Local cricket in crisis as teams struggle to survive
As Ireland play in Dublin this week with Test match cricket as a prize just two years down the line, all is not so rosy several rungs down the ladder.
At a rough count, half a dozen clubs pulled out of junior league or cup matches in the Northern Cricket Union at the weekend and, since the start of the season, two teams have packed it in and another has already missed FOUR matches and been deducted points.
The most high profile casualty so far is Holywood III, the Minor Cup qualifying winners just three years ago and who have won promotion in each of the last three seasons but, a few games into the Junior Four campaign, they have withdrawn.
And, almost certainly, they won't be the last.
Captain Martin Tracey explains why he suggested to his Holywood committee last week that there was no point continuing with a Third XI.
"I've been trying to keep it going. We had to pull out of our first match at the start of May, we had just 10 players for the first match we played at Saintfield (which they won) and then only 10 again last Sunday at Bangor," he said.
"The main reason is the absence of adults. We could keep going with a team of two adults and nine schoolboys but we have no drivers for away matches and getting people to do the scorebook and umpire was getting more difficult.
"It was taking a lot of enjoyment away from playing, having to phone people to ask 'Can you play?' and getting the answers 'no', 'no', 'no'. So the decision taken was to consolidate to try and keep the Seconds up."
It was the break-up of their successful team of the last few years which had left Tracey stretched to the limit.
Basically, it was a fathers' and sons' team, with four adults and their four sons and that same eight played every week.
"But the Firsts were relegated last year and it was decided to play the young fellows this season so Charlie Shannon, for example, is now a regular on the Firsts so his (one-time Ireland international) dad Michael, who had stopped playing for the Firsts and dropped down to play with Charlie, has been lost too.
"We could have kept going for another few weeks the way the fixtures fell but there was going to be no long-term benefit. There was no point stretching it out," added Tracey.
And Tracey, from first-hand experience, expects other teams to follow Holywood III and Lurgan III - who have withdrawn from Junior League Seven - into oblivion.
"I was speaking to Woodvale, who we were due to play on Sunday, and they told me they are not far away from that situation as well. And we were at Bangor last week and they are having similar problems and even at North Down," said Tracey.
"For every Muckamore (a thriving club with five teams and upwards of 100 youngsters) there are nine or 10 clubs going in the other direction."
With teams such as Dundrum pulling out of the Junior Cup and Academy players not wanting to travel for an Ulster Shield game, there are issues for the NCU to address. It's a story which seems certain to run.