The Ass Man
BARELY a day seems to go by without the back pages being full of Premier League managers and coaches coming under pressure or being sacked, yet in the 15 or so years I've been involved with Cricket Ireland we've been incredibly lucky with the men we've had in charge.
Mike Hendrick, Adi Birrell, Phil Simmons and Roy Torrens have all been wonderful servants of Irish cricket, with John Bracewell and Chris Siddell showing promising signs of following their lead.
Hendrick was the first full-time National coach, paving the way towards professionalism. "I laid the tracks and Adi drove the train along them," was how Hendrick described his foundation building to the Irish Independent as he proudly surveyed the scene of Ireland taking on England at a sun drenched Malahide in front of 10,000 spectators in 2013.
Hendrick was "old school" - believing in the virtues of hard work. He possessed a shrewd cricketing brain and there was a lot of disappointment when his contract wasn't renewed in 1999, a couple of years after Ireland had narrowly failed to qualify for a first World Cup.
Ken Rutherford succeeded him but the appointment wasn't a success, and the New Zealander too bit the dust after Ireland's dismal showing in the 2001 ICC Trophy in Toronto.
That nadir for modern Irish cricket was quickly forgotten when Adrian Victor Birrell arrived on the scene in 2002. The affable South African made an immediate impression on all he met as he travelled the length and breadth of the country, soaking up knowledge like a sponge.
Birrell identified players who he thought could do a job for him. Niall O'Brien was plucked from Second XI county cricket, while there were many who doubted the ability of a certain William Porterfield when he was handed his debut in 2006.
An excellent man manager, Birrell was also master of what he called "the one percenters" - his meticulous attention to details that in themselves counted for little but added together could tip the balance. Discovering, for example, that the towels in a Dublin hotel dried cricket balls better than any other.
You can be the greatest coach in the world but if you don't have the players then there is little you can do. Birrell was fortunate that his Irish talent was supplemented by a quartet who had learned their cricket overseas, but married local colleens, and now resided and played in Ireland.
Trent Johnston, Andre Botha, Dave Langford-Smith and Jeremy Bray brought professionalism to the set-up and Irish cricket was soon on an upwardly mobile trajectory.
Phil Simmons was appointed in 2007 when Adi felt he could take the side no further. The giant West Indian was a different beast, but after an indifferent start he was at the helm as Ireland won 11 trophies, enjoying complete domination of their Associate peers.
Indifferent start is probably putting it mildly. It's no secret that there was severe unrest in the dressing room regarding his methods and tactics in the early days.
There were also personality clashes as Simmons imposed his authority and discipline. In 2008, Eoin Morgan was left out of the team during the T20 World Cup Qualifying competition in Belfast after he asked to leave early to play for Middlesex in a televised match.
That move nearly back-fired spectacularly as Bermuda - in a rain-affected game - needed just 46 in 9 overs to knock Ireland out of the tournament. Somehow, incredibly, Peter Connell, Botha and Alex Cusack managed to restrict them to just 39 and probably saved Simmons from the axe.
I really enjoyed working with Big Phil over the years - although he has the worse singing voice I've ever encountered. He makes me sound like Placido Domingo!
John Bracewell has been in place for less than a year, so it's far too early to judge his reign. He has been brought in to deliver Test status, so with two wins out of two in the ICup he's certainly made a bright start in that format despite T20 troubles.
Ireland have only had two team managers in my time, with Roy Torrens occupying the role since its creation in 2004/5 until last year. I enjoyed some great days with "Big Roy" particularly at the World Cups or other away trips.
I still smile at his rendition of "The Town I loved so well" in India, his palming of the breathalyser with his mobile phone when the whole squad were being tested daily in South Africa in 2009 (another Simmons discipline), and our attempts to procure alcohol at an "off-licence" in Dhaka.
His last game in charge was against Pakistan in Adelaide. There was a Mexican stand-off when Pete Johnston, our assistant coach and video analyst, set up his equipment in the room allocated to Pakistan, after being wrongly told it was his designated area. Nobody was budging and the start was edging closer.
The Pakistan manager strode towards Roy and declared: "We don't want an incident here now, do we?" He meant for Ireland to back down. Instead Roy warmly shook his hand saying, "Thank you very much for being so understanding. Good luck in the game." The bewildered Pakistani went away not knowing quite what had transpired and Pete stayed put.
The players gave Roy a farewell gift of a Manchester United shirt signed by Sir Alex Ferguson with the inscription: "From one treble-winning manager to another!"
Chris Siddell stepped into Roy's shoes in March and has done a fantastic job so far in replacing the irreplaceable; the players all speak glowingly of his organisational ability.
While the new manager is in training for an Iron Man triathlon event this summer, I'm finding it hard to shake off the mental image of his predecessor running, cycling and swimming. Grouse drinking, steak eating and yarn telling were Roy's more likely pursuits!
I'll finish with a story about my own very brief managerial career. In 2006, Ireland were invited to take part in the EurAsia Series alongside the UAE, The Netherlands, Pakistan A and India A but a late change of dates left the senior men unavailable.
Instead an Ireland XI was despatched, complete with temporary backroom staff: Matt Dwyer was coach, Ivan Lapsley manager, and I was his assistant.
We needed to source playing kit in a hurry, so Paul Ryan of Lekka came up with shirts complete with numbers - they looked really good and the tournament commentators were delighted. The ICC less so, as the shirts had no collars - they were football tops!
Collars or not, I thought they were way better than the polo shirts Ivan bought locally, with names and job descriptions on the back. Lapsley - Manager, Dwyer - Coach, both fine. Chambers - Ass Man less so!
It was an eventful trip, with one player arrested and detained at Abu Dhabi airport on arrival (visa/immigration issues) and no sign of our tournament expenses being paid despite frequent requests both locally and from an increasingly worried Irish Cricket Union headquarters.
Our final fixture was against India A in a day/night match, broadcast live around the world. However, we still hadn't been paid the money owed - in excess of $50,000 - which was a massive sum to the Irish Cricket Union.
Desperate times require desperate measures and with John Mooney and Kevin O'Brien leading an Irish recovery from 82/5 to 130/5 in the 30th over, we informed the organisers they had 30 minutes to produce the money owed or the Ireland team were going on strike midway through the game!
Roughly 27 minutes later, with Ireland on 160/5, a seriously dodgy character appeared at our sides on the boundary edge of the Sheikh Zayed stadium. He flipped open a briefcase containing at least half a million dollars and was proceeding to take out five blocks of $10,000 in full view of the cameras when Ivan suggested to conduct the affairs in the privacy of the dressing room.
We got our $50,000 and Irish cricket was saved from bankruptcy - but the Ass Man decided to stick with media matters from that day on.