G-Mac Mark Two
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
THE most famous G-Mac in Northern Ireland sport is still found on the golf course but there is another starting to make his mark on the county cricket circuit, also from the north of the province.
Graeme McCarter has been under the radar in his first two and a bit seasons as a professional with Gloucestershire, but the Londonderry-born 21-year-old could be leading the Ireland attack at the World Cup finals in Australasia, in just eight months time – certainly if he maintains his blistering start to the season.
It may seem a big ask for someone who has played only two internationals – both of the four-day variety – but the improvement in his second against Scotland, last September, from his debut two years earlier against Namibia at Stormont, has been matched by his rise from obscurity to a fully-fledged member of the Gloucestershire attack.
And last Friday could well mark the turning point in his career. In the hurly-burly of Twenty20 action, Sussex needed 10 off the last over with four wickets left – usually a formality in the shortest format for the batting team – when McCarter was thrown the ball. Sussex had scored 68 off the previous six overs and the Ulsterman admits “my knees were knocking”.
“It was the most nervous I’d ever been on a cricket field,” he admitted. “But it helped that my first two balls were ‘dots’ (no runs).” Modestly, McCarter failed to mention the reason there were no runs off the second ball was that he took a wicket, a catch at mid-off.
“That calmed me down, but then a four was edged through thirdman and the nerves hit their peak again. But the last two balls were also caught at mid-off. The batsmen tried to dig them out and they were easy enough catches,” he says, without the excitement that had taken over at the time.
“It was something I’d never experienced before. The crowd was roaring the whole over as I ran in. I just concentrated on bowling my yorkers (full length deliveries), but it was probably the first time I was under real pressure and it came off, so it felt pretty good.
“It was pretty awesome at the end with these famous guys jumping on me. You see these guys you were watching on TV when younger and suddenly they are running at me and acclaiming me. It was pretty strange.”
McCarter was denied a chance to bowl in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Sunday when Gloucestershire’s game against Glamorgan was abandoned by rain at halfway but he has a busy schedule ahead and, if his success continues, it could actually prevent his county from releasing him for Ireland's next three one-day games, against Sri Lanka A, in Belfast and Coleraine next month.
“I don’t even know if I’d get selected,” is McCarter’s take six weeks out, “but the big goal is to keep going. It would be a great experience to play in a full-blown World Cup so I have been working on my one-day skills with John Bracewell and it’s coming together nicely,” he says.
Bracewell, the former New Zealand Test player and their coach at the 2007 World Cup, is the “father-figure" for all the young players at Gloucestershire and has been McCarter’s mentor since he joined the club’s Academy as a 15-year-old when one William Porterfield was a regular in the county line-up.
“He was the only guy who could understand what I was saying back then!” McCarter says of his North West colleague and now Ireland captain.
Graeme has been at Gloucestershire ever since, but it was his dad who pointed him in the right direction, choosing the western county.
“I was one of two players who Ireland sent to a European Under-15 Academy in La Manga. Following that I had trials with Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. I wanted to go to Warwickshire because of the famous people like Bell and Trott etc, but he said Gloucestershire because it would be easier for me to make my way and become a pro, which has worked pretty well.
“I’ve been pretty much playing second team games since I was 15, got a few wickets here and there, performed ok and in 2012 they offered me a one-year deal. I got a couple of first team games that year and at the end of it gave me a two-year deal which ends this year.”
But McCarter does not try to hide the fact that his first two years in Bristol were difficult.
“I was feeling under pressure last year and wasn’t enjoying it. I found it a tough summer, very long, nearly six months non-stop, but with a few regular first team games under my belt, I feel much more comfortable now and realise it’s just a case of enjoying yourself. The (new) contract will take care of itself, if I keep performing.”
By then he should have a fair idea if he will be spending next February and March in Australia, bowling to the best players in the world. It was at the finals in the Caribbean seven years ago that Boyd Rankin, yet another North West product, made the breakthrough for Ireland, the start of his journey to Test cricket.
For now, though, McCarter is taking it one smaller step at a time but don’t bet against this G-Mac joining his namesake at the top of his profession.