EVERY few years Cricket Ireland comes up with a killer slogan to launch its new Strategic Plan. Five years ago it was ‘Making Cricket Mainstream’; this time it is ‘Creating a Cricket Island’.

The headline from the 2016 plan was to make Ireland a Test nation, which was achieved three years ahead of schedule. That brought its own share of headaches, and a string of setbacks forced the body to retrench.

Thirteen months into the pandemic, Cricket Ireland finds itself a lot healthier than it might have expected. Two years ago, scammers stole €100,000 and the collapse of a broadcast partner saw another six-figure sum disappear overnight.

But annual accounts published shortly will show Cricket Ireland €1.5million in the black. NOT playing matches, and being spared the huge costs in preparing club grounds to Test nation standard, accounts for some savings, but CI also missed out on €1.2million in broadcast fees.

“We were getting updated accounts forecasts every three weeks,” says CI chairman Ross McCollum.

“But we received support to help us get over the virus from ICC and the Irish government. While we’re in a good place now, that money is already earmarked to be spent over the next two years.”

‘Creating a Cricket Island’ is a bid to heal the rift which has widened in recent years between the national body and the unions and clubs.

McCollum explains: “For the last number of years a lot of Cricket Ireland’s time and resources have been spent on getting our senior team to where they are, and this plan is more about getting re-engaged with the clubs and unions.

“We’re looking to increase mass participation, especially in the schools and among women and girls.”

CI hopes you will be hearing a lot more about women’s cricket – certainly more than in the last 19 months when they haven’t played a single international.

Chief executive Warren Deutrom explains: “It is imperative to qualify for the ICC Women’s Championship, the equivalent to the Future Tours Programme for men. Achieve that and opportunities open up of taking the route the men’s team have taken to professionalism, structures and possibilities for the future.”

Women are a big target for CI’s growth strategy, especially in the regions where few females play – i.e. everywhere except Dublin.

“Women’s cricket has come on a lot in the north,” says McCollum. “It was non-existent four years ago and there’s now a league going with eight clubs and you see northern players now in the Super3s and Ireland squads.”

Over the next month CI plans to unveil mass participation plans aimed at children aged 5-9, schools, and girls aged 9-13.

Funding will also be provided to increase and improve facilities, a project that takes added urgency with one of Dublin’s oldest and most successful clubs in imminent danger of having their ground sold from under them by the YMCA charity.

The new Irish communities, many of whom are driving the growth of the game in Leinster and Munster, will also be targeted as the game seeks to show its enthusiasm for diversity.

“There is a selling job to be done for cricket in many areas of the country”, says McCollum, “but the new Irish who’ve come to live here already love cricket.”

The pandemic has delayed the start of the season, which would ordinarily be kicking off this weekend. But the interpros will start on May 1st with a cloud hanging over their future.

Leinster’s domination – 19 out of 23 titles – has dulled interest, and the 2016 promise to introduce four-dayers hasn’t happened. Indeed, as in 2020, the three-day series is cancelled this year.

McCollum acknowledges the reorganisation which sees players being shipped off to other provinces may diminish local buy-in.

“We had a good look at it last year and some players moved to other unions and still Leinster dominated. There’s a concern about getting the balance right but it will be up to the local unions to keep their identity and look after their brand.”

McCollum says 2023 will be the most challenging year of all, as ICC decides on a new round of funding. If Ireland gets what it asks for, it will be a game changer for the sport.

He adds: “ICC funding is critical to almost all Full Members, who get significantly more than we do. I’m confident there will be a significant uplift in 2024.”

Because of this, there’s an air of treading water about ‘Creating a Cricket Island’.

The next three years is about getting the structures and facilities in place so that should the mega-funding arrive, the game here is in a position to develop quickly.

But for now, Deutrom has a simple wish. “I’m not worried about the money this year, I just want our players out playing games at all levels.”