Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Uel Graham is getting fired up at Muckamore 'project'

Just kidding: Uel Graham with Jude Keates and Luke Allen

If it was easy it wouldn't be as much fun. That's Uel Graham's take on his first six months with Muckamore who, back in the big time, still have not won a Premier League game.

The former Ireland international answered the call from one of his former clubs to take over as coach and despite eight straight defeats he is enjoying every minute of what he constantly refers to as "a project".

"It's a building site and it's still under construction," says Graham. "I'm back in cricket after a six-year break, committed to two years and it's given me the buzz once again. From the grassroots level up we are building, there is a positive structure about the club."

And it's just not about the 1st XI. Muckamore currently have 96 registered players, five teams – the seconds, thirds, who have a cup semi-final on Saturday, and the fourths are all top of their respective leagues – and they are looking at a sixth team.

And this week there are 40 children, aged five to 11, in the second of a four-week summer camp run by Graham who, at the end of June, after 28 and a half years, quit his job in First Trust Bank.

"I'm taking the summer off and will look for a job afterwards. At the moment, I'm concentrating on this project, spending more time with the Firsts and kids. The club have an ambitious five-year plan, on and off the pitch and I'm delighted to be part of it," he adds.

"I was here as player/coach from '98 to 2001 and that's probably why I'm back here now. Charlie Henderson, the Director of Cricket, asked me if I would be interested in coming back.

"There was always an inkling I had left things undone. I had benefited from people coaching and mentoring me and so when the opportunity came up I said 'I'll give it a go. Let's do it'."

Graham and Muckamore are well suited. Even during his five-year international career he had to fight for every cap. He had played for Lisburn as a 15-year-old with Dermott Monteith and John Solanky "who taught me everything I know".

But it was 1992 before he made his Ireland debut, at the age of 25.

"I thought I'd missed the boat. I was originally picked as a batter at No 3 and played four games that year (top score 35). I got dropped and came back in 1994 when Stephen Smyth couldn't go to Kenya for the World Cup qualifying tournament. And I realised I had to reinvent myself," he says.

"I was a batter who bowled, but realised I had to be three-dimensional. I worked a hell of a lot on my bowling and by the time I finished with the Ireland team in 1997, I was a bowler who batted, coming in as low as number eight.

"I took a break from cricket when Jessica was born. I wanted to play golf but eventually I missed cricket and Peter Reid got me back to Lisburn in 06/07. I really enjoyed it and got into the NCU team of the year.

"But at start of the 2008 season I lost the edge. I played two games over a bank holiday weekend, against Waringstown and North Down, and just said to Trevor McKeown, who was captain, 'I can't do this'.

"I didn't do the winter training I needed to do and it told, so I went back to the golf."

For the last six years, Graham barely watched a cricket match. But now, back at the coalface, he is relishing the challenge.

"I can't fault the players' effort, they're working hard and team spirit is still good. Gary Nicholl and Neil Gill are top in the top 10 of the bowling averages, our fielding has been adequate but we just haven't scored enough runs. Our top individual score in 40 and that's not going to win games," he says.

"But one win would give us confidence and hopefully lead to another and maybe even another."

Meanwhile Muckamore can be sure of one thing; Uel Graham won't give up.

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