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The future is going to be child's play for Donaghadee

By Ian Callender

Donaghadee may be in the lower reaches of Ulster Bank League Section Three but the NCU club are already making plans to move onwards and upwards - and are starting with the youngest.

Youth cricket has been non-existent in the seaside town for the last 20 years but a coaching programme in primary schools, initiated by half-a-dozen 1st XI players, has received an overwhelming response and, now, every Friday night more than 50 children aged six to 11 are enjoying softball cricket.

The original goal was to have two playing teams in the NCU youth leagues by 2017 but such has been the enthusiasm shown that Richard Carson, who leads the coaching team at Northfield, says it could happen next year.

"The response has been marvellous and the kids really are enjoying their cricket. We have enough 10 to 11-year-olds who could be our Under-13 team next year and the eight to nine-year-olds are enthusiastic and could be our Under-11s next year," said Carson, who paid tribute to former international Nigel Jones in the Cricket Ireland office in Stormont who got the idea up and running.

"But we're confident of hitting our 2017 target and the future looks bright.

"This time last year a small grant from Sport NI put six of us through our coaching badges and at the turn of the year I had a couple of meetings with Cricket Ireland who were brilliant and gave us massive help.

"Nigel Jones emphasised the importance of planning and development so the club would grow and be sustainable. There was a lot of long-term planning, but the short-term goals like Friday night cricket have been a real highlight.

"We provided a free four-week programme in Donaghadee Primary and free coaching to St Anne's Primary and a local beaver club, so we were coaching 300 kids.

"It was so successful we have had to put some on a waiting list. We would like everyone who applied to be involved but we must have a coach to child ratio so we had to restrict numbers to just over 50, including five girls who are the first female members for 20 years."

Gavin Fraser was in one of the last youth teams at Donaghadee and is one of the coaches helping Carson.

Carson, whose son is one of the new intake, said: "He was one of the last to come through our youth system but a generation has been missed and we don't want that again. In 10 years I want to watch five or six of these youngsters play for the 1st XI."

There is certainly a history at Donaghadee which deserves to be revived. Intermediate Cup winners in 1964 and 1969, they took the plunge into senior cricket in 1975 which coincided with the debut of 18-year-old Brian McLawrence, who today is club secretary, groundsman and "chief dogsbody" and is still playing for the 2nd XI.

McLawrence was captain of the best ever Donaghadee team for 10 years from 1983, which included former Ireland rugby international Ronnie Elliott, Ivan Reid, Sammy Alexander, Tommy Hamilton, Tom Gardiner and Denis O'Hara and their second and last professional Rashid Israr.

McLawrence said: "That team finished runners-up in successive years in the old Section Two (the second tier) to Holywood and RUC but that was as close as we got to the big time. We also reached the Challenge Cup semi-final in 1979, losing to Woodvale.

"They were brilliant times and it would be great to get Donaghadee back up to that sort of standard but back then, you looked at the fixtures and planned holidays accordingly."

Nowadays, as 1st XI captain Jordan McCluskey explains, it is rather different.

"I was texting my players for this weekend's game against Ards and the replies I got back were 'I'll let you know on Tuesday' or 'I'll get back to you on Wednesday'. We are six to seven players short of our best team every week," he said. "I believe if we had our best team out for even 80% of the matches we would win promotion."

For now, though, the future at Donaghadee rests with the youngsters.

Belfast Telegraph


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