There are a lot of hardworking people who do their bit to ensure the North West Cricket Union remains a fully functioning unit and very high up on that list is Noel Dunn. The former Donemana skipper has been the regionís Umpiresí Appointments Secretary for the past couple of seasons and if youíve noticed his hair thinning or his temper shortening recently, then let me tell you why.

In 2000, Noel lifted the Irish Senior Cup as the Holm side beat Limavady by 3 wickets in the final and seeing as how it has been a while since heís had his name up in lights, this season heís having a go at turning water into wine.
OK so maybe itís a metaphor, but not as much as you think.

Because every Monday night Noel sits down with a list of 15-20 umpires that he has available at the weekend and another list of 12 or more matches he needs them to cover. So if you multiply that 12 by 2 and then try to make the answer a number between 15 and 20, well, youíll see his dilemma.

The reason for bringing this up now is only partly so that clubs are made aware of the critical shortage. The main reason is so that players and spectators can at least help the Umpires Association keep the ones they have.

On Sunday afternoon I sat down with Noel at Burndennett and we discussed the number of officials who have given it up (for one reason or another) in the past 5 years or so. We stopped counting at 20 and half of them were qualified to International standard.

Neither am I suggesting that we lost all of those members because it was becoming too much like hard work, but for a high percentage of them, the enjoyment of umpiring had been sucked out.

The knock-on effect of that is that the guys who are left usually have to cover games up to and including Premier League standard whether they are ready or not. Thatís not to suggest theyíre not up to it- far from it. Only that the best way to learn the ropes as an umpire is to cut your teeth in the Qualifying leagues, and under the guidance of an Eric Cooke or a Robin Glenn or a DW Caldwell, do your exams and move gradually up the divisions.

At least thatís how it used to be.

The reason the situation has become really critical now is that until (or unless) we get more people umpiring- we have what we have.

This week there are a couple of disciplinary cases being heard by the NWCU and in the weekend just past there were another couple of incidents of players venting frustration at officials. Iím not for one second suggesting that umpires are made of glass or are afraid of somebody expressing an opinion but what I know from experience (and from the figures above) that the constant bickering can very easily grind you down.

Iíve said it so many times in the past that one more isnít going to hurt- if you think these guys do it for money then either they, or you, canít count.

Theyíre doing the best that they can having been thrust into a situation that in normal circumstances they wouldnít be in. The simple fact is that itís either those guys or nobody and if we drive more away then very soon it will actually be nobody.

Please think about that the next time youíre given out to one that (in your opinion) hit you outside the line.