The new domestic season springs into life this Saturday after the cursory round of pre-season friendlies and as always, hope springs eternal for all the various combatants. To be quite honest I am “previewed” out at this stage so have no intention of boring you with another one, however there was something particularly noticeable when gathering all the information ahead of this particular season.

For the past 20 years and more the North West averages have been dominated almost exclusively by a very familiar set of faces and while those individuals have been supremely talented players throughout their respective careers, the tide has started to turn. Admittedly Decker Curry and Gary Neely claimed the senior bowling and batting awards in 2014, however the feeling is that change is finally in the air.

During a chat with new Coleraine skipper Scott Campbell this week he pointed to the fact that although they had plenty of senior experience in the squad, only four of the team that could start against Eglinton on Saturday is over 22. To be fair to the Villagers they can probably match that stat themselves and it is becoming a familiar story elsewhere.

Donemana are another side that are now increasingly dependent on the “twentysomethings” while Strabane look set to build around Aaron Gillespie over the next few seasons. Bready have always had an exciting array of young talent anyway and their visitors this Saturday, St Johnston, are getting in on the act as well. Indeed if you took the senior Macbeths and their Strabane imports out of this week-end’s line-up the average age of the Saints’ team would be about 12.

The fact that we’re getting into this position says a multitude about the advancements being made on three fronts. Firstly the North West Warriors and their decision in 2013 to build a proper foundation of local youngsters, mad keen to play for their region. Bobby Rao knew they would take the odd hammering early on but he defied the critics and stuck with it.

That required Andrew Fleming and the local Union to buy into the idea and that’s exactly what they did so kudos there too. The main protagonists however have been the clubs themselves and it is wonderful to see these young players given the chance to express themselves at senior level. Hopefully these lads will have the momentum to go on to dominate in the way that their predecessors have and I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress this summer.


The main reason for many of the younger North West players getting their chance to shine is of course the fact that a lot of our top players have been stepping down over the past number of months. James McBrine finished up last year while Junior takes his leave of the senior ranks this time around and Mark Gillespie has this week reiterated his decision to retire at Strabane. All three quite rightly received the plaudits after superb service at club, provincial and International level however a fourth “retiree” has slipped under the radar a touch with Stephen Smyth set to call it a day after a glittering career.

Smyth of course is regularly held up to the light with Decker Curry in the “who was better” discussion. The truth is however that despite their many similarities, they were two completely different cricketers. Both lefties, yes, both crafty spinners, of course and both superb slip fielders, check. Both Ireland Internationals too; but after that the similarities stop.

Curry would run through a wall for six runs and would think nothing of setting up a bowling machine at 8 am on the day of a cup final. He demands everything of the people around him and leaves everything on the pitch for them in return. He has no interest in records but he wants to win and then come back tomorrow and win better and he wants nobody in his way as he does it.

Smyth on the other hand would probably admit that cricket wasn’t even his first sporting love. But he was damned good at it. As in his rugby he hankered after testing himself against the best. He got more of a buzz out of scoring 40 against the MCC than scoring 150 against Western Counties and where Curry’s determination and aggression lifted him to great heights, Smyth was all touch. He is nowhere near Decker’s 97 centuries but it might surprise a few to note that in the International arena, Smyth has his nose in front.

The sign of real class in batting is to watch someone who has all the shots, and the time to play them, and SS had all day. He would be the first to admit that he wasn’t the most obliging of beings when it came to giving interviews but that is his wont. I did ask him a few times but it was never going to happen, however he did promise me a good photo and he made a point of delivering.

It was at the Rectory during his spell at Glendermott and when he came in to bat I had the camera lined up at the wire square of the wicket at the far side. A couple of overs in he hit a square cut that was so precise that had I not tumbled in a heap to get out of the way, would have come clean through the lens. I never asked again after that.

If, as looks likely he has decided to retire, then he has certainly earned his place among the top players of a generation.


The final word this time goes to a good friend of ours in the North West who has very quickly shaken a monkey off his back and looks set to be given the chance to resurrect his career back in the south of England.

There have been plenty of people exercising their right to express various opinions about Phil Simmons’ Ireland career and while I openly admit to being a fan of the former Head Coach generally, I felt the treatment of Craig Young during the World Cup was really poor form.

Obviously I have no idea what he told Craig privately but the inane “others were bowling better in the nets” line only served to frustrate supporters back home. Given Craig’s International record in the run up to the World Cup the “excuse” offered obviously suggested that the team was being picked on very current form, however a quick look through the scorecards would suggest that that most certainly wasn’t the case.

It is all water under the bridge now of course but during his recent trial at Sussex, Craig let his frustrations out in the best way possible, leaving us wondering what might have been in the Antipodes had we been brave enough to pick an out and out bowler to bowl. Despite the fact that it would be a huge loss to the North West, I’m pretty sure everybody here hopes that he gets the breaks this time.