Saturday, 10 May 2014

Munster Cricket A Must For Cricket Ireland

Mils Muliaina's confirmed transfer to Connacht Rugby the IRFU's development province combined with the disappointment of the Irish cricket teams second one day international against Sri Lanka being rained off further confirmed my belief that a fourth Interprovincial cricket team based in Munster needs to be made a priority if the sports potential in Ireland is to be properly maximised.

   I'll explain myself. While I believe Connacht rugby does not and probably will never have sufficient grass roots rugby activity to support a professional rugby team to the same degree as the other three provinces they are very definitely a positive facet of Irish rugby as they provide the opportunity of professional rugby to those good enough within the province as well as an excellent development platform for those players outside of Connacht who are good enough for professional rugby but are not enjoying gametime in their own provinces. As well as improving the overall quality of the group Muliaina by playing in Connacht will develop their group of players in the same way Paul O'Connell , Brian O'Driscoll & Rory Best have in their respective provinces. The fact that Connacht are able to sign one extra non Irish qualified player compared to the other provinces and appear to have extra flexibility albeit with a smaller budget is also entirely positive for Irish rugby in my view as it gives those Irish players with Connacht a greater chance of success despite their obviously shallower resources.
    Returning to cricket and the prospect of a Munster side competing in the interprovincials let me first of all say that what the Sri Lanka ODI being rained off magnified for me at least was the lack of top quality cricket  our international cricketers plying their trade in Ireland face. The interprovincials which currently include three teams and are limited to Irish qualified players are the only current domestic opportunities where form can realistically be considered with International selection in mind. That many players particularly in Leinster but also in the other 2 provinces (the North West and the North) do not have the opportunity to compete due to their being too few games for rotation to be a realistic opportunity serves to limit international selection to a relatively small group of players. My opinion is that a 4th side 'Munster' could provide an opportunity for some of these players, Munsters best cricketers and if required could be topped up by professional cricketers playing in Ireland who are currently ineligible for the series.
   There are several advantages to this proposal and they would most likely easily outweigh any potential drawbacks. Looking first of all at the infrastructure required there is a very obvious home ground for Munster Cricket that being the picturesque Mardyke ground (Pictured Above) the home of Munsters most Successful Club Cork County Cricket Club. Locating the team in Cork also has a number of advantages the first of which is that the city following for both hurling and association football (Cork City FC) is among the highest in those two sports in Ireland. The fact that Munster Rugby has in recent years copper fastened its commitment to Limerick may also present an opportunity to fill a sporting void. One other advantage which is entirely presumptuous is that Denis O'Brien a generous benefactor towards sport in this country (just ask Giovanni Trapattoni) hails from the city and already has strong links to cricket through his companies sponsorship of West Indies cricket. With RSA removing itself from cricket in Ireland at the end of the current year it may be the most important advantage listed so far. Finally having a firmer location in Cork would mean that the 4 largest urban centres on the island of Ireland are either the locations for or located close to (in the case of the North West Warriors) the 4 provincial sides something potential international sponsors are sure to be pleased with.
     The sporting arguments for the side are also quite convincing. In recent years Munster underage sides have recorded sporadic victories over their provincial rivals. A senior side could potentially provide the motivation required to make these victories a little more than sporadic. Incidentally outside of Cork County's players many other formerly prominent Munster youngsters are now playing cricket in Leinster due to this being the only way they can currently access a higher class of cricket. Ruadhan Jones of Terenure and Cork Harlequins being one prominent example. Aside from these underage victories, Cork County Cricket Club are enjoying something of a purple patch having been promoted to Leinsters 2nd division as well as yesterday beating a North West side Donemana which included Irish international Andrew McBrine in the Irish Senior Cup. As discussed above some prominent underage cricketers are failing to get their game for their provincial teams similar to what occurs in rugby it may make sense for players like Shane Getkate to lineout for a Munster side. If further padding was needed the competition rules could be relaxed to allow non Irish qualifying professionals such as last years revelation Obus Pienaar to improve the quality on show in the competition as well as the standard of the 4th side. As with Muliaina in Connacht this could also improve the next crop of cricketers produced in Munster. That it would increase each teams fixtures by 50% should be seen as an advantage to everyone including the national selectors. Mentioning Graeme Smiths house in Cork, or Gary Wilson's Cork wife seems trivial compared to these positives.
    In my opinion the potential drawbacks amount to the following. The cost of the team and the risk that the team could reduce the quality of the competition ,the potential increasing inter provincial fixtures may have on Cricket Ireland's relationship with clubs on the ground due to the availability of their best players & a fear of competing in other sports perceived territories.  Of the above cost is the most understandable concern. Concerns about the appetite for the sport in the province should be seen as an opportunity and not a concern. Waiting till the 2016 season to enter the T20 competition could well be missing the boat for players both inside and outside Munster who either require some cricket or more cricket.
In any case if Cricket Ireland are serious(And I believe they are) about their Cricket For All mantra none of these reasons deserve to be a stumbling block. 

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