Barry Chambers (CricketEurope)
It’s the eve of a new era for North West cricket as Head Coach Gary Wilson takes charge of the Warriors for the first time, and the former international is keen to taste success despite expectations being low for a side which has struggled at times in recent years.
“I want to be challenging for trophies as soon as possible. Whether this year is too soon or not, I don’t know. I’ve never been involved with a team whether it be Ireland, Surrey or Derby that went on a field thinking it couldn’t win and I fully expect to instil the same belief in the team when we go to Dublin tomorrow to play Lightning. We will start as underdogs but we have got the players to cause upsets this year.
“I tend to put more pressure on my own shoulders than anybody else. I haven’t come up here to maybe try and improve the odd player. I want to win trophies. It’ll no doubt be tough at the start as we are definitely a work in progress.
“But we have some seriously talented players here. Andy McBrine is an exceptional player and I want him to be the focal point of our team. He’s done incredibly well with Ireland in recent times and I want him to bring that form to the North West.”
It will be the first time Wilson will be on the other side of the ropes after a 15 year international career that saw him win 292 caps. Was it a difficult decision to hang up the boots, or something he had been considering for a while?
“It wasn’t a difficult decision given the opportunity I’ve been presented with. I would have loved to have gone to another T20 World Cup with Ireland as a player, but when the job came along it was just too good to turn down.
“If I’d gone really well I may have had another year or two playing at international level. I had to think of my future. There aren’t that many Head Coach jobs in Irish cricket and to get one straight after playing I do realise that I’m incredibly fortunate. "
He’s now just over one month into the role. How he has he found the transition?
“Really enjoyable and different. I’ve had to send a lot more emails and spend a lot more time on the phone than when I was playing. Building relationships will be a big thing for me. So far we have only used two grounds in the North West at Bready and Eglinton and everyone there have been really first-class.
“They both responded positively to my request to train on grass pitches, after a few funny looks initially when I suggested it in late March. It’s a huge thing for me to be able to acclimatise on grass and hopefully it will aid us to hit the ground running. I wanted to challenge the narrative that we couldn’t have grass pitches so early in April, and looking ahead to next year, ideally we’ll be outside in March. Full credit to the clubs and the Union for their positivity in that regard, and to Noel McGinnis and John Pierce for their help with that.
“As for the training the guys have been brilliant. I can’t fault them in any way for their efforts, which have been first-class. Obviously when a new coach comes in they will be keen and looking to show their skills. Even in some average weather you can see the drive, will and want to improve. I feel like we are in a pretty good place ahead of the start.”
Awarded a two year deal initially, the job is a full-time role, and not just about the senior players, but with the responsibility of developing cricketers at all levels in the region.
“We have 150 through all the various age groups training on different days of the week. It’s going to be a big thing for me moving forward. North West cricket is not where it should or could be.
“There’s no denying that we have always produced players. However the really damning stat for me is that in the last 17 years the region has provided 38 players at Ireland U19 level, but only seven or eight have gone on to have any sort of meaningful intepro career, never mind a professional or senior international one. There’s a major drop-off there. What’s happened to the other 30 guys?
“The challenge is to get more NW cricketers playing for the Warriors for longer periods of time and not just the odd game here and there. I think it should start at Under 13 level instilling the right sort of attitudes so they can see the pathway. The Emerging Interpros will be an important tournament and in years to come I’d like to see NW cricketers going on loan to other Unions rather than the other way about.”
Wilson will have William Porterfield his assistant. The pair have had a strong relationship throughout the years. How is that dynamic going to work?
“He’s someone I trust implicitly so that’s an excellent starting point. I’ve no doubt that if he feels I’m doing something wrong or that could be done better he won’t hesitate in telling me.
“It was a straightforward choice for me. He’s from the area, he’s so well respected and he wants to see the Union back where it belongs. His experience speaks for itself with 301 caps for Ireland, 253 of which were as captain.
“He’s probably been one of the greatest international captains of all time really, when you think of where Ireland came from and where they got to with him there. I fully expect him to be a great coach and someone the lads can lean on for his batting and leadership knowledge.”
What brand of cricket can NW supporters expect from a Gary Wilson side?
“I want us to play exciting cricket and not afraid to take chances, going for the positive option at all times. I will never criticise someone for being positive as long as we are playing smart cricket. It’s a fine line between absolving yourself of responsibility as a batsman and taking that positive option. That’s the nature of cricket at times, you die by the sword. You’ve got to back your skill level.
“I’d like us to play with a hardness and toughness because I took pride in that’s how I approached the game in my career and I hope I can instil some of that into the guys. Above all I want us to play fast, exciting, passionate cricket, and one that people enjoy watching. Hopefully we can get crowds in when the situation allows and we can showcase our skills in a really positive manner.”
Having enjoyed a long professional career in county and international cricket, the 35 year-old has played under some very successful coaches. Which elements of those coaches would he like to have as he embarks on the role.
“I’ve been so fortunate to play under some of the greatest coaches that the game has ever seen. Adi Birrell, Phil Simmons, Graham Ford, John Bracewell, Alec Stewart at Surrey, guys who you couldn’t wish to have a better grounding for in coaching.
‘Fordy’ is phenomenal at how he makes people feel about how good a place they are in with their game, with outstanding technical knowledge and how to approach batting. Adi and the way he revolutionised our fielding and the togetherness he brought to the squad, Simmo and the longevity he had plus the relationships he built with the players over eight years. I would like to take little bits or elements of them all and if I turn out to be half as good as any of them I’d take that.”
While the batting, keeping and fielding coaching disciplines are well catered for, ‘Willo’ is looking for big Boyd Rankin to pass on his considerable knowledge to the bowling group.
“Boyd has so much experience with England and Ireland, as well as in the county scene. I will be looking to him to pass on that knowledge to the younger guys. We are fortunate in the bowling group we’ve got is an experienced one with Boyd, Craig Young, Graham Hume, Stuart Thompson, Andy McBrine, guys who have all played a lot of cricket.
“Conor Olphert is a really exciting prospect too who has the ability to bowl with a lot of pace. They don’t need a lot of work, just a set of eyes to pass on things so Boyd and Stuart Barnes when he is up from Dublin will be perfect for that. I think our bowling will be in a pretty good place.”
Wilson’s first match in charge is a real baptism of fire as his Warriors side travel to face defending champions Leinster Lightning in Dublin tomorrow. Action at Sydney Parade gets under way at 10:45am.
Andy McBrine (capt) Donemana, Ross Allen (Brigade), Stephen Doheny (Merrion), Shane Getkate (Instonians), Graham Hume (Waringstown), Graham Kennedy (CIYMS), William McClintock (Donemana), Nathan McGuire (Glendermott), Conor Olphert (Bready), William Porterfield (Formby), Boyd Rankin (Lisburn), Stuart Thompson (CSNI), Craig Young (North Down).