Talented starlets are being given a big chance to shine by the NCU
A flurry of emails landed in my inbox last week from Alan Waite, vice-chairman of the Northern Cricket Union. They were the squads for four different NCU teams who are all in action over the next week.
This time last year, one of the teams did not even exist. Now, one of the other squads is heading to a first ever tour in London and when the Under-13 and Under-15 squads have finished their inter-provincial series, they too can look forward to away games for the first time.
“If the inter-pros were washed out, there were no other development games for these boys and then there are the guys over 17, trying to establish themselves in their senior club teams and who we think have the potential to become Northern Knights players of the future,” says Waite.
“So what we have come up with is, including the inter-pros, 37 games across those age groups.
“We started with a Development XI playing MCC in a two-day game at Carrick, with the players being picked by the senior Knights selectors and under Andrew White, Ryan Eagleson and Robin Haire, with more than 300 Ireland caps between them, you couldn’t have three more experienced people. This was the first of 10 games for this broad squad of 18-20 players.
“This week, the Under-17s are in London for a trip co-ordinated by (former Cliftonville and Ireland international) Mark Patterson, who is vice-principal at a school in St Albans, and Eugene Moleon, and Derek Heasley and Uel Graham are away too. They are playing Mark’s school in a 50-over game and then they will take part in four T20 games.
“Next week, the Under-15s are going to Denmark, a trip co-ordinated by Jeremy Bray, another former Ireland international, now the Denmark coach.
“The Under-13s are going to an inter-cities tournament in Scotland in August and a team has dropped out of the Taunton festival which has allowed us to send an Under-14 team.”
The expansion of NCU cricket at youth level is the result of a Regional Development Squad (RDS) programme which saw more than 280 boys and girls involved under 30 coaches. Little wonder Waite can, rightly, boast that the NCU now has “a broader coaching base than anywhere else in the country”.
He goes on: “Most of it is done on a voluntary basis and the coaches have bought into what we are trying to do, to improve the standards both at provincial and club level. And we have got positive feedback from the parents.”
And it is the parents who are allowing the NCU to start coaching boys younger than ever.
“Four fathers look after our Under-9s, Peter Bates, Ally McCalmont, Regan West and Chris Yeates (all former NCU players) and there is a great pool of talent there,” adds Waite.
The NCU girls and ladies have not been forgotten, with an expanded Women’s Premier League. There has never been so many opportunities for those aged nine to 19 in the NCU. Your local club will welcome you.
This week’s fixtures – Today (12pm): NCU v North West (Comber); Leinster v Southern XI (Saintfield). Tomorrow (11pm): NCU v Southern XI (Belmont); North West v Leinster (Cregagh).
Friday (11pm): NCU v Leinster (Osborne Park); North West v Southern XI (Shaw’s Bridge).