Gary Blair was appointed as new chairman of NIACUS earlier this month and you can tell how excited he is about the role.
Blair, who himself has stood in Challenge Cup and Junior Cup finals, will take over from Phil Thompson ahead of the 2020 campaign as he looks to continue to maintain their standing within the sport in Ireland.
“I’m extremely proud,” he said of his appointment.
“It’s a fantastic organisation with a fantastic bunch of people in it. A lot of members are still there that I remember standing and I didn’t quite appreciate how enjoyable it was for them.
“After 40-odd years in the game, there’s a whole new friendship circle and it’s great. I’m very proud and I hope I do the job justice and keep the association at the level that it currently enjoys in Ireland.”
Blair started his umpiring journey back in 2012 alongside fellow Lisburn club member and good friend Michael Foster, and he has quickly generated a reputation as one of the best in the local club game.
Having a role at the very top of the organisation wasn’t something he imagined doing at the start, but it was very clear that those within NIACUS viewed him as a valuable member with his appointment on to the board within one year.
“I think I was one year into the association and I got cornered on the way into the AGM by Joe Moore – that would have been my first AGM, so six years ago,” he said.
“As soon as I walked through the door he said I was being proposed to the committee and you’ve to say yes!
“I was on the committee for a year or two and then Phil, who was going into the vice-chair role, asked me to succeed him so it was a bit of a whirlwind.
“When I started umpiring, being chairman of it was probably the last thing on my mind.”
Thompson doubled his role as NIACUS chairman last year with his duties in the same position at IACUS, which is the body that overlooks umpires and scorers in Ireland.
The work he has done developing umpires and promoting the association has been invaluable, and Blair paid tribute to his predecessor.
“He has been very proactive on behalf of NIACUS over the last two years,” he added.
“It was very challenging for him last year with circumstances in IACUS and he found himself in a dual role, which couldn’t have been easy looking after the members of NIACUS at the same time as having that overview in IACUS. How he got through last year unscathed I don’t know.
“He has really worked hard for our association, promoting it along with everyone on the committee. The facts speak for themselves – we are sitting with 9/12 on the Cricket Ireland panel.
“Phil has done a great job and it’s up to me now to make sure we keep going.”
Like any organisation, it is vitally important that NIACUS continue to recruit umpires and maintain a healthy participation rate of officials within the Union.
In times of trouble for North West umpiring, NIACUS currently have 40 standing members but Blair is looking to keep that increasing.
“You don’t have to be a genius to read the headlines and see what’s going on in the North West and the trouble they are having,” he said.
“In 2019 we lost seven members, but we have 40 standing members which is fantastic. We still need to recruit and ensure that a proper succession plan is in place.”
With Mark Hawthorne and Alan Neill being named as two of four umpires selected for full-time contracts by Cricket Ireland last season and a plethora of representative umpires coming up behind them, Blair feels the standard of officiating continues to improve.
“There is more training there and more mentoring programmes in place,” he added.
“Everybody, from Mark Hawthorne down, we can all make mistakes on any given ball but it’s a long day and if you’re only getting one ball wrong in 600 or over a month, that’s an incredibly high standard.
“You just have to look at the World Cup final to see even the very best in the world make errors.
“As Paddy O’Hara says, we are all fallible and can make errors of judgement, but by in large with the laws, we are infallible and very good on them.
“I do see the standard of umpiring improving and that is shown with there being a professional panel in Ireland now which consists of four guys, two of which are from NIACUS.
“There is then a semi-professional panel and representative panel below that which is laced with NIACUS members.
“Hopefully going forward there will be more getting on to those panels.”
Blair will now attempt to implement his vision over the next couple of years and one area he is looking at is getting scorers more involved.
“I have set out my vision which I won’t bore you with, but we want to get the scorers more involved,” he said.
“The S in NIACUS is for our scorers and we are down numbers there. We want to improve the standards and get as many of our members through a career pathway as possible and keep us where we are at the moment, which is the leading association in Ireland.
“If I can do that, I’ll be a very proud man at the end of two years.”