The umpire talks back
McCready's painful path to calling the shots hasn't dented his passion
It was the game of the season, on the hottest day of the season, and for umpire Jareth McCready there was nowhere else he would have wanted to be.
Having had his playing career cut short by a cruciate ligament injury, he is doing the next best thing for a cricket lover and watching it from the best seat in the house and more involved than ever.
Ten years after his first match as an umpire, it promises to be quite a summer for McCready as next month he will be in the middle for his first international – at Coleraine for Ireland's one-day game against Sri Lanka A – so every big match between now and then will prepare him for the ultimate test.
An hour before the start of the top of the table NCU Premier League game between CIYMS and Waringstown, his 'work' for the day had already begun, albeit still in civies.
"I like to go quite casual at first and don't go into umpire mood until half an hour before, when you take control at the toss.
"There's not much to do on a day like this. You check the wicket (pitch) is playable, check there is a 30 metres circle, check the boundary is visible and any other local customs, like trees inside the boundary."
All done and there's plenty of time to talk about his playing career, which reached its peak in 1991.
"I lived 300 yards from Downpatrick Cricket Club so learned my cricket under Kamal Merchant (still coaching at YMCA in Dublin). I was there every day in summer from 8am to midnight.
"I won the Schools Cup with Inst (RBAI) in 1990 – I moved from Down High after fifth form – and won the All-Ireland Cup the following year, Downpatrick beat the old North of Ireland at Comber by just three runs," recalls McCready, who also played for Ireland Schools against Wales Schools and was 12th man against English Schools.
Another playing highlight for Jareth was the Junior Cup final when a Downpatrick side including former Ireland skipper, the great Alfie Linehan and his brother Hugh, lost to Lisburn II.
"After Downpatrick, I moved to Instonians when I was working for a couple of seasons in Belfast, then to Armagh for a couple of seasons, and then I tore my cruciate ligaments so no more cricket.
"Jonny Briggs (an umpire at the time) asked me did I fancy umpiring and I have loved it.
"Rapport and decisions, that's what (good umpiring) boils down to," says Jareth.
Back on the field and McCready was called upon to make his first decision in only the 11th over, giving out James McCollum leg before wicket.
Jareth would normally flick a bail to decide choice of ends with his partner but, as he had already been at Belmont this season, he chose the opposite end to pavilion where he stood in what is "already known as (Nathan) Waller's 135 match" when CIYMS's new signing won the game in the last over, chasing down 250.
He is one of the many exciting players in NCU cricket these days and McCready believes "the top end of senior cricket as strong as it's ever been".
"This Waringstown team, with Jonathan Bushe batting at No 9, is incredibly strong. 'Gazza' Kidd is at No 10 and they have eight or nine bowling options," he says.
"On the CI side, this guy (Rassie) van der Dussen is a cracker. He has so much time. When guys like him or Waller are in full flow – when there's an lbw you have to give it – but there a small inkling saying 'I want to watch him bat'."
On the day, McCready answered five leg before decisions in the affirmative with not one objection from the batsmen. The match of the day, however, did not have a close finish, the home team collapsing to 143 all out in reply to Waringstown's impressive 270 for seven.
Do umpires get as bored as spectators in these type of games? "You have to concentrate to the end. Just because there's a (meaningless) 10th wicket stand, you can't say yes to an lbw appeal when it's not out.
"The No 11 pays the same fees to the union as the No 1 and deserves the same credit. But Waringstown are strong and CI used it as batting practice at the end.
"But it was an absolutely painless day. The nature of cricket is you get one exciting match in six or seven. I just love walking off the field, shaking hands with the 22 players and nobody has a complaint with you.
"If you do that you know you've got it right," said Jareth.