We spoke to Graham Watt of Cregagh Cricket Club and found a vibrant club making the very most of its academy…and their summer tours.

KUDOS: Can you tell us a bit about Cregagh CC, how long it’s been going, the club set up and in what league you compete?

Graham Watt: We are based in East Belfast Northern Ireland and we are members of the Northern Cricket Union who administrate the game in this part of Northern Ireland. We have played cricket on our current ground since 1906. Quite an interesting story –  after the First World War the club purchased the land from a local farmer as a memorial to the members who fought and died in the war, so the official title of the ground is Cregagh Memorial Recreation Ground. I was able to track down the speech made in 1923 by the club secretary at the time which is quite a moving tribute as he lost his son in the War, and all this recent history all came to light during our centenary year.

At present we have 3 adult teams. The 1st XI and 2nd XI are both challenging for league honours so there is a great buzz about the club. Our 3rd XI is then used to blood our younger players and to give them a taste of adult cricket and to learn from some of the older guys in the club.

We also have a thriving youth section, with around 50 kids across our under 9s, 11s, 13s, and u15 teams. Our youth section has been our crowning glory in recent years as we’ve been able to bring through so many young players and get them playing in the adult teams. You only have to look at our 1st XI team – the average age of the team is around the early 20s mark, and only three players in the 1st XI squad haven’t come through our academy…something we are all very proud of. The hard work has been paying off!

Of course this is all overseen by a committee, and like all committees they are the guys in the background doing all the hard yards! Our committee is no different – we have a great bunch of guys who all come together to make this happen. In fact we are all very close friends, and I think this helps us as we have a great family feel about the club – we all genuinely enjoy each other’s company… most of the time! It should also be noted we all have very understanding wives who also play a huge role in the club – my own wife is the Academy Secretary… not sure how I swung that one!

How is this season going for you, and who have been your star performers this campaign?

So far so good, but we are approaching the business end of the season – come back to me in September! At present the 1st XI are sitting top of their league with only a few games remaining. The 2nd XI are in a similar position, and if they win their games in hand they’ll go joint top of their league. Our 3rd XI currently sit 4th in their league. 3rd XI results aren’t as important to us – we are more interested in developing the players, but at the same time you want to be competitive and so far this season we seem to have found the right balance.

There have been a few star performers with the bat this season for the 1st XI with Aaron Johnston topping the runs chart. He already has two centuries under his belt. With the ball the 1st XI have had a number of star performers – a real strong point in the 1st XI squad is the strength and depth we have in the bowling department and the variety of bowlers.

Recently though it’s been the “Daddy” of the team who has taken the lead with the ball – only last week David McCormick took 8 wickets for 7 runs from his allocation of 10 overs in a league game against Ballymena. Of the 8 wickets, 7 were bowled and the other wicket was an LBW! His performance won him performance of the week on the Cricket World website, which is voted for by the public.

I call him the Daddy as he coached most of the 1st XI when they were all much younger, and now he has a healthy competition with his son Adam McCormick who has starred with bat and ball this season. In our home game against the same team – Ballymena – Adam took 6 for 14.

When you have 5 bowlers all with around 20 wickets each this season it’s a hard job for the skipper. A nice problem to have.

Aaron Johnston and Adam McCormick following match-winning performances against Ballymena

You went on tour recently – tell us a bit about that? Or does what go on tour stay on tour?

Ah yes, the famous Cregagh tours. I like to think we are famous within the Northern Cricket Union for our annual tour, in fact I have even been contacted asking for advice from other clubs about tours in general. It has become a bit of a tradition in these parts that the first weekend in June Cregagh will be in Europe spreading the good name of cricket! We have toured since 2007 and have visited, Monaco, Hungary, Croatia, Portugal, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lanzarote, Lithuania and Poland, all the big names in world cricket. Ha!

Some people ask “I didn’t know they played cricket there?”, and I always say “they play cricket anywhere, and if they don’t they will when we arrive”.

We have had some great games during the tours and of course some great laughs off the field – angry French hotel guests shouting at us in the nude, flip flops flying through the air at 3am in the morning, turning up to play cricket on half a wicket whilst the locals cycle through the middle of a game, playing cricket beside a vineyard and a WW2 Lancaster Bomber landing strip in Croatia, taking over the DJ duties on a Sunday night to get the place jumping, numerous dangerous bus journeys that a lot of wives don’t know about, losing passports and seeking assistance from the British Embassy in Budapest, and using semi-automatic machine guns at the shooting range in Lithuania. We have certainly made some memories.

Of course we also made a lot of new friends along the way and it’s been great for club morale as the tour is open to all our players across all 3 teams. This year in Poland was no exception and with so many players making their tour debut we had to have a forfeit for them. So if you were in the square of Warsaw old town at 11pm on Saturday and your night was interrupted by some terrible singing, I can only apologise. Some of the singing was so bad one of the waitresses from the adjoining restaurant turned the hose on us – but it didn’t dampen our spirits.

Ireland isn’t renowned for its love of cricket. How is the game viewed there? Are perceptions changing and has the success of the likes of Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin made any difference?

Yes it’s seen as a minority sport, there is no doubt about that. In terms of popularity we will never compete with football or rugby which are the two main sports. But there is a lot of great work being done by both the NCU and Cricket Ireland, trying to broaden the appeal of cricket by getting our primary schools to play more cricket and both bodies have worked in conjunction with the clubs to achieve this. In terms of recognising players, I’d say most of the kids that come to our academy would know the players you mention but I suspect they would draw more inspiration from the English cricketers, mainly because they see more of them on TV, and the appeal of the IPL which the younger ones seem more interested in.

Club cricket isn’t easy to commit to, with it being so time consuming. How does the club do for numbers, and how healthy is grassroots cricket in Ireland at present?

In the academy section we are doing very well for numbers, our academy has been running for around 12 seasons now and we have grown our numbers each year, but it’s a lot of hard work and we are blessed with a great bunch of coaches. With adult numbers, I suspect we are like most clubs – we certainly wouldn’t say no to a few more adults about the place but in general this year we have been able to field all three adult teams and in fact the possibility of a 4th XI has been mentioned a few times.

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a local school playing rounders during PE but wouldn’t entertain the idea of playing Kwik Cricket. The schools in the local area all have Kwik Cricket sets so the potential is there.

There is a lot of work to do when it comes to grassroots cricket but the work has started, and I really hope that we can get our message across and lose the ‘boring’ tag that people who don’t play cricket often reply with when asked if they’ve ever tried the game. In fact I will challenge anyone reading this to come down to our youth nights, they are far from boring!

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Thanks to Graham for taking the time to talk to us, and good luck to the club for the rest of the season and beyond! You can find Cregagh CC on Facebook.

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