Lawrence Moore (CricketEurope)
It turned out to be a very good week for the North West Cricket Union last week after its clubs voted by more than 95% to endorse the new playing conditions put forward for 2021.
It was an emphatic result for those who had invested so much time and effort into researching and constructing the proposals, but also for the manner in which the Union carried out its business.
Over the last couple of years the NWCU has insisted that changes to their structures and playing conditions needed to happen.
Participation levels had been falling for some time and that was having a knock-on effect right across the sport in the region.
To their credit, the Union decided that those changes could only happen with buy-in from clubs and players and they pledged to ensure that all decisions would be led by the people most affected by them.
That policy has really paid dividends over the last couple of years and laid the platform for the wave of support for the new template that will come into effect for at least the next three seasons.
The youth structure for both boys and girls is being revamped to ensure that the game is more appealing and inclusive to all participants. The emphasis will be almost exclusively on fun.
A more focused programme on pathway from school to club cricket is being led by Brian Allen and David Scanlon while the Union's women and girls Development Officer Kathryn Rough will be provided with enhanced support to continue the excellent work she has started at underage level.
The new midweek T10 competitions trialled this summer proved very successful and will be integrated into fixture planning over the next few seasons.
(NW Chairman Brian Dougherty)
Intermediate cricket will also come into sharper focus with the Qualifying Leagues rebranded into Divisions 1, 2 and 3 including promotion and relegation. These leagues will also have their own T20 competitions towards the end of the season.
In the senior ranks, the summer will be broken down into three terms- the first a 40 over competition played between 2 groups of teams made up of both Premiership and Championship clubs.
After that, teams will play their regular 50 over cup competitions- NW Senior cup, Irish Senior Cup, National Cup and Sammy Jeffrey, with the season finishing with the T20 competition.
Finally, a player points system is now in place that will encourage growth and sustainability within each club.
The North West's ambitious plans have been the subject of much debate in the past few weeks, both inside and outside the region.
While the ringing endorsement from clubs is warmly welcomed, the Board of Control is fully aware that this is no overnight fix.
They may have a clear vision for the grassroots game, however the North West still lags behind in terms of elite cricket in Ireland. The gap between the Warriors and Leinster Lightning continues to grow wider and while there are questions to answer, this is not a level playing field.
Discussions are believed to be in progress among all the Unions about making Interprovincial cricket more competitive, but in order for that to happen it is incumbent on Cricket Ireland to ensure that resources are available equally to each Union.
Rumours currently circulating about a second Cricket Ireland 'hub' being established in Belfast will do little to lighten the mood if that proves to be correct.
For now though it is about the positives and speaking this week, Union Chairman Brian Dougherty paid tribute to those involved in ensuring that the new format would be given a chance.
He admitted that this was only the beginning of the process and acknowledged that much work was still in front of the NWCU over the coming years.
"Firstly I would like to thank all parties, especially our clubs, for buying into this vision. I also want to pay tribute to all of our staff who worked so hard to bring these plans to life. It is important for me personally to highlight the work of our General Manager, Peter McCartney. Peter is involved in all the Union's itinerary, from the Smash It programme for our youngest children to the senior Interprovincials and our International players, and all points in between.
"Because he isn't the type of person to shout from the rooftops doesn't mean the Board isn't fully aware of his tireless work on behalf of the NWCU. It is important that we recognise and appreciate the work that Peter and all the staff do. For us to move forward we need, as a group of clubs, as a staffing core and as a Board of Control to do this in unison. There is strong evidence that this is starting to happen and the way the clubs have bought into our review process adds credence to this. We need to keep this momentum going. Last year we successfully lobbied for a top tier international. This unfortunately fell foul of Covid but we need to ensure we are a regular part of the top tier International fixture list.
"A review of the Inter-pro structure is ongoing within Cricket Ireland and we are fighting our corner. In addition, in the past year we have put a deliberate focus on diversifying the Unions and our clubs income. North West clubs have a proud self-help ethos. However, the lack of statutory investment in infrastructure and club programming in the region has been scandalous.
"In recent months and weeks we have undertaken a series of individual and group meetings with political and statutory individuals and bodies in order to redress this imbalance and direct funding towards our clubs. We continue to lobby for, advice and support individual clubs with their plans. These meetings have been very positive as our political and statutory representatives see the importance of the sport to the region. This will remain a top priority.
"As chair Iím happy to lead on, and support all these significant changes. We will continue to consult and listen to clubs and will continue to encourage Peter and his team to put their talent and hard work into action."