Cricket boss knows the score about his game's popularity
Schools and clubs are key to boosting attendances
Andy Clement admits he is a risk-taker and in his role as chairman of the Northern Cricket Union he is ready to go the extra mile to make cricket more attractive and appealing to a public which he knows is out there but still refuses to show their face at a local cricket match.
From the schools, through the clubs to the Northern Knights – the area's inter-provincial side – everything is up for grabs and the Union has unveiled a five-year Development Plan.
Among the record 10,000 people in Malahide last September for Ireland's one-day international against England were many from Northern Ireland who hadn't been to a cricket match since England played at Stormont five years ago.
And that is Clement's starting point. If 5,000 can turn out to watch Ireland in Belfast, why are attendances at 50-over club games in double figures – not even hundreds – while the three-day games involving the Knights last season attracted even less!
"The Knights three-day games (the first of which, against the North West Warriors at Stormont, starts next Tuesday) are more challenging than, say, the Twenty20s, but this year we are having a real 'Blast' for the T20 games on July 13 at Comber," he said.
"The Knights have new sponsors on board and we have tasked (our administration officer) Gordon Scott and Robin Johnston, from our commercial committee, to come up with spectator-friendly plans for the day," added Clement.
"There will be a competition announced shortly but we are hoping it will be a family fun day, including face painting and kids' matches, for both boys and girls, between the two main games.
"Cricket is a notoriously weather-dependent sport but we are trying to encourage the cricket community which is out there. The problem is they won't go anywhere but their own club to watch matches, so that is why we have to sell the Knights brand moving forwards. Everybody knows about cricket but they don't necessarily know where to go and watch it."
And that's where the clubs come in but a fundamental problem for the NCU is getting the clubs on board, as Clement acknowledges.
"All clubs are insular, it's still a case of 'what's in it for us?' When we sent out the Development Plan only three clubs (out of 39) replied. They didn't think it applied to them so they didn't reply," he said.
"Yet they are the essential cog in the awareness of development opportunities and improvement in standards – two more key points in the Plan – and that starts at the bottom.
"It's not all about the Premier League – it's about all levels of cricket. If somebody walks through the gate you are not necessarily asking if he is a 1st XI player – and he doesn't have to be male," he stressed.
"It was great to see the first round of the Ladies League being played last Sunday with games at Stormont and Pollock Park. Eight teams are playing this year but we are going into the schools to try and get more girls playing. And there is also a Super Eights tournament, that's eight-a-side games for girls' cricket in schools," added Clement.
But although schools are the key starting point in finding players, clubs "have an important role as well because if the kids have no clubs to go to they will be lost immediately".
The Development Plan states that the single most important goal is the appointment of a Domestic Cricket Development Officer (DCDO).
"Nigel Jones, our Regional Development Officer, can't be everywhere but the more help he can get the more areas we can get into. To that end, we are working closely with the University of Ulster and, until funds become available, while the DCDO role may be part-time to start with, hopefully it will go full-time," said Clement.
"Only last Friday a new sports scholarship was announced which will put students on a leadership and management course as part of their degree so potentially we could have 10 of them involved in cricket from next October.
"We have to make sure the grassroots are right. We have two new clubs this year in Monaghan and UU and my aim is to try to go round as many clubs as possible.
"I was at Donaghadee recently and they need an outdoor mat for their practice nights – simple but essential – so hopefully next year we are in a position to match-fund projects like that.
"From next year's ICC World Twenty20 qualifying tournament, which will be held in Ireland, we may get a small pot of money which we can use where we want, so we are in interesting times.
"Cricket Ireland have big aims, with Test cricket a possibility as early as 2018, so we at provincial union level have to make sure we are ready to expand and our governance is ready. This Development Plan is our response."
Come on board, is the chairman's message. There is a club waiting for you.