Lisburn looking to replicate 2018 ‘hunger and desire’ in new campaign

Lisburn will be aiming to put last season behind them and rediscover their winning ways of 2018 when the new campaign gets underway on July 18.

After winning Section One two years ago, the Wallace Park side started their return to life in the Premier League in fine fashion by winning three of their opening six matches before losing eight in a row to survive the drop on net run-rate.

With that now history, Lisburn moved to bring in a number of high-quality signings with Irish international Boyd Rankin joining the club alongside Josh Manley, Matthew Humphreys, Chris Burns, Luke Allison and Tom O’Connor.

Like most clubs, they will be without their overseas professional Faiz Fazal but captain Adam Berry isn’t fazed by that prospect after the recent success they enjoyed.

“I think the advantage we have is that two seasons ago we played in Section One and won the league with a local team and no overseas players which brought us closer together as a team and meant everyone had to step up,” he said.

“The hunger and desire the team showed that season is something we will be looking to emulate this season and build into next with this squad.”

Rankin will almost certainly be missing for Lisburn’s Robinson Services Cup opener against Woodvale and the following three matches as he is expected to be named in Ireland’s 20-man squad for a series against England which departs on the same day as that game.

Manley impressed in his first NCU campaign for Instonians in 2019, picking up 26 wickets at an average of 11.09 – the best of any player in the union.

Berry is hoping to have both available at some point throughout the season and is excited to see what they can achieve at their new home.

“We are delighted to have both at the club,” he added.

“We have managed to attract two really good guys with real, proven quality and guys we will all learn from.

“With the connection through brother Bob we have always dreamed of having Boyd over to play in the same way I’m sure Boyd has always dreamed of pulling on the old gold, green and black of Lisburn!

“In terms of availability we will be keeping in touch with both in the hope we can have them available for some fixtures throughout the season.

“Boyd and Josh would improve any side and we are looking forward to welcoming both to the club hopefully sooner rather than later.”

It has been a long wait for the cricket season to come around and it’ll be over 10 months since Lisburn stepped onto the field when they host newly-promoted Woodvale.

A lot of work has been done behind the scenes by every club to get back into training and making sure they are in a position to return to play, and Berry paid tribute to those that have been getting everything ready for the resumption of cricket at Wallace Park.

“Naturally everyone is looking forward to getting some competitive cricket in which at one point didn’t seem possible,” he said.

“The pictures on social media of the park I think have been teasing us for a long time so it has been great to get back down.

“Credit has to go to Dean Simpson, Brian Mulholland and all of the grounds team for all the effort they have put in maintaining the place and getting it ready to play.

“I can’t thank everyone at the club and the NCU enough for the work which has been done to make a season, albeit shortened, possible.

“Fingers crossed the weather is good and we get to fulfil all the fixtures.”

Lisburn will also face a trip to Carrickfergus in the LVS Twenty20 Cup first round on July 26.

They struggled in the competition last season in its more traditional round robin format, losing all three group games that were contested (three were also void) but will be hoping they can rediscover the form that helped them reach the 2013 and 2016 finals.

“Truthfully, last season given the format of the T20 competition and the midweek fixtures wasn’t great for us with most of the team working however, the guys are looking forward to the challenge this season,” he added.

“It’s a format we have enjoyed previously, reaching finals against Waringstown and North Down a few seasons back. We have a young team and the guys are all excited to get going.”

With a nice mix of youth and experience at his disposal, Berry is looking to use any opportunities they get this season to set a platform for the years to come while also giving those connected with the club something to enjoy.

“We do have a good mix of youth and experience and again given the format the guys will be looking to go out and express themselves,” he said.

“It is an exciting squad and culture we are trying to create and hopefully lay some foundations this season before a full season next year.

“I think the main goal is for the guys to all go out and enjoy themselves and make the most of the opportunity we have been given.

“It’s been a difficult and stressful time for everyone and getting back to some normality or routine of playing summer cricket will be a relief not only for the players but supporters and all those connected to the club.

“From a players perspective, it would be great to give something back to all those supporters of the club and those that have put in so much work behind the scenes to make this season possible.”

CIYMS looking to keep standards high in 2020

Although CIYMS won’t get the chance to defend two of the four titles they won last season, captain Nigel Jones says his side won’t let their focus slip as they get ready to enter the 2020 campaign.

The Belmont club had the best season in their history last time out as they picked up the Premier League, Gallagher Challenge Cup, Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup and All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup.

They will get the opportunity to regain the LVS Twenty20 Cup, where they face a first round clash with newly-promoted Woodvale, in its new knockout format for this season and the All-Ireland crown after Cricket Ireland announced on Tuesday it would still take place.

CIYMS played 31 competitive games across five competitions last season and while they have become accustomed to busy schedules, the maximum amount they could face this year is 12.

Regardless of the lack of matches, Jones says his team are just happy to have the chance to be back on the pitch after a period where it didn’t look like any cricket would be possible.

“The boys have been back for the last week or since we got that sign off and they’ve hit the ground running,” he said.

“It’s been such a long break and the boys have been itching to get back. Everyone is just delighted to be getting some cricket.

“There is a lot of work that goes on. I’m an active committee member myself and part of our Covid committee so I’m fully aware of the work that has gone in – it isn’t a quick process.

“We’ve done everything that we have needed to do and the boys are grateful for the work that has went in.”

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Nigel Jones with the LVS T20 Cup. ©CricketEurope

The league campaign will be known as the Robinson Services Cup for the 2020 season and will be contested in a Twenty20 format.

After winning two T20 competitions last season and their squad packed with internationals, Jones has every right to be confident ahead of their opener against CSNI on July 18 but believes it could also bring more teams into the equation.

“We have been pretty strong in T20 over the last couple of seasons and made it more of a focus,” he added.

“The boys are keen to play it. We will be in the same boat as most clubs with no overseas professional but we have a strong squad with options with both bat and ball.

“We are quietly confident that we can put on a pretty good show.

“Even though we have been pretty strong at it over the last couple of seasons, it can also be a bit of a lottery in terms of the toss at times and you only need a couple of opposition batsmen to come off or have a good day with the ball and you can get beaten easily enough.

“It certainly makes it more competitive. You look at the teams that are playing, they all look like strong short-format teams.”

The Challenge Cup is the competition that players look forward to most and it’ll be the first time since 1918 that it hasn’t been contested.

CIYMS have made no secret of their desire to collect a maiden Irish Senior Cup crown but that is also set to be scrapped amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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CIYMS celebrate winning the Challenge Cup. ©CricketEurope

“We have to just accept it for what it is,” said Jones.

“We are happy as a squad just to be getting cricket first and foremost.

“From a personal perspective you know how much I love the Challenge Cup and it’s been good to me but there isn’t much we can do.

“I’m pleased it isn’t being sacrificed in terms of being played as a Twenty20 competition. It deserves its place in 50-over cricket and we have to take it on the chin that it isn’t going to be happening.

“From an All-Ireland perspective, it makes sense not to push the boat out too far.

“There mightn’t be any of the big traditional cup competitions but I think this new format in the main league will be fun and teams will certainly be trying to win it.

“The knockout cup is a bit different. That could be a bit more of a lottery without the group games and it’s one we will really need to make sure we are switched on for.”

Even though there will be a lack of competitive cricket with the reduced calendar this season, Jones says his men will be just as driven in any game they play.

“As more information has come out about what the competitions are going to be and as we get closer, the boys will start to focus their mind a bit more,” he added.

“Initially we were waiting to see what was happening and we would be happy to play some cricket even if there was nothing riding on it.

“Now that there’s a knockout T20 cup that has focused us already.

“I hate losing so as a captain I will be making sure that we aren’t daydreaming when it comes to the games we play.”

Kennedy excited to see impact new duo can have at CSNI

CSNI captain James Kennedy is confident that new duo Stuart Thompson and Ross Adair are going to have a big impact at the club.

The 2020 season is set to get underway on July 18 when the Stormont side kick their Robinson Services Cup campaign off against reigning Premier League champions CIYMS.

CSNI were busy during the winter months, bringing in Irish international Thompson from Eglinton and hard-hitting Adair joining from Holywood.

The plan for the club was always going to be to enter the 2020 campaign without an overseas professional after electing not to bring Andre Malan, who had scored over 1000 runs last season, back for a third time.

While acknowledging it won’t be an easy task to fill the gap left by Malan, Kennedy is excited to see the new pair in action and believes the Twenty20 format could bring the best out of them.

“Last year in particular we were so reliant on Andre,” he said.

“It was really only Elly (Marc Ellison) that stepped up with the bat and the rest of us didn’t come to the party at all.

“It puts a bit of pressure on the rest of us to step up and contribute. To try and replace Andre’s runs is basically impossible. He’s an exceptional cricketer.

“We obviously have Stuart Thompson in who is a great addition and Ross Adair will bring hard-hitting. It’s an exciting team and one that’ll hopefully produce the goods on the pitch.

“That (Twenty20) maybe played straight into their hands.

“Thommo is obviously in the Ireland set-up and could be involved in that with Gary (Wilson) so we might have them for just over half the games – we will just have to see when that squad is selected how it pans out.

“It’s been great to have him around and we are looking forward to getting on the pitch with him in the next couple of weeks.

“Ross can hit the ball very hard and is a great addition. T20 will suit him and hopefully he will make a serious dent in the bowlers’ figures.”

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Ross Adair. ©CricketEurope

CSNI will have to get into the swing of things quickly with their opening three matches coming against CIYMS, Instonians and a Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup trip to Waringstown on July 26.

They have only progressed past the group stage in that competition once since winning it in 2014 but Kennedy feels he has the squad at his disposal to challenge on all fronts.

“Personally, I’m maybe too old for that game now!” he added.

“As a team it’ll be interesting. We have always enjoyed our T20 and over the years we have perhaps got our tactics wrong in the T20 competition.

“The fact that it’s only T20 this year means we can practice hard for it, try to get the tactics right and compete well.

“Our team is probably fairly well suited to it. We have a decent mix of spin and pace and a decent batting line-up so we should be well suited, but only time will tell.”

Plans came together quickly for the season over the last couple of weeks with top-flight clubs meeting via Zoom last Thursday with the NCU to discuss the proposals and logistics.

Everything seems set now for a return to cricket in under two weeks time and Kennedy is excited to get back on the pitch.

“Up until a few weeks ago we were probably expecting there to be no cricket and the whole country was probably thinking that,” he said.

“The fact that the powers that be have worked hard to get cricket going is brilliant and we are so grateful for that.

“We almost haven’t had time to think about goals. It was only just Thursday night that everything was laid out in front of us on a Zoom call so over the next few weeks we will start talking about plans.

“Regardless of the competition and however many overs it is, you’re trying to win it so that’ll be our goal. We will try to win everything that we are in.”

North Down eager to get their hands on some silverware in 2020

North Down captain Alistair Shields believes their motivation for silverware will be as high as ever when the 2020 season gets underway on July 18th.

With the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the campaign by almost three months, the league will now be a Twenty20 competition and known as the Robinson Services Cup.

The Comber men start with a home fixture against Carrickfergus and will enter as one of the hot favourites to be crowned champions.

After a long wait and plenty of hard work being done behind the scenes, cricket is finally back and Shields says they can’t wait to get started.

“We can’t wait to get going,” he said.

“It’s going to be a short, sharp and intense season with the different competitions we will be playing in and it’s the type of thing where you can get on a run and kick off well or likewise if you don’t start well you can be behind the eight ball a bit because of how short it is.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. We have done well in Twenty20 over the last few years although not managing to get our hands on any silverware which is disappointing. It would be nice to go a step further.

“Plenty of hoops have been jumped through over the past few weeks in terms of setting up the ground and sessions for teams right throughout the club so there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

“It’s just little logistical things like who can be there to open up, who is in charge and who is managing the protocols.

“It’ll be well worth the work when we get on the field and hopefully the weather plays ball so we can have a decent season.”

North Down have been remarkably consistent in the Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup in recent times, reaching at least the semi-finals in every season since 2013.

They already had a team more than capable in the shortest format with the likes of Craig Young and Ruhan Pretorius in their ranks but the addition of Paul Stirling, who is one of the best Twenty20 batsmen in the world, certainly won’t do any harm to their chances.

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Ruhan Pretorius. ©CricketEurope

It’s unlikely that Stirling and Young will be involved for the whole campaign due to international commitments but Shields is very happy with the squad that has been assembled at The Green.

“We are well set up and have a lot of bases covered with explosive batsmen at the top, lads in the middle who can finish and then with the ball we have a leg-spinner in Carl (Robinson), a couple of off-spinners and then a good pace attack with Youngy, Ruhan, Peter Davison, Peter Eakin and Aditya (Adey),” he added.

“We are pretty well set up. Sometimes it’s hard with such a short game to keep everyone happy and there is a real competition for places and for batting positions which can only be healthy.”

The task for North Down will be finding a way of getting over the line and winning a big trophy.

They have lost three consecutive Twenty20 Cup finals since their last triumph in 2013 and were defeated in a nail-biting semi-final by Waringstown last season.

The competition will be played in a knockout format this season rather than the traditional round robin while there could be more must-win games down the line with the Robinson Services Cup set to be decided in a play-off.

They will be looking to prove themselves in those big moments and Shields is confident they can go all the way.

“We stumbled upon a formula that worked and the way our team is set up we have guys that score quickly with the bat and have wicket takers which has us set up ideally for Twenty20 cricket.

“We are pleased with how we have gone in the past few years and that one missing piece is just getting over the line.

“We were disappointed last year when we fell in the semi-final to Waringstown when we had the game won then collapsed at the end.

“It’s about winning those big moments for us and I don’t think we are too far away. It would be great to get over the line and get some silverware.”

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Paul Stirling. ©CricketEurope

North Down and defending champions CIYMS will likely be considered the two favourites for both competitions when the season rolls around.

Twenty20 can be an unpredictable game and Shields is just focusing on gaining momentum and starting their campaign right.

“It’s quite easy to band a favourite tag about.

“Twenty20 is a bit of a lottery and you just have to look across to England and see the teams that have won that competition over the last few years. They wouldn’t necessarily have been the so-called favourites at the start of the year.

“Twenty20 is a bit of a lottery in some respects but if a team get off to a fast start in the league format then the momentum will go a long way. I’m confident on our day that we can beat anyone.

“We know every team in the league is going to be very competitive and everyone will be in the same position as us in that they’ll think they can beat anyone on their day.

“I’m happy with the squad we have and if we have everyone available then it’ll be hard for me to pick an XI which I think is healthy.”

The Gallagher Challenge Cup and Irish Senior Cup are set to fall by the wayside for one season so every team will have their sole focus on Twenty20 cricket.

With the doubt surrounding there being any sort of season in the past few months, Shields is just excited to get back on the field but says his side will be up for every game.

“When I spoke to our guys it was very much a case of wanting to play as much competitive cricket as we can and they are itching to get going. I don’t think an edge will be missing.

“We don’t have the prestige of the Challenge Cup but the guys are competitive and I know other clubs will be desperate to win as well.

“Regardless of what the competition is called or what format it is, when you step over the line it’s may the best team win and it’s competitive.

The whole scenario has put things into perspective.

“What we have been missing a lot is spending time with your mates. Yes it’s a great opportunity to play competitive cricket on a Saturday but also getting to spend time with your mates and have some craic with team-mates and the opposition afterwards.”

Local cricket season set to get underway on July 18

The wait for a return of local cricket could soon be over with the 2020 Northern Cricket Union season set to get underway on July 18.

It is the news that everyone associated with the sport in the region has been waiting for after the coronavirus pandemic had thrown the prospect of any sort of season into doubt.

All league competitions will be contested in Twenty20 matches with teams in the senior leagues set to face each other once.

The current proposals would then see the top four in the Premier League compete in a play-off with the team that finishes first taking on the fourth-placed side and second facing third in the semi-finals to set up a title-deciding final.

There will be no promotion or relegation but the NCU are hopeful that the Twenty20 Cup will still be able to take place.

More official information on the Gallagher Challenge Cup and Irish Senior Cup is expected later this week.

It is understood that the Junior leagues will be regionalised into smaller groups so that teams don’t face the prospect of long trips to grounds.

The Return to Play protocols are still to be accepted by Sport NI but if everything goes smoothly, cricket will be back in just under three weeks time.

Peter Bothwell reflects on his professional career following retirement

Northern Ireland’s highest ranked tennis player has made the decision to step away from the professional game in order to pursue a coaching career.

Peter Bothwell, who reached a career-high singles ranking of 602 last summer, became the first Ulsterman to make a significant breakthrough onto the ATP circuit when he entered the rankings in July 2014.

The 24-year-old won his first professional singles crown at the Irish Open in 2018 and also went on to pick up eight doubles titles before calling time on his career this week.

Although not an easy decision for the Hillsborough native to make, it is one that he is at peace with.

“I made the decision about a week ago and then sat on it for three or four days just to make sure that I was comfortable and making the right decision,” he said.

“It was such a big decision so I didn’t want to rush it and wanted to be true to myself and make sure that it sat right with myself.

“Being able to go out and coach at the minute, I then realised that it was time. I think it’s the right decision.

“It wasn’t an easy one because it’s something that I’ve known and for seven or eight years it has been all that my life has been.

“It’s a massive shift but I definitely think it’s the right call so I’m committed to that.”

Bothwell spent the majority of his career playing on the third-tier Futures level while based at the SotoTennis Academy in Sotogrande, Spain.

While many have become accustomed to the glitz and glamour that Wimbledon provides and superstars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Bothwell was one of hundreds of players who are fighting to make their way to those illustrious stages.

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Bothwell after winning a doubles title.

With the nature of the tennis tour and a tournament almost every single week, players rarely get the opportunity to reflect and take stock of where their career is at and what they are looking to achieve from it.

The coronavirus pandemic has put the sport on hold and it has brought that chance for Bothwell to evaluate everything, giving him clarity to make such a big decision.

“I’ve probably thought about it three or four times over my career.

“You always question yourself if you’re good enough. That was just doubt in my head and I never really seriously considered it.

“Life always felt like it was going so quickly and I never really had time to just sit down and reflect.

“I reflected on a couple of things and was thinking about what I want to get out of my life, what I want to achieve and what I set out to achieve when I was 16/17.

“It was a massive reflection and perspective that helped me made the decision.”

Those around Bothwell and the people he confides in were more than confident that he had what it took to progress even further in the rankings, but it came down to the question of whether the sacrifice was going to be worth it.

“My coach fully believes that I could go higher in the rankings.

“I do believe I probably could but is it really going to make a massive difference if I finish 400th in the world compared to 600th?

“I don’t have any funding and the support isn’t there from Tennis Ireland so it’s obviously very difficult.

“With this time as well, I have always relied on some people to give me support from my local club at Downshire, but with the current situation that isn’t going to happen because that’s way too difficult.

“Just loads of different things and also a sense of responsibility as well.

“My parents had sacrificed so much and I felt it was time to help them and pay them back. Loads of different things like that helped me form my decision.”

While retiring from the professional game, Bothwell won’t be hanging his racket up completely and still plans to play local competitions when he can.

He will now be putting all of his energy into coaching and will be hoping he can find the player to build on the success he has achieved throughout his own career.

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Bothwell celebrating doubles success in Portugal.

“I still might compete in local competitions in Ireland and things like that because I’m such a competitive person.

“I’m not leaving the sport and for me that is huge. My whole life is about sport and I would be lost without it.

“I’m going to get stuck into coaching and I really enjoy that. I always did a bit when I was in Spain to help me pay the fees there and always enjoyed it.

“My mum was a coach and my granda was a coach, so it’s something that comes naturally to me and I enjoy helping people.

“No one had ever had an ATP ranking from Northern Ireland so I was the first one to do it and then my brother followed and we’ve had one more guy, Jordan McKeown, since.

“I’d get the same satisfaction in helping someone from here go higher than me and make it to a Grand Slam or reach the top 100.

“For me, that would give me as much satisfaction as doing it myself.”

Bothwell retires as a trailblazer and a source of motivation for the next generations of Northern Irish tennis stars that they too can reach the professional ranks.

He has laid the foundations and created a path for those youngsters to believe it can be a real possibility for someone from these parts to make it, and he looks back of his career with immense pride.

“I think I did really well.

“I didn’t have anyone to look up to from here that had done it before so I think that probably held me back a little bit.

“When I got to a certain point I got comfortable at that level instead of believing in myself more and to push on a bit more.

“Leading Ireland in Davis Cup was incredible for a couple of years, winning the Irish Open and becoming the first Irish player to win it since 2012 and there’s just a lot of proud moments.

“Looking back, I did make a couple of bad mistakes and you’ve to learn from those as well.

“I was a bit unlucky that I didn’t get a few more opportunities but I think I maximised those that I was given and I was true to myself. I put in the work day in, day out.

“If you looked at me when I was 16/17, yes I had played a few junior international tournaments and was ranked high in Ireland, but if you’d asked someone then if I would win s $25K Futures event, eight doubles titles and lead Ireland in Davis Cup, nobody would have said yes.

“I definitely feel I had a good career and I’m proud of it.”

Duo depart Carrickfergus for Cliftonville Academy

Matthew McCord and Max Burton have left Premier League side Carrickfergus to join Cliftonville Academy.

Formed after a merger between Cliftonville and Academy in 2017, the club will be playing in Section One this season after winning the Section Two title in 2019.

It’s a return home for McCord who left to join Carrickfergus ahead of the 2018 season, where he helped the Middle Road side to two consecutive third-placed Premier League finishes and a first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final spot in 2019.

2018 was a breakthrough season for the fast bowler, picking up 27 wickets at an average of 23.07 while also contributing 207 runs down the order with a high score of 57 coming against Armagh.

It was that sort of form that earned him a First Class debut with the Northern Knights against the North West Warriors at Bready in July 2018 where he scored 46 in the seconds innings of a heavy defeat.

The 25-year-old came into 2019 injured and only picked up 13 wickets, ending the campaign bowling almost 46 less overs than in the previous season.

Burton played 14 times for Carrick across all competitions in 2019, scoring 143 runs in 12 innings.

Despite still being a teenager, the versatile wicketkeeper-batsman has already racked up a significant amount of first team experience since making his debut in June 2016, going on to play 40 times in total across all competitions.

He helped Belfast Royal Academy to Schools Cup glory in 2019 by contributing a man-of-the-match winning innings of 82 in the final to beat Methody by three wickets.

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Max Burton. ©CricketEurope

Carrick also lost Jack Burton and Harry Warke to Woodvale earlier this year but have been bolstered by the arrival of Neil Gill from Muckamore and return of Michael Armstrong.

McCord says he is excited at the prospect of returning to what is a very different side to the one he left a few years ago.

“I had a great couple of years at Carrick, particularly my first season which was great personal success for me and coming second in the Premier League,” he said.

“I’d like to thank Gilmour, Parky and Eagy in particular and wish them and the club well moving forward.

“The decision is purely about cricket for me. I read my article about moving to Carrick this week and the two main things mentioned were Knights and trophies.

“I’m delighted I achieved one of those aims and I’ll hopefully get to return to the top flight with Cliftonville Academy and challenge for the latter.

“I want responsibility with bat and ball and I’m hungry to win games of cricket.

“Last year was a bit of a write off for me. I went in injured after tearing my side about five weeks before the season started and was massively undercooked and was playing catch up all summer. At that level you just can’t get away with it.

“I’m excited to be returning to what I very much consider home and a very different team to the one I left. The team is very exciting.

“I go in as one of the older players at 25, which I think is particularly appealing.

“The opportunity to try and build something and challenging to be in the potential 12 team Premier League in 2022.

“I’m really looking forward to playing with the young guys like Andrew Forbes, Ben Kane, Adam Kelso and Niall Greenlees, and it’s obviously fantastic to have a guy as talented as Max coming with me too.

“I am also delighted to get back in around guys like Brian Anderson and Tetley who have been there and done it at the top level and people who would give a lot of credit too for my development as a cricketer.”

North Down sign Paul Stirling

Ahead of the possible return of local cricket next month, North Down have pulled off the massive signing of Irish international Paul Stirling.

Stirling is returning to the NCU after spending the best part of a decade in England with Middlesex and will be turning out for the Northern Knights.

There had been no announcement about where he would be playing club cricket but that mystery has now been solved with the news of his arrival at The Green.

The 29-year-old has long been one of Ireland’s best performers and will further bolster a North Down side that finished second in the Robinson Services Premier League last season.

He joins international team-mate Craig Young at the club and captain Alistair Shields admitted his delight at getting the deal over the line.

“We are under no illusions of the quality and experience he is going to bring to our changing room,” he said.

“That will be a great benefit for us on the pitch but also off it for the younger guys and everybody to learn from him. We are delighted.

“When we found out that he wouldn’t be staying in England and that he would be coming home to play for the Knights, we were very keen for him to play his club cricket at North Down.

“After having a few conversations with him we are delighted he will be doing that.”

A player of Stirling’s standing and quality wouldn’t have been short on offers for his eagerly anticipated return to local club cricket.

Although he is sure to have a massive impact on the pitch, Shields is excited about what he can offer the club off it as well.

“These things are never straight forward,” he added.

“As you can imagine he probably wasn’t short of suitors coming back.

“We spoke to Paul about a long-term project so rather than it being a one or two year thing, it’s long-term and that’s something he’s really interested in too.

“He wanted something to get his teeth in to and something he can have an impact on – not just on the pitch but off it and with our younger guys.

“We are very keen to have the best team as possible of the pitch but the most important thing is that we are pulling in the same direction and we aren’t interested in a short-term project for anyone.

“We are looking at long-term plans and the guys we have signed have all fitted the profile of younger guys that are keen to come, further their cricket and push onto the Knights. I think he can help with that.”

The current proposals will see cricket hopefully return at the end of next month, and if that is the case, Shields is confident his squad will be able to challenge on all fronts.

“Fingers crossed we get cricket and then fingers crossed we can challenge,” he said.

“We are keen to compete in all the competitions we enter and we do have a lot of quality in the changing room.

“Hopefully we can find ourselves at the top end of the league and challenging at the latter stages of cups. That’s the aim for this season and going forward.”

 

Lockdown coaching Q&A: Andy McCrea

Andy McCrea was appointed as NCU Coaches Mentor earlier this year but his first summer in the role where he should be meeting up with coaches and observing sessions has been heavily impacted.

He has still been able to pass on advice and help those coaches he interacts with on Zoom calls and provide drills for players to do both all over the NCU and at his home club Templepatrick, but there hasn’t been the usual contact.

McCrea was recognised for the impact his coaching has had in Ireland at the Cricket Ireland Awards Night in February, picking up the Sunday Independent Outstanding Contribution to Coaching.

In this Q&A, the school teacher talks about the challenges of lockdown on coaching, how it has affected his roles and much more.

Has it been a challenging time for coaches with everything that has been going on?

AM: “Yes I think it has. The fact that lockdown really kicked in when it did, when people were looking to get outdoors and wanting to get into the swing of things, everyone was thrown a curveball and had to think quite quickly about how we go about tackling it.

“I have to say that I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen through the NCU. They’ve set up the Google Classrooms and that’s really good for keeping people engaged in cricket, keeping cricket in everyone’s mind and giving them the opportunity to practice at home even though they might be restricted.

“I see some people working on some tactical stuff as well which is great. People are being creative out there, both coaches and players.”

How much has it affected your various roles as the NCU Coaches Mentor and even within your own club?

AM: “It has actually made me think about if we could do things differently in the future. We have had a few Zoom meetings and I have to say I quite like it because it saves you travelling to and from the meeting and you can get a record of the meeting.

“I think the good organisers and thinkers will be looking at this and seeing what they can take forward. What I have noticed through the whole lockdown process as a teacher as well is that it has sorted out who the real innovators are, who the doers are and who says this isn’t a challenge but an opportunity.

“I think the good organisations will come out of this in a better situition.”

Speaking to another coach they thought coaching may have changed for good with the introduction of Zoom etc. Do you think along similar lines with that?

AM: “I do. I think the more innovative coaches were already using online coaching tools. For example, we’ve used video and sending the clips off to them via email so their parents can see them as well and doing voiceovers on the videos, so we have always done that.

“I see Shane Getkate videoing in their own premises and doing voiceovers so fair play to the likes of him who are thinking out the problems there.

“You can’t beat the one-to-one contact though with you and the player out there and working with a group of players. I think the good coaches will take a little bit of the online stuff and still keep their personal skills up as well.”

Have you been keeping in contact with the coaches you look after?

AM: “There has been a few one-to-one calls and there have also been some more general Zoom calls.

“I think my job as a NCU mentor is that they keep thinking about developing their own skills. I’m a great believer in that you have to keep developing your own education and I have been trying to do that during lockdown myself. There have been a few things I’ve had on the long finger that I hadn’t got round to watching or reading and I’ve made sure I’ve done that.

“I’m sure people have heard of them because they’ve been doing the rounds but The Test is superb. Justin Langer is very impressive. He is hard and knows what he wants but also understands the player. There is a bit of old-school in him but also some modern thinking about how to get the best out of a player. He’s also very good at using his coaching team and getting others involved so I really enjoyed that.

“The Last Dance is another one. I enjoyed basketball and played it as a kid, but it is top drawer. Michael Jordan is such an unbelievable competitor and you don’t really understand that until you watch it. That’s all coaching and the drive of world class players. They are all just things about learning and gathering information.

“What I’ve been doing for the coaches in the NCU and my own club is watching webinars, researching stuff and then passing the good ones on to them. There are a couple of very good podcasts out there which I would recommend.

“Inside The Mind of Champions by Jeremy Snape, who is a former international cricketer so it’s quite cricket relevant, but he’s a motivational speaker and sports psychologist so he’s very interesting to listen to. Help Me Coach is another good one from two coaches from the south of Ireland. They are GAA coaches but talk about quality coaching and very interesting to listen to. Another cricket podcast which is great is Pitchside Experts with Ian Bishop, Tom Moody and Freddie Wilde. They take different topics each week like spin bowling in T20 cricket, the modern fast bowler and is it a dying breed, so it’s interesting listening to that.

“We do have more time on our hands during lockdown so it would be a shame to come out of it thinking what did I actually do over the last few months? My job is to encourage people to keep learning, developing their skills and pointing them in the right direction for resources that are worth listening to.”

Although coaches haven’t been in their usual situation, do you think they might come out of it better because they’ve had to think outside the box and innovate?

AM:  “Yes I do and I think they’ll value their coaching time because people are missing cricket and coaching.

“We are chomping at the bit to get back out there, so once we get back out there and we’ve done all this learning and reenergised ourselves, there should be some really good stuff happening and kids will be looking forward to playing again.

“It has hit the refresh button. It has given people a break but it’s about using that time in an advantageous way and once we are allowed out there to do it again, we are doing it really well.”

Are you happy with how the coaches you work with have been dealing with it?

AM: “I think so yes. It was interesting reading James Cameron-Dow’s article where he was talking about how in the first month it’s all kind of new, it’s about sustaining it over three months.

“Fair play to them. The resources the NCU put in place with Google Classroom was excellent. I’m also very wary of the end user. As a teacher I’m wary of pupils and families, as a coach I’m wary of players and families and as a mentor I’m wary of the coaches.

“We have to look after people and what’s going on in their lives. Are they affected by coronavirus? Has there been deaths in their family? Are there NHS workers in their family that have been foot to the floor? Is there mental pressures due to the stress and strain of the whole thing?

“While coaches need to understand their players, mentors need to understand their coaches and the stresses that they can be under in their lives. It’s about knowing when to put an arm around the shoulder or when to give them a wee gee up. There’s a lot going on and we need to put people and their needs at the heart of things.

“Cricket is lovely and all, but people are the most important resource in life. If you’ve good people working for you and with you, your organisation is going to go in the right way so you need to value them.”

You play a big role in the youth side of things as well. Are you worried about the impact this break could have on the youth section and playing numbers?

AM: “Potentially, if I’m being honest, yes. When we come out of lockdown, every sport is wanting to get going because they haven’t done anything for three months so let’s have rugby and football sessions.

“Cricket has to keep its eye on that and make sure we are still getting our share of kids playing. I think if your organisation, whether that’s a club, school or Union, if they’ve kept the kids engaged throughout – at my own club we’ve been doing little quizzes and been using the Google Classroom.

“It’s nice to bump into parents at the shop and hear their kids really enjoyed the quiz or the little challenges where we’ve asked to see what skills they’ve been working on at home and put them on social media.

“Some kids have really bought in and loved doing that. If you’ve kept your kids engaged, I think they’ll come back again.”

Is there anything you’ve learned during this time that you’ll take with you as a coach when we get back to normal?

AM: “The big thing, and I’m speaking here as a father as well of a 15-year-old boy, he has really missed the social aspect of being in that team environment.

“While he has the odd Zoom call and quiz, he has just really missed being with his mates. While we are offering cricket to people, you are probably more importantly offering a really good social experience.

“I think coaches when they get back to playing need to think that it’s about getting people together and enjoying this great game. It’s great because it gives people a chance to enjoy themselves and have fun.

“If coaches are jumping in a bit early with technical stuff, I don’t think it’s what young players want at the minute. They want to be with their mates again. You just want two or three mates being together having fun and the coach facilitating that making sure they are enjoying themselves.”

Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston discusses coaching during lockdown

You just have to take a look at the number of Northern Knights players that have made an impact on the international stage in the past 16 months to realise what a great job head coach Simon Johnston has been doing.

Anyone you speak to about him provides glowing reports on the effort he puts in, the time he gives to all of his players and perhaps most importantly, the impact he has had on their careers as a whole.

Going back to February 2019, Shane Getkate was rewarded with his first international cap in a Twenty20 against Oman before a few weeks later James Cameron-Dow and James McCollum joined him in earning their debuts.

In the following months came the emergence of Mark Adair, the recall of Greg Thompson to the Ireland ranks after a run of blistering performances and the breakthrough of both Harry Tector and David Delany who have spent time with the Knights.

Jacob Mulder would have also been back in the green of Ireland if it wasn’t for injury and it’s when you go through the extensive list that you truly get a sense of what the Knights are building.

A lot of it comes down to how much a player wants it and ultimately their destiny is in their own hands, but there is no doubting that having someone like Johnston around to motivate and help you become the best player you can be is a massive part of achieving success.

Usually outdoors slinging cricket balls at this time of year, Johnston is having to deal with the uncertainty of when he will be able to join back up with his players and continue the work that they so brilliantly put in during 2019.

“I was furloughed really early so that has obviously been a massive challenge,” he said.

“With me being a physical coach and being out coaching all the time we knew it was going to happen, so what we were able to do a week before was get the Google Classroom up and running before I was put on furlough.

“Charlotte Lyons was phenomenal with all of that setting it up for everybody.

“Basically, I was able to say here is all the information and links you can use and you work away leading it. It gave the coaches ownership because I wasn’t there to lead it.

“I’ve been there as a friend if they need me but legally I’m not allowed to do anything so I haven’t.

“Callum (Atkinson) has been running it brilliantly. If you know enough about me you know I’m very hands on so that has been a real challenge not being involved, but the guys are doing great work.”

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Simon Johnston. ©CricketEurope

Coronavirus has resulted in coaches utilising other methods to get their message across and the NCU have been putting on Zoom calls and webinars for club coaches and players at different age groups.

With the innovations that have come about due to this enforced break and technology that is available, Johnston believes it could have a lasting change on coaching.

“That has probably changed the face of coaching forever,” he added.

“Over the winter months there will be a lot more Zoom calls and it’s cost saving.

“I know Northern Ireland isn’t a big place but there can be a lot of travelling involved. Going forward, we will probably implement Zoom a lot more.

“With my coaching style, I’m a social person and very big on building relationships and trust with my players, so I would class a lot of the players as friends.

“I would be chatting to them every day or every couple of days anyway. I speak to Wilo (Gary Wilson) as captain a lot and most of the boys I would be chatting to at least twice a week.

“The majority of time it isn’t about cricket but just staying in touch and making sure they are alright. The stronger you can build your relationships the better.”

A major part of being a successful coach is knowing your players extremely well and having the knowledge of what each individual requires.

Lockdown has heightened that even more with usually active cricketers now not able to do any sort of meaningful training and personal interaction limited.

“You treat them all individually,” said Johnston.

“I know enough about the guys to know some would struggle on their own.

“Some weeks I’ve been ringing them to pick me up because there can be some dark weeks.

“You know the guys that can get on with it and you know the guys who need the social contact. That’s just about me knowing who needs more attention.

“The contracted boys are very well taken care of with their S&C programmes and their calls with Fordy (Graham Ford, Ireland head coach), so for me, I can let them go.

“It’s the tier below of what I would call the semi-pro guys. We have provided them with S&C too.

“While the Classroom is great for young guys because you can give them drills and stuff to do, the majority of senior boys are shadow batting and doing their S&C work – there isn’t a lot of technical stuff they can do.

“Someone like a Marc Ellison will be shadow batting in his apartment and James McCollum will have his sister throwing tennis balls out the back to him.

“It’s very hard for a lot of people. It has to be tailored for different people. I know at youth level the guys have been posting drills to do but at senior level you just have to trust them.”

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Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

The main message that Johnston has been getting across to his squad is one of opportunity.

“The one thing I did say to them when this all kicked off was that this is an opportunity,” he added.

“It’s an opportunity for guys who have been injured to rest, for guys who have been on the international circuit like Wilo for 10 years to take a bit of a break for a few months because it’s probably the only chance you’ve had in that time.

“For other guys like Elly, it’s about reading up and going deeper into your game. Shane Getkate is very similar to that.

“The one thing I told them we can control and that there is no excuse for is our fitness.

“If people come out of this and they rock up with a wee belly on them, you know they haven’t been doing anything. Even I’m out running twice a day just to get out of the house!

“If anyone comes out of this not fit that would ring alarm bells for a coach. It’s just how you take it.

“It’s going to be interesting when I get back in to see what the Knights guys have been doing but I think they are going to be grand.

“From a youth level, I think we will learn a lot about our players in underage squads and see the guys who have been putting in the hard yards and those that haven’t.”

As captain and with his experience, Gary Wilson plays a big role in the Knights set-up both on and off the pitch.

It was clear the impact he made during his first full season back in Northern Ireland last year and Johnston’s relationship with the Ireland international has been vital to their progress.

“I remember doing an interview with you just over a year ago saying my biggest challenge was getting to know him and making our relationship strong,” said Johnston.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the bloke. He is a real people person but is determined and knows what he wants.

“He will bring people with him to what he wants and it was like a breath of fresh air him coming in with the stuff he said and did for the guys.

“He is very motivated about his own game and wants to get back firing being that number one in all formats in the Irish team.

“People talk about an extra 5% someone can give you but I reckon he gives us an extra 20%. The impact he makes as a captain is phenomenal.

“People are always judging runs and this and that, but it’s as good captaincy as I’ve seen. Last year was definitely some of the best I’ve been around and that can’t be underestimated.”

If the 2020 season does get underway, one of the most exciting things for local cricket fans will be seeing Paul Stirling in action.

The hard-hitting batsman will be playing for the Knights after returning from his time with Middlesex and his addition will further enhance their chances of winning more silverware.

Just like Wilson, Johnston says Stirling has bought into what they are trying to achieve.

“Every fan in the country would have been excited to see him play this year – I know I certainly was,” he added.

“A bit like Wilo coming in, he has been a breath of fresh air at training.

“They are two completely different characters but it’s fascinating to see the way he goes about it. It will probably take me another year to work out his dos and don’ts.

“Just to have him in your changing room is a massive thing. I know he is one of the guys that people look to in the Irish changing room, so the value he is going to add on and off the pitch is phenomenal.”

This break has meant many people have developed a deeper appreciation for the sport and felt a new drive to improve when it returns.

Johnston is no different and says he can’t wait to be back on the training pitch once again and is confident the feeling is similar within his group.

“The boys all wind me up saying at least my shoulder is getting a rest because it’s usually killing me!

“The positives for me personally has been getting myself fit and recharging the batteries but I can’t wait to get back.

“It has give me a wee buzz again about how much I love coaching and I can’t wait to get out there.

“Hopefully it is the same for the guys and hopefully all injuries are cleared up so the guys are ready to go with a real passion.”