Oliver wants toughest Tests cricket can offer
Teen umpire aims to make it to the very top
It's never too young to set your target in life and Oliver Thorpe is already plotting his route to the top - as an umpire.
Oliver is just 16-years-old and sits his final GCSE at Cambridge House tomorrow - but the Ballymena student has umpired his first two games in the NCU junior leagues and reports coming back suggest he has made a promising start.
Born with cerebral palsy, Oliver realised he would never be able to play international cricket but although he plays whenever he can, his love of the game has made him more determined than ever to get involved at the highest level.
"Because of my disability, I wasn't going to make it to the top as a player but I want to be in the Test match arena so the only way to do that was to be an umpire and I'm now on the ladder," he explains.
"I attended a three-day umpiring course and sat an exam which I passed. I umpired my first game on April 25, a Junior League Six game between Derriaghy III and Victoria II with Alex Adams. It was a fantastic experience and I'm looking to build on that," says Oliver.
"I did another game three weeks later at Eaton Park between Ballymena II and Donacloney II with (former Ballymena opening batsman) Jimmy Ireland but haven't had a chance since because of my exams. But I'm hoping for a few more matches before the end of season."
Oliver's favourite umpire on the Test match circuit is New Zealander Billy Bowden but closer to home he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ireland's premier official Mark Hawthorne.
"Mark captained Cliftonville 4th XI but he has got to the top in umpiring so he is my role model. Billy Bowden is a bit of a character and provides good entertainment but I'm happy to be in the background and just do the job to the best of my ability," he says.
Ask him who his favourite cricketer is and, without hesitation, he says Ireland international Gary Wilson, but he admits there is a bias in his choice.
"Gary's mum was my granny's best friend and I went to his wedding and met all the Ireland and Surrey boys," says Oliver. "That was the October after Ireland beat England at the World Cup in India in 2011 and Kevin O'Brien was full of stories after hitting that sensational century."
As a result, Oliver is now a regular attender at Ireland's home matches, although he had to follow last month's game against England on Test Match Special (he doesn't have Sky) because of his studies.
"But I will be there in August at Stormont to watch Australia. And I'm going to my first Ashes match, the first two days of the third Test at Edgbaston at the end of July and will be praying there is no rain.
"It's my last year when I can get an Under-16 ticket although I've paid £81 to get into the Party Stand!"
When it comes to his playing ability, Oliver laughs: "It's a disgrace to the game.
"In the Under-15 semi-final between Muckamore and Armagh a couple of years ago, Sam Gordon (now the Muckamore opening batsman) scored a hundred but I got my first ever run in that game and think I celebrated more than Sam did. Last season I hit my first boundary."
After that it's onwards and upwards - just not on the playing side.
"I hope to go and do 'A' levels and then on to university to do journalism or web development. But ideally I'd like to be a professional umpire," adds Oliver.
The man who gives out all the appointments in the NCU is Ian Houston and he has been impressed by Oliver's enthusiasm.
"He is by far the youngest to do the umpires exam and certainly the youngest I have ever given a match to. I am breaking him in gently, because I don't think he is ready for a 50-over match yet but I have given him a 35 overs and 40 overs game and will look after him for the rest of the season," says Houston.
"I will put him with experienced umpires to start with just in case there are any problems. Even in the lower leagues you can have some crotchety old stagers who could try things with such a young umpire. But it's great to have someone enthusiastic and hopefully he can go far."
It certainly won't be for lack of ambition or effort.