Money, Money, Money

There were two welcome announcements of funding for clubs last week with Northern clubs getting a boost of £330,119 from Sport Northern Ireland while Southern clubs and the Unions got €197,500 from Sport Ireland.

Luckily, cricket in the north has escaped the controversy which emerged with the amounts given to other sports, with ‘The Nolan Show’ dedicating a lot of their air time last week looking at why the criterion of ‘imminent threat of closure’ was changed for applications. On Friday it was the golf clubs who were in the firing line with Royal County Down’s almost £1.6 million grant one of their many targets.

In the South, I noticed on the Sport Ireland website that the €197,500 was just one of three Schemes that Cricket Ireland had been granted funding for, and that the total coming their way was going to be €1 498 000. Great news at such a tough time for the sport here. Where would it be put to use?

€1 109 000 was given to them under Scheme Two, entitled National Governing Body Resilience Fund. They had been looking just over €2 million, but the amount given is a significant one.

Cricket Ireland had estimated the ‘Cost of Returning to Operations’ at €956 000 in the post Covid era. This was split into seven different categories with the extra staff cost given as €227 000, of which €90 000 was needed for Covid and Health and Safety Officers.

€85 000 was sought for Club Development Grants, to assist clubs with the purchase of essential machinery and equipment, while in the High Performance element, €220 000 for extra resources for the matches postponed in 2020, plus a further €14 000 for medical and S&C equipment.

In Facilities €35 000 for extra equipment at Abbotstown – maybe to help repair the grass pitches which are unfit for purpose and need relaid? Also €20 000 for a grounds consultant, €98 000 for covid equipment and training resources, and an extra €15 000 for hiring indoor facilities at North County.

Under Commercial, €26 000 for a Philanthropy revenue generation initiative and €16 000 for sponsor engagement programmes were sought. Cricket Operations wanted €30 000 for extra cricket balls plus €40 000 to help with the new kit branding after a change of sponsor.

There was a section for Marketing and Communications in this part of the Scheme, but Sport Ireland opted to give the €130 000 asked for in a different allocation, under what they call Scheme Four (Restart and Renewal Fund), along with a further €62 000.

This is because Sport Ireland stresses the strategic importance of investment in IT and platforms in the post Covid era. This part is made up of €40 000 for the CI website which is identified by themselves as being an IT security risk. €60 000 goes to Marketing Design/ support to kick-start 2021 and match day interest and income. That of course may have to be revisited given that supporters are unlikely to be at games for the first part of the season. There is also €30 000 for a fan club, which the organization deems critical for 2021. Will the Blarney Army be resurrected to replace ‘Torrens Tours’?

The €62 000 ring-fenced is for the NV Play live-scoring platform, plus a national database for clubs and grassroots registration. While the €192 000 is very welcome, it appears there was no money made available for a proposed ‘Chance to Shine’ initiative which Cricket Ireland were seeking €125 000 to run.

It’s a strange quirk of Covid-19 that Ireland’s financial position actually strengthened by not playing cricket. They started the year €313k in the red, and needed, like many countries, a bail-out in the form of a $1 million advance from the ICC in the late summer.

However, not playing matches at home saved them €1 872 921, plus a further €785 000 in High Performance costs, and €150,000 in venue and facility costs. This meant a total savings of €3 372 032 from what was budgeted in the main period of 2020, although there were some additional costs as some cricket returned in July for ten weeks.

There was also relief in the form of the Furlough and Government Subsidy Schemes for employees. The top management opted to work on, taking a salary cut for five months, with staff deemed non-essential going on the schemes. In the Republic this amounted to €309 000 while in the North it was estimated at €170 000, a total of €479 000 for 2020 alone.

These figures show that while cricket is nowhere near to the amounts granted to the three major sports in the ROI – GAA €31 million, IRFU €18 million, FAI €13 million – Sport Ireland does see it as an organization worthy of their support, and hopefully will continue to do so as the 2021 season gets under way in five weeks’ time.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I was contacted last week by one of the leading and most respected administrators in Irish cricket. Decades of service to the cause, and all for the love of the game at every level.

He wrote just how much he had enjoyed the CricketEurope site in lockdown, and this column in particular for keeping him abreast of developments.

There was however, a bit of a sting in the tail. He said it was all too easy for me to sit on the periphery pontificating about what we should be spending more on (Women’s cricket and National Stadium), without mentioning what I would spend less on.

Now in the absence of detailed financial statements from Cricket Ireland this would be a near impossible task, but as fate would have, some financial spendings did come my way this week as you may have guessed given my main column on funding.

Amongst a wealth of information was the details that Cricket Ireland had expected to spend €130, 744 on lease cars and their associated running costs. That to me is a mind blowing amount. My trusty VW Passat which I bought back second-hand (or as the marketing people say these days pre-loved) in 2010 for £2000 has just lay down and died after 250k miles at the grand old age of 18. Its replacement, a sporty looking Audi A3 was acquired from my niece, again very much pre-loved for a sum of £750. No point spending big cash where you don’t know what country you will be living in from month to month.

While I’m not saying the governing body should go to these extremes, there needs to be a question of who has all these cars and why the need for a fleet? It’s crazy. By all means I can see the need for the Head Coach to have one and CEO Warren Deutrom. I'd guess, indeed hope, that a proportion of this is a sponsorship/barter deal from the official car supplier.

At a time when more and more are working from home, and Zoom calls are cutting meeting costs, surely a drastic slashing of this budget is on the cards. A Cricket Ireland pool car would be one possible solution for office staff who need to use it and it could be signed in and out. Or for 130k a year, surely five cars could be bought in a one-off deal and the money saved in consequent years put towards more worthy purposes.

Emperor Rosco

The king is dead, long live the king. Well, not quite dead but Cricket Ireland Chairman Ross McCollum is relinquishing his role 12 months from now, as required by the rules of the organization. His deputy was rubber-stamped at the Board meeting last week, with Brian ‘Bomber’ MacNeice’s appointment being ratified. The Clontarf man had the least cricketing pedigree of the three front-runners, but he emerged victorious. I don’t know Brian well enough but if has beaten Alan Waite and Alan Lewis, then he must be truly exceptional.

Gary Keegan is also joining the Board. He is best known and well respected for transforming Irish Boxing. Unlike the vice-chairman appointment, this position was advertised, attracting a high calibre of candidates. Amongst those that were interested were believed to be former internationals Isobel Joyce and Niall O’Brien. It’s significant with the departure of Greg Molins, and Ross McCollum in his final year, that there will be no member with international experience on the Board.

Proof I guess that Irish cricket nowadays is a business and not a sport. From my perspective it’s a mistake and the balance just doesn’t look right. I hope I’m wrong.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

There was good news last week with the appointments of Gary Wilson and William Porterfield in part-time coaching roles with Ireland. ‘Porty’ will look after fielding, while ‘Willo’ will have a coaching brief to work with the wicket-keepers at all levels.

It’s going to be tough fitting it all in for the busy duo, if the deal is similar to those given in the past, where 20 additional days were allocated. I have this vision of the pair running around like Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, where he played nine different roles in the classic 1949 film alongside the equally brilliant Dennis Price.

Still, as I always say a busy man is a happy man, and having bemoaned the lack of Irish coaches at high level, the appointments are to be welcomed. It can be worked out later just how the jigsaw is all put together.

Commonwealth Games

The 2022 Commonwealth Games will have Women’s Cricket when it’s held next year in Birmingham. There is due to be a qualifying tournament to decide on a qualifier slot, to determine who will join England, Australia, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and a West Indies representative – most likely Barbados based on rankings.

Amongst those vying for that coveted eighth place are expected to be Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Scotland and Papua New Guinea. Others identified by Tom Grunshaw as possible contenders include Samoa, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

Why not have a Northern Ireland team? What better way of promoting and encouraging women’s cricket in Ulster by selecting a team to play in the qualifiers. After 20 years of a fallow period of international representation, there have been green shots of better days ahead with northern players playing in the Super Series. Cara Murray has pulled on the green shirt, while Zara Craig was named in a recent squad.

Clare Shillington could be the Head Coach and what better way of attracting new players than a high profile tournament?

Northern Ireland men played in the 1998 Commonwealth Games where they famously beat Bangladesh. It may be time the women had a chance too.