The NCU season may have ended six weeks ago but thereís no close season these days. On field rivalry was well and truly wrapped up in September, which has been followed by the traditional dinner circuit and Annual General Meetings.
We are now approaching Christmas, but cricket is still very much in our thoughts as the Ireland team enters another Twenty20 Qualifying competition in Abu Dhabi and just around the corner big Boyd Rankin carries our hopes and expectations in the build-up to the Ashes Series down under. And on top of all that, we have the spicy Forums - an open house to vent feelings and frustrations on the Internet.
Thanks to television and the Internet our season now lasts 12 months.
On reflection not much changed on the field during the 2013 NCU season. Waringstown and Instonians wrapped up the major trophies and North Down won the Twenty20 competition. Typically our clubs didnít fare too well in the Irish Senior Cup and Coleraine beat the Villagers in the Ulster Cup Final at the Lawn, so it was hardly a vintage year for the NCU.
The new 8-team format in the Premier Section kept the title race in play until the final games and at the other end of the table relegation was decided at the same stage. Unfortunately for Lurgan they took the fall, although they could well return at the end of 2014 because there wasnít a lot between them and the other teams in the lower half of the league, and they certainly appear to stronger than the Section One teams, including newly promoted Muckamore, who had a fine season.
Was the 8-team format a success with the benefit of hindsight? It certainly kept the kettle boiling throughout the season and ensured every match was meaningful. In theory it also brought the best against the best, but outside the Premier Section the other clubs are already under threat as their better players might now feel the need to move. Whether such a move is driven by ambition or remuneration is a moot point, but the poor return by the CIYMS team on the field proves money canít buy success.
That said, many struggling NCU clubs would disagree as they see the Premier Section as money-driven and semi-professional. Inevitably this will create a major divide between those who have and those who have not. The money being bandied around is absurd for a sport without spectators and sustainable income outside bar profits and rich patrons. But at the end of the day isnít professionalism the way all contemporary sports have moved in the modern era?
The 8-team Premiership was not challenged at the NCU AGM and neither was professionalism. Perhaps this reflects an acceptance of the status quo or the lethargy that seems to have enveloped NCU AGMs in recent years. Had North Down won their last match three clubs within an 8-team format would have shared the Premiership. It could have been four had Civil Service started their season the way they finished it. This is ridiculous in modern cricket yet no proposal was put forward to have a tiebreaker on run rate.
Long gone are the great debates of yesteryear that featured many of the best orators in local cricket. In their place we had the routine presentation of rule changes from the hard-working and often maligned NCU administrators. From their midst Lurganís Billy Boyd was elected President and Muckamoreís Andy Clement Chairman and nobody could challenge their credentials in reaching the top two NCU positions. Both have been great servants to the cause and we wish them well.
NCU Chairmen down the years have been renowned for holding the fort as opposed to driving into new territory, and although Cricket Ireland now has a domineering aura over provincial cricket, big Andy is determined to leave an imprint in his two years in office. He is already moving though the Cricket Ireland administration with similar aplomb and he brings a refreshing breath of air and vision to the post.
There are certainly plenty of opportunities on the horizon to move the game forward at all levels. Interprovincial cricket is back on the road map, and the success of the Ireland team has given the game a huge boost of interest across the 32 counties. Can new clubs be generated, can more schools include cricket in their activities especially in nationalist areas, can we get Ladies cricket off the ground, can we get more sponsors on board, can we get better playing facilities and can we make watching cricket a pleasure rather than a chore? Can we step up to the plate and give cricket a much more progressive and modern image on and off the field and not ply all our money into the coffers of the players. These are some of the issues that will face the new NCU Chairman and his team going forward.
In the meantime letís see some healthy debate on the cricket Forums and enjoy the exploits of Cricket Ireland and Boyd Rankin rather than be dragged down by petty speculation of who is going where next April. There are more exciting things happening than promoting a gossip mill.