very seriously under Bobby Rao”. The under-age squads for example are now experiencing the use of video analysis and this is proving hugely successful. You can tell people all day long what they're doing wrong but the message is much clearer if you show them. The boys really engage with that aspect of the process and all in all it lets them see a level of professionalism in what they're doing. They are kitted out properly and availing of up-to-date techniques and I have no doubt that it is making a huge difference”.
Making a difference was something that Brian Allen started doing a few years back before he was rudely interrupted. Here's hoping he's given the proper tools to see the job through now.
And finally this week I would like to close with a word on the ongoing debate on the forum regarding the Irish Senior Cup. One or two observers seem to be running away with the idea that after one round of this year's competition that there has been some sort of irreversible shift in the “balance of power”.
Time will tell of course but while I fully accept that the Leinster clubs enjoyed a superb weekend, they've definitely had the rub of the green thus far. Let's break it down a little and look at the North West v Leinster ties from Round 1- Railway beat Glendermott out of sight which was expected; County were give the scare of their lives by a newly promoted team with no professional, Bready lost by 14 runs and came home deeply disappointed; Donemana lapped Pembroke and Terenure beat Limavady.
The only surprise among that lot was the latter. When asked to do a prediction by the boss recently I suggested that at least three teams in each region had a chance of winning it. Despite the “carnage” from the first round all bar Limavady are still there.
The second round draw hasn't been much kinder with two of the three remaining North West sides paired together while one of Brigade or Waringstown will also bow out. In the opening two games of their defence Waringstown have been paired with the regional champions in each of the past two seasons so we're hardly comparing like with like. Leinster sides do look strong, no doubt about that, but with Donemana, Brigade, CIYMS, Waringstown, North Down, Civil Service North and yes, Coleraine too still alive I wouldn't be tempting fate just yet …