Warriors go down new path

The North West Warriors sprang something of a surprise last week with the appointment of Gary Wilson as their new Head Coach. It’s a bold move giving the job to somebody with no coaching experience, but following an impressive interview, the panel of Peter McCartney, Bobby Rao, Richard Holdsworth and Marshall Kilgore plumped for the Belfast man ahead of the other candidates.

I had an inkling reading the job description that it could well be an international player, but my educated guess was tending towards one of the North West duo of William Porterfield or Boyd Rankin.

Gary has a Level 3 coaching badge, and a wealth of playing experience garnered over 15 years in the Ireland team, and long county stints at Surrey and Derbyshire.

He will no doubt bring an attention to detail to the role that he showed in a playing career that won him 292 caps. He will have high standards, be meticulous in his preparation, and bring fresh new ideas to a squad that looked disinterested at times last year.

The fact that he arrives from another Union will be to his advantage given that he won’t be labelled with any perceived club bias. Having been allocated the 12 players to primarily work with, there will be little actual selecting at the top level. Ian Callender made the point last week about the three main Union coaches now being primarily associated with the NCU, and given that Head Selector Andrew White is also from there, it’s a real power base at the minute.

‘Willo’ has the advantage of having close friend William Porterfield in the Warriors ranks, while skipper Andy McBrine will be another familiar face as he attempts to bed in successfully.

The Emerging Team will be the real litmus test for him, and the new competition will give him an inkling of the talent and depth in the North West, compared to the other two main regions who have vastly greater resources at their disposal.

It will be interesting to watch him develop his coaching style as he takes bits (hopefully the good ones) from the various coaches he has played under. There has been no announcement yet of who will be his deputy, but that will come soon enough as the interpro season gets under way in less than six weeks, with training getting underway this month.

Testing times

The news emerging from Australia that they were planning to host Ireland in a one-off Test in 2022/23 was welcome, but forgive me if I’m not rushing off to book my plane ticket to Hobart.

There have been so many disappointments in recent times, some self-inflicted it has to be said, given the financial burden of hosting.

You get the feeling something will have to give. I’ve never really understood the ICC mandate of a one size fits all set of instructions. Common sense would tell you that there is a huge difference between India v England and Ireland v Afghanistan.

While there’s a barren 2021 for Tests, no fewer than 5 are in the pipeline for 2022 – if there are a raft of cancelled games, then it could well force a rethink and that may be no bad thing.

Return Of Cricket

You can't help notice the brighter evenings and with the clock going forward this weekend, the sound of leather on willow will soon be reverberating, around the North of Ireland at least. The first weeks of May will see club cricket getting under way, albeit T20 only for the first part. ROI clubs will have to wait a while longer, but hopefully not too long.

The interpros and Super Series will be classed as elite and they can go ahead as planned, although without spectators until the restrictions are eased.

Jeepers keepers

Ireland have thankfully been blessed with some great keepers down through the years, and over the past two decades the gloves have been shared between Niall O’Brien and Gary Wilson. The retirement of both has seen Lorcan Tucker take up the mantle.

Neil Rock has emerged as his deputy, while there now seems to be an opening for another challenger, if not two.

There was a shuffling of the pack which saw Stephen Doheny allocated to the North West, and Rock heading to Munster. Wilson’s retirement will see another adjustment, with the Knights left without a frontline keeper at the minute.

There’s no doubt it will be an interesting sub-plot in the interpros to see who emerges as the most impressive gloveman.

Wolves at the door

My column last week prompted a lot of feedback from a wide variety of sources. Most were in agreement of my disappointment at what I considered below par displays, while others felt I was a little harsh on a young side in subcontinental conditions.

In my defence, if the teams had been of equal experience, I would have been more tolerant. I just found it well short of the standard required by essentially half the senior side against a Bangladesh 3rd/Under 19 XI – albeit a very talented group.

We won’t hopefully have too long to see the Wolves back in action. They are pencilled in for a three match series starting on May 10th against their Dutch counterparts. It promises to be a fascinating tussle with senior places up for grabs ahead of potentially a busy summer if the dreaded C word doesn’t have too much of an impact.