Cricket: Stephen's bold four year plan for CIYMs ahead of schedule
Stephen Hughes is a happy man - last weekend he picked up the Ulster Bank Section Two League trophy to cap a remarkable three years as captain.
In 2005 he set out on a four year plan to bring success to the club, a new committee was put in place filled on the whole with people like himself energetic young professionals. The club had just been relegated from Section Two and realised that something needed to change to move forward.
At the time they were a youngish side and knew that they were good enough to go back up to Section Two, but what made it all happen? Stephen takes up the story.
"Things changed both on the field and off the field. We were a club that would roughly break even each season, but we strengthened the committee. Off the pitch we became more involved in fundraising events and on the playing front there was a complete change of attitude. Johnny Hewitt joined us and more emphasis was put on practice.
"We have done a lot of things to improve the ground, the most noticeable being our new electronic scoreboard which was introduced this year. We have added a bowling machine and even something as simple as putting a boundary rope in place.
"We are not sitting on our laurels - we are looking at the possibility of permanent nets and will look to put plans to the management committee. The tennis club is putting in a new court and hopefully they will help fund an astro wicket for us at the same time.
"Now we have a sound structure around our youth set-up with over 70 kids involved."
Cricket is now very much the senior club at CIYMS, which has a strong rugby tradition, and Stephen hopes that the buzz around the success of the team will spread.
"As a CI man, I want to see all sections do well. Maybe we can act as a spur. Rugby, which was huge here in the 70s and 80s, appears to be on the up again. Don't forget we have a strong tennis tradition and also had a highly successful squash club.
"I planned to be captain for four years and hand the team over to my successor in better shape than when I took the job on. 2005 we won the Section Three and were promoted.
"Last year we had a tremendous cup run all the way to the final. You might say the draw was favourable, but you can only beat what is put in front of you and we did overcome Lisburn as it turned out relatively comfortably in the semi-final."
Stephen is a firm believer that current players should be involved on committees rather than let them be made up solely of those whose experiences are from a different era and arguably a different game. He also puts forward an interesting argument that all Premier League captains should sit on one NCU committee or other.
One of his suggestions is that the Twenty20 competition would be held over one weekend with 12 teams involved, with semi-finals and final on the Sunday. He also believes that this would be a closed date to attract spectators.
He continued: "The game needs sponsors and surely it is in the interest of those sponsors that sides put out a full team rather than two under strength sides playing each other midweek in front of two men and a dog."
On the subject of sponsors Stephen also pays tribute to the club's own, particularly HCL who have contributed to the club's magnificent new electronic scoreboard. Of course another name becoming associated with CI is Hughes and Company, but perhaps not quite in the way you might imagine as Stephen points out.
"The main sponsorship for the company is Ards Rugby Club and perhaps the sponsorship here is more indirect. Whenever we have a dinner, dad will always take a table to entertain clients and staff, and certainly his contacts have been invaluable in helping us raise funds in this way. That's why the name is on the shirts."
Back to matters on the field and the challenges that lie ahead. Stephen is looking forward to leading out the team next season against the big guns in the Premier League, but he is keen to put the record straight as far as bringing in new players are concerned.
"Any publicity is good publicity and it is great that people are taking notice of what is going on here, but some of the stories are incredible. We seem to be linked with almost every player for next season.
"Are we looking to strengthen the squad - yes of course we are. Will we be paying a number of players, no we will not. We will pay a maximum of two players next year. This year only one player was paid by the club, Derek Heasley, and at this stage I cannot even confirm if he will be playing next year. As of now I have not spoken to any players about joining CI next year.
"What I will say is that we seem to be everyone's flavour of the month at the moment and I know of at least 15 current Section One players who live within a stone's throw of Belmont. If any of them turn up I will certainly not be turning them away!"
The culmination of a great year will be a club dinner next month in the unique venue of Campbell College and again in tribute to the success of the club's fundraising, the 180 tickets have been sold out without promoting the event. All Stephen did was send out around 20 letters to people who had supported the club and he is aware that he will have to disappoint others.
Chris Cowdrey is coming across, along with Geoff Miller, recognised as an excellent after dinner speaker. Again, perhaps different to many of these events, the focus will be on the wives and partners rather than an all male affair. Flash Harry will provide entertainment. There will also be a ballot and auction with funds going to the nominated club charity, Leukaemia Research.
"The target is to raise between £10-£20k, a figure I am sure many other clubs and even the Union itself would be envious of," said Stephen.
"It has been a fantastic journey. Next year is year four of the plan and my last as captain. It has been hard work and has put tremendous strain on both my personal and business life. I aim to go out on a high, but I will still carry on playing. Off the field I will continue to be supportive, but will gradually ease back as I don't want to remain as the focus.
"No matter what happens I won't stay on as captain, but I would like to think that I will have left a legacy for my successor and that the club is in a good place both on and off the field."