Grounds for Concern

I remember every winter from the mid 1990ís, through the early 2000ís waiting with anticipation to see what league structures the Junior Branch (Now part of the OCC) would produce for the following season. Every year youíd know the five or six grounds youíd want to avoid and keep your fingers crossed youíd get a Trinity side in your league and an away day in College Park.

You never wanted too many long trips, as back then less players drove and everywhere was a little further due to poor infrastructure, but when you got one it was fine, they were nice places to play. You wanted to avoid some of the schools; Bird Avenue in particular and any other second grounds of the bigger Dublin clubs. (Thankfully back then we had Michael Dalton and Bernie Vaughan making our fixtures, two experienced heads when it came to Junior Cricket fixture making so we rarely ended up in them).

And most of all, being in your teens, early 20s, and knowing youíd be going straight out after the game, you wanted to avoid the one or two without the running water as you couldnít shower there. Everywhere else was grand, some nicer than others, all with pavilions, most with tea rooms and/or bars, and most importantly all with changing rooms and running water. The pitches varied, but they were the same for both sides. (The article is not about pitches). That one or two were the exception not the norm.

I made my schoolboy debut at the age of seven against Carlisle CC at the Maccabi Grounds in Kimmage, filling in for the CYM Under 11s. We batted in pairs, we won, I finished 0* and thatís pretty much all I remember of the game. I played at least once more in Kimmage at schoolboy level, watched many a game there between Carlisle and CYM, and even enjoyed watching an Irish XI play Worcestershire there in 1993 as part of Martin Weston and Damian DíOliveiraís Benefit Year, a game in which Graeme Hick scored an unbeaten ton.

It was a wonderful ground, central, easily accessible by public transport, private and enclosed. It had a bar, changing rooms, a place to enjoy your tea, a rooftop viewing area to enjoy watching the games from. It even had running water. Kimmage closed as a cricket ground in 1998, when Carlisle CC effectively folded (They did continue on for a few more years) never to be replaced, a massive loss to both Leinster and Irish cricket.

Less than five years later, around 2003, the ground I first had the pleasure of being made umpire in as a raw 15-year-old closed and disappeared for good, when Knockbrack CC folded. From 1995 until their sad demise, one of CYMs 3rd XI or 4th XI had them in their league it seemed almost every year. Though it was terrible hard to find, ďtake the 2nd left after Murtaghs (pub) and turn right at the big oak treeĒ, I think the old Leinster Cricket Union Handbook would tell you, and even harder to get a result in, it was a ground I was very sad to see disappear.

Many a tough battle was fought there against Sean Moore Snr. and Jnr., Eddie Lyndsey, Raymond Peters, Michael Gavin, and Patsy Harford. Many a story was told in the small hut of an away dressing room halfway down the ground during rain breaks. Many an enjoyable tea was eaten there at half time in every game. (Still by far and away the best tea in Leinster cricket). Its unique positioning at the top of a hill gave the ground its own unique character, one couldnít see long on from fine leg, it had changing rooms, a tea room, they even managed to get water up that hill.

2013 would see another ground Iíd played in disappear, along with the club that played there. That year saw the demise of a far bigger beast, that beast being Old Belvedere CC. Iíd grown up losing in Cabra, like most who played youth cricket in the 80ís and 90ís, to a group of players that would go on to play professional rugby. The bottom pitch held no good memories for me, the top a few. The ground wasnít pretty, it was cold, open, exposed. It was massive, so big in fact they would have seven or eight games being played there simultaneously during a mini cricket festival they played there annually for youths. But it was enclosed, had a bar, tea rooms, changing rooms, and yes you guessed it, running water. It occupied a part of Dublin, between the park and the sea on the north side where no ground with such facilities now exists, and where no ground with such facilities will exist again unless cricket somehow gets it back.

Others grounds I have played in have come and gone too, but on each occasion the club has remained in existence, all be it elsewhere. North County left The Nevitt, moving to the state-of-the-art Inch, an upgrade nobody could deny. Knockharley left their ground in Ashfield, moving to Kentstown in the mid/late-90s, and have improved their new ground exponentially every year since, turning it from a barren field to a ground suitable for top division cricket in little time. Laois have moved too, leaving the rugby club in Portlaoise for their new purpose-built home in Stradbally, a ground with great potential, and a move I can see only as a positive. Sadly, the picturesque Mount Murray was lost to Mullingar CC, a ground that Saint Finians College, nor the majority of others in the country could ever replace.

Other clubs have moved too, some for the better, some for the worse. Some have gained new second grounds, the impressive Margaretstown at The Hills for example. Weíve also gained many new grounds that came with new clubs, some good, the majority not so good. And this is where my concern lies. Those one or two grounds you needed to avoid in the late 90s, early 2000s, the exception at the time, would now be the norm in many leagues once you venture to below Division 6. They are still ones you want to avoid, even more so now then back then.

The schools you hoped to avoid are now luxurious compared with some of the places one is expected to play, some having improved, some having simply remained the same as the standard around them dropped. Those horrible dark changing rooms and cold showers they contain being a different level to what has followed them. The country sides you wished to avoid due to distance back then are now pleasant pastures seen, and generally a pleasure to visit.

So where has it all gone wrong. How has cricket gone backwards when it comes to facilities below a certain level, as other sports move forwards? What are the reasons for this and what has Cricket Leinster done, does it continue to do, and what has it failed to do that has led to such a collapse in the standard of facilities?

Here are my thoughts on what could be done.

Minimum Standards to be Admitted

Irish football is not something I would traditionally look at to set an example. But here I will. Below are four of the simple rules the Leinster Senior League (Football) uses to allow clubs play in their senior leagues, that could easily be tweaked to suit cricket.

  • Clubs seeking admission to the League must have a private ground. (Enclosed in this case)
  • A rail or fence or rope must enclose the field of play
  • All grounds must have separate dressing rooms for each team and a separate dressing room for referees. (Umpires)
  • All grounds must have shower & toilet facilities for both teams and referees. (Umpires) If you donít meet the criteria, which are very basic, you enter into a parks league and play T20 only, until at least you are in the process of meeting the criteria.

You may enter the regular leagues too, but as Finglas CC have done of late, you should play in a ground with these minimum standards either by renting or playing away until such facilities exist. There are plenty of grounds with capacity to spare, (St Columbaís, Trinity, Ring Commons etc.) and having to spend cold hard cash, or work properly with the relevant local authorities will encourage clubs to get their own facilities up to speed quicker. It would also negate the argument made that they wonít get funding from local government until they are in the leagues.

Gorey CC and Ring Commons CC have recently shown what can be done by a new club, Greystones CC before them. Why not set this standard for others? The current set-up gives clubs no incentive to improve their facilities as their players still get to play in grounds with decent facilities while paying half the subs of members in clubs with facilities.

Better Controls on Club Formation Ė Strategic Expansion

The three clubs mentioned at the start all had excellent facilities compared with what has replaced them. All are now lost to cricket, whether they could have been helped or not is another issue. I doubt any more could have been done in this regard with Kimmage or Knockbrack, but surely Cabra could have been saved for the game. Other clubs with similar excellent facilities are struggling or have struggled lately. This is not just a Leinster issue, itís an issue that can be seen throughout the island, particularly in the North West it seems. Many are not full to capacity membership wise. Letís not lose another one, especially by allowing a club with no facilities start within their catchment area.

The GAA has shown the way in this regard. The FAI have shown how not to go, allowing anyone with 11 players and a field to set themselves up as a club. Letís hope Cricket Leinster continue to follow the GAA here when it comes to admitting new clubs, by only doing so when it is strategically beneficial to the growth of the sport, and by continuing to support what they have. Letís make sure Gorey CC and Wexford Wanderers CC are strong, before looking at Enniscorthy. Same for Knockharley CC and Dundalk CC before looking at Drogheda. To lose another ground or club, in Dublin or further afield, to gain any empty field, would be a devastating blow. Letís preserve what we have and expand strategically.

Use of Public Parks/Local Authority Lands

A piece of land in an open area of a public park being given to cricket is great. Donít get me wrong. But letís try and be clever about it. Some parks are more suited to cricket then others, some areas of parks are more suited than other areas. Letís work on getting somewhere that can be enclosed at some point, somewhere that is not flood prone, and somewhere that has the potential to be piped with water. Work with the local authorities, explain our expansion plans. Let us help them help us. Develop what they have given us already, and if thatís not possible letís ask them for somewhere different. Letís use our strengths, our knowledge, offer our assistance, show them how the game is growing, show how cricket can be used to integrate new communities and old.

Clubs like Adamstown CC for example must have 100 members at this stage based on their playing numbers. Let us use this to our advantage by supporting them in seeking better facilities in Corkagh Park, or in less developed areas closer to Adamstown itself. You canít build in a lot of areas in South West Dublin due to Casement and Weston Aerodromes. Letís use this to our advantage when expanding westwards.

Use of School/University Facilities

Beaumont, Santry, Glasnevin, Ballymun, are suburbs of North Dublin, a massive part of which is lacking any cricket at all, and is the home of Dublin City University one of the most progressive universities in the country when it comes to sport. Let us try liaise with them about getting use of their excellent facilities off the Ballymun Road.

Letís also link up with schools/other sports clubs that currently play in areas with no clubs, and have below standard cricket facilities/no cricket at all, and see if they can be improved to a suitable standard to host a league club. A small investment here, could go a long way particularly as their grounds would already have changing facilities, showers, would be enclosed and would generally not be in use during the summer months.

Wicklow County CC have shown the way forward here when it comes to a schools ground, Gorey CC and Wexford Wanderers CC when it comes to ground shares.

Slow Down Players Transferring Between Clubs

The constant movement of players needs to be discouraged. There are numerous ways to do this, as can be seen by the lack of movement in the GAA and in rugby. By allowing players to leave on a whim or to avoid subs, as currently happens, joining different clubs every year results in a lack of volunteers in clubs, a lack of forward planning, and clubs keeping their subs artificially low so as their players wonít leave, thus ensuring they never have the money to improve facilities.

Some sports ban transfers unless both clubs agree, something they would do if a player relocated from Rush to Wexford. Others link you to your parish. Some ban movement outside of transfer windows. The North West has introduced a points system to encourage home grown players. In Leinster we do nothing. Letís change this.

Conclusion

Ireland is a wet country as we all know. It can be a cold country. It can be miserable at times. Cricket can be tough here. But a cold rainy day on a cricket ground is far more enjoyable experience when one can shelter during the rain, have a toilet to use if necessary, change in the comfort of a changing room, shower after the game, have a warm cup of tea during the break and enjoy a pint afterwards.

Many a great friendship has been built while sat in a pavilion on a rainy day, sharing a table at tea, or in a bar after a game. These things arenít possible everywhere but letís strive to make as many of them available as possible in the maximum number of grounds. They arenít much to expect, if youíre giving your entire day up to play the game.

We shouldnít accept mediocrity. We can do better. We canít all be as good as Milverton or Castle Avenue, but we can strive to get there or get closer.