Kennedy excited to see impact new duo can have at CSNI

CSNI captain James Kennedy is confident that new duo Stuart Thompson and Ross Adair are going to have a big impact at the club.

The 2020 season is set to get underway on July 18 when the Stormont side kick their Robinson Services Cup campaign off against reigning Premier League champions CIYMS.

CSNI were busy during the winter months, bringing in Irish international Thompson from Eglinton and hard-hitting Adair joining from Holywood.

The plan for the club was always going to be to enter the 2020 campaign without an overseas professional after electing not to bring Andre Malan, who had scored over 1000 runs last season, back for a third time.

While acknowledging it won’t be an easy task to fill the gap left by Malan, Kennedy is excited to see the new pair in action and believes the Twenty20 format could bring the best out of them.

“Last year in particular we were so reliant on Andre,” he said.

“It was really only Elly (Marc Ellison) that stepped up with the bat and the rest of us didn’t come to the party at all.

“It puts a bit of pressure on the rest of us to step up and contribute. To try and replace Andre’s runs is basically impossible. He’s an exceptional cricketer.

“We obviously have Stuart Thompson in who is a great addition and Ross Adair will bring hard-hitting. It’s an exciting team and one that’ll hopefully produce the goods on the pitch.

“That (Twenty20) maybe played straight into their hands.

“Thommo is obviously in the Ireland set-up and could be involved in that with Gary (Wilson) so we might have them for just over half the games – we will just have to see when that squad is selected how it pans out.

“It’s been great to have him around and we are looking forward to getting on the pitch with him in the next couple of weeks.

“Ross can hit the ball very hard and is a great addition. T20 will suit him and hopefully he will make a serious dent in the bowlers’ figures.”

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Ross Adair. ©CricketEurope

CSNI will have to get into the swing of things quickly with their opening three matches coming against CIYMS, Instonians and a Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup trip to Waringstown on July 26.

They have only progressed past the group stage in that competition once since winning it in 2014 but Kennedy feels he has the squad at his disposal to challenge on all fronts.

“Personally, I’m maybe too old for that game now!” he added.

“As a team it’ll be interesting. We have always enjoyed our T20 and over the years we have perhaps got our tactics wrong in the T20 competition.

“The fact that it’s only T20 this year means we can practice hard for it, try to get the tactics right and compete well.

“Our team is probably fairly well suited to it. We have a decent mix of spin and pace and a decent batting line-up so we should be well suited, but only time will tell.”

Plans came together quickly for the season over the last couple of weeks with top-flight clubs meeting via Zoom last Thursday with the NCU to discuss the proposals and logistics.

Everything seems set now for a return to cricket in under two weeks time and Kennedy is excited to get back on the pitch.

“Up until a few weeks ago we were probably expecting there to be no cricket and the whole country was probably thinking that,” he said.

“The fact that the powers that be have worked hard to get cricket going is brilliant and we are so grateful for that.

“We almost haven’t had time to think about goals. It was only just Thursday night that everything was laid out in front of us on a Zoom call so over the next few weeks we will start talking about plans.

“Regardless of the competition and however many overs it is, you’re trying to win it so that’ll be our goal. We will try to win everything that we are in.”

North Down eager to get their hands on some silverware in 2020

North Down captain Alistair Shields believes their motivation for silverware will be as high as ever when the 2020 season gets underway on July 18th.

With the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the campaign by almost three months, the league will now be a Twenty20 competition and known as the Robinson Services Cup.

The Comber men start with a home fixture against Carrickfergus and will enter as one of the hot favourites to be crowned champions.

After a long wait and plenty of hard work being done behind the scenes, cricket is finally back and Shields says they can’t wait to get started.

“We can’t wait to get going,” he said.

“It’s going to be a short, sharp and intense season with the different competitions we will be playing in and it’s the type of thing where you can get on a run and kick off well or likewise if you don’t start well you can be behind the eight ball a bit because of how short it is.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. We have done well in Twenty20 over the last few years although not managing to get our hands on any silverware which is disappointing. It would be nice to go a step further.

“Plenty of hoops have been jumped through over the past few weeks in terms of setting up the ground and sessions for teams right throughout the club so there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

“It’s just little logistical things like who can be there to open up, who is in charge and who is managing the protocols.

“It’ll be well worth the work when we get on the field and hopefully the weather plays ball so we can have a decent season.”

North Down have been remarkably consistent in the Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Cup in recent times, reaching at least the semi-finals in every season since 2013.

They already had a team more than capable in the shortest format with the likes of Craig Young and Ruhan Pretorius in their ranks but the addition of Paul Stirling, who is one of the best Twenty20 batsmen in the world, certainly won’t do any harm to their chances.

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Ruhan Pretorius. ©CricketEurope

It’s unlikely that Stirling and Young will be involved for the whole campaign due to international commitments but Shields is very happy with the squad that has been assembled at The Green.

“We are well set up and have a lot of bases covered with explosive batsmen at the top, lads in the middle who can finish and then with the ball we have a leg-spinner in Carl (Robinson), a couple of off-spinners and then a good pace attack with Youngy, Ruhan, Peter Davison, Peter Eakin and Aditya (Adey),” he added.

“We are pretty well set up. Sometimes it’s hard with such a short game to keep everyone happy and there is a real competition for places and for batting positions which can only be healthy.”

The task for North Down will be finding a way of getting over the line and winning a big trophy.

They have lost three consecutive Twenty20 Cup finals since their last triumph in 2013 and were defeated in a nail-biting semi-final by Waringstown last season.

The competition will be played in a knockout format this season rather than the traditional round robin while there could be more must-win games down the line with the Robinson Services Cup set to be decided in a play-off.

They will be looking to prove themselves in those big moments and Shields is confident they can go all the way.

“We stumbled upon a formula that worked and the way our team is set up we have guys that score quickly with the bat and have wicket takers which has us set up ideally for Twenty20 cricket.

“We are pleased with how we have gone in the past few years and that one missing piece is just getting over the line.

“We were disappointed last year when we fell in the semi-final to Waringstown when we had the game won then collapsed at the end.

“It’s about winning those big moments for us and I don’t think we are too far away. It would be great to get over the line and get some silverware.”

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Paul Stirling. ©CricketEurope

North Down and defending champions CIYMS will likely be considered the two favourites for both competitions when the season rolls around.

Twenty20 can be an unpredictable game and Shields is just focusing on gaining momentum and starting their campaign right.

“It’s quite easy to band a favourite tag about.

“Twenty20 is a bit of a lottery and you just have to look across to England and see the teams that have won that competition over the last few years. They wouldn’t necessarily have been the so-called favourites at the start of the year.

“Twenty20 is a bit of a lottery in some respects but if a team get off to a fast start in the league format then the momentum will go a long way. I’m confident on our day that we can beat anyone.

“We know every team in the league is going to be very competitive and everyone will be in the same position as us in that they’ll think they can beat anyone on their day.

“I’m happy with the squad we have and if we have everyone available then it’ll be hard for me to pick an XI which I think is healthy.”

The Gallagher Challenge Cup and Irish Senior Cup are set to fall by the wayside for one season so every team will have their sole focus on Twenty20 cricket.

With the doubt surrounding there being any sort of season in the past few months, Shields is just excited to get back on the field but says his side will be up for every game.

“When I spoke to our guys it was very much a case of wanting to play as much competitive cricket as we can and they are itching to get going. I don’t think an edge will be missing.

“We don’t have the prestige of the Challenge Cup but the guys are competitive and I know other clubs will be desperate to win as well.

“Regardless of what the competition is called or what format it is, when you step over the line it’s may the best team win and it’s competitive.

The whole scenario has put things into perspective.

“What we have been missing a lot is spending time with your mates. Yes it’s a great opportunity to play competitive cricket on a Saturday but also getting to spend time with your mates and have some craic with team-mates and the opposition afterwards.”

Peter Bothwell reflects on his professional career following retirement

Northern Ireland’s highest ranked tennis player has made the decision to step away from the professional game in order to pursue a coaching career.

Peter Bothwell, who reached a career-high singles ranking of 602 last summer, became the first Ulsterman to make a significant breakthrough onto the ATP circuit when he entered the rankings in July 2014.

The 24-year-old won his first professional singles crown at the Irish Open in 2018 and also went on to pick up eight doubles titles before calling time on his career this week.

Although not an easy decision for the Hillsborough native to make, it is one that he is at peace with.

“I made the decision about a week ago and then sat on it for three or four days just to make sure that I was comfortable and making the right decision,” he said.

“It was such a big decision so I didn’t want to rush it and wanted to be true to myself and make sure that it sat right with myself.

“Being able to go out and coach at the minute, I then realised that it was time. I think it’s the right decision.

“It wasn’t an easy one because it’s something that I’ve known and for seven or eight years it has been all that my life has been.

“It’s a massive shift but I definitely think it’s the right call so I’m committed to that.”

Bothwell spent the majority of his career playing on the third-tier Futures level while based at the SotoTennis Academy in Sotogrande, Spain.

While many have become accustomed to the glitz and glamour that Wimbledon provides and superstars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Bothwell was one of hundreds of players who are fighting to make their way to those illustrious stages.

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Bothwell after winning a doubles title.

With the nature of the tennis tour and a tournament almost every single week, players rarely get the opportunity to reflect and take stock of where their career is at and what they are looking to achieve from it.

The coronavirus pandemic has put the sport on hold and it has brought that chance for Bothwell to evaluate everything, giving him clarity to make such a big decision.

“I’ve probably thought about it three or four times over my career.

“You always question yourself if you’re good enough. That was just doubt in my head and I never really seriously considered it.

“Life always felt like it was going so quickly and I never really had time to just sit down and reflect.

“I reflected on a couple of things and was thinking about what I want to get out of my life, what I want to achieve and what I set out to achieve when I was 16/17.

“It was a massive reflection and perspective that helped me made the decision.”

Those around Bothwell and the people he confides in were more than confident that he had what it took to progress even further in the rankings, but it came down to the question of whether the sacrifice was going to be worth it.

“My coach fully believes that I could go higher in the rankings.

“I do believe I probably could but is it really going to make a massive difference if I finish 400th in the world compared to 600th?

“I don’t have any funding and the support isn’t there from Tennis Ireland so it’s obviously very difficult.

“With this time as well, I have always relied on some people to give me support from my local club at Downshire, but with the current situation that isn’t going to happen because that’s way too difficult.

“Just loads of different things and also a sense of responsibility as well.

“My parents had sacrificed so much and I felt it was time to help them and pay them back. Loads of different things like that helped me form my decision.”

While retiring from the professional game, Bothwell won’t be hanging his racket up completely and still plans to play local competitions when he can.

He will now be putting all of his energy into coaching and will be hoping he can find the player to build on the success he has achieved throughout his own career.

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Bothwell celebrating doubles success in Portugal.

“I still might compete in local competitions in Ireland and things like that because I’m such a competitive person.

“I’m not leaving the sport and for me that is huge. My whole life is about sport and I would be lost without it.

“I’m going to get stuck into coaching and I really enjoy that. I always did a bit when I was in Spain to help me pay the fees there and always enjoyed it.

“My mum was a coach and my granda was a coach, so it’s something that comes naturally to me and I enjoy helping people.

“No one had ever had an ATP ranking from Northern Ireland so I was the first one to do it and then my brother followed and we’ve had one more guy, Jordan McKeown, since.

“I’d get the same satisfaction in helping someone from here go higher than me and make it to a Grand Slam or reach the top 100.

“For me, that would give me as much satisfaction as doing it myself.”

Bothwell retires as a trailblazer and a source of motivation for the next generations of Northern Irish tennis stars that they too can reach the professional ranks.

He has laid the foundations and created a path for those youngsters to believe it can be a real possibility for someone from these parts to make it, and he looks back of his career with immense pride.

“I think I did really well.

“I didn’t have anyone to look up to from here that had done it before so I think that probably held me back a little bit.

“When I got to a certain point I got comfortable at that level instead of believing in myself more and to push on a bit more.

“Leading Ireland in Davis Cup was incredible for a couple of years, winning the Irish Open and becoming the first Irish player to win it since 2012 and there’s just a lot of proud moments.

“Looking back, I did make a couple of bad mistakes and you’ve to learn from those as well.

“I was a bit unlucky that I didn’t get a few more opportunities but I think I maximised those that I was given and I was true to myself. I put in the work day in, day out.

“If you looked at me when I was 16/17, yes I had played a few junior international tournaments and was ranked high in Ireland, but if you’d asked someone then if I would win s $25K Futures event, eight doubles titles and lead Ireland in Davis Cup, nobody would have said yes.

“I definitely feel I had a good career and I’m proud of it.”

Duo depart Carrickfergus for Cliftonville Academy

Matthew McCord and Max Burton have left Premier League side Carrickfergus to join Cliftonville Academy.

Formed after a merger between Cliftonville and Academy in 2017, the club will be playing in Section One this season after winning the Section Two title in 2019.

It’s a return home for McCord who left to join Carrickfergus ahead of the 2018 season, where he helped the Middle Road side to two consecutive third-placed Premier League finishes and a first ever Irish Senior Cup quarter-final spot in 2019.

2018 was a breakthrough season for the fast bowler, picking up 27 wickets at an average of 23.07 while also contributing 207 runs down the order with a high score of 57 coming against Armagh.

It was that sort of form that earned him a First Class debut with the Northern Knights against the North West Warriors at Bready in July 2018 where he scored 46 in the seconds innings of a heavy defeat.

The 25-year-old came into 2019 injured and only picked up 13 wickets, ending the campaign bowling almost 46 less overs than in the previous season.

Burton played 14 times for Carrick across all competitions in 2019, scoring 143 runs in 12 innings.

Despite still being a teenager, the versatile wicketkeeper-batsman has already racked up a significant amount of first team experience since making his debut in June 2016, going on to play 40 times in total across all competitions.

He helped Belfast Royal Academy to Schools Cup glory in 2019 by contributing a man-of-the-match winning innings of 82 in the final to beat Methody by three wickets.

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Max Burton. ©CricketEurope

Carrick also lost Jack Burton and Harry Warke to Woodvale earlier this year but have been bolstered by the arrival of Neil Gill from Muckamore and return of Michael Armstrong.

McCord says he is excited at the prospect of returning to what is a very different side to the one he left a few years ago.

“I had a great couple of years at Carrick, particularly my first season which was great personal success for me and coming second in the Premier League,” he said.

“I’d like to thank Gilmour, Parky and Eagy in particular and wish them and the club well moving forward.

“The decision is purely about cricket for me. I read my article about moving to Carrick this week and the two main things mentioned were Knights and trophies.

“I’m delighted I achieved one of those aims and I’ll hopefully get to return to the top flight with Cliftonville Academy and challenge for the latter.

“I want responsibility with bat and ball and I’m hungry to win games of cricket.

“Last year was a bit of a write off for me. I went in injured after tearing my side about five weeks before the season started and was massively undercooked and was playing catch up all summer. At that level you just can’t get away with it.

“I’m excited to be returning to what I very much consider home and a very different team to the one I left. The team is very exciting.

“I go in as one of the older players at 25, which I think is particularly appealing.

“The opportunity to try and build something and challenging to be in the potential 12 team Premier League in 2022.

“I’m really looking forward to playing with the young guys like Andrew Forbes, Ben Kane, Adam Kelso and Niall Greenlees, and it’s obviously fantastic to have a guy as talented as Max coming with me too.

“I am also delighted to get back in around guys like Brian Anderson and Tetley who have been there and done it at the top level and people who would give a lot of credit too for my development as a cricketer.”

North Down sign Paul Stirling

Ahead of the possible return of local cricket next month, North Down have pulled off the massive signing of Irish international Paul Stirling.

Stirling is returning to the NCU after spending the best part of a decade in England with Middlesex and will be turning out for the Northern Knights.

There had been no announcement about where he would be playing club cricket but that mystery has now been solved with the news of his arrival at The Green.

The 29-year-old has long been one of Ireland’s best performers and will further bolster a North Down side that finished second in the Robinson Services Premier League last season.

He joins international team-mate Craig Young at the club and captain Alistair Shields admitted his delight at getting the deal over the line.

“We are under no illusions of the quality and experience he is going to bring to our changing room,” he said.

“That will be a great benefit for us on the pitch but also off it for the younger guys and everybody to learn from him. We are delighted.

“When we found out that he wouldn’t be staying in England and that he would be coming home to play for the Knights, we were very keen for him to play his club cricket at North Down.

“After having a few conversations with him we are delighted he will be doing that.”

A player of Stirling’s standing and quality wouldn’t have been short on offers for his eagerly anticipated return to local club cricket.

Although he is sure to have a massive impact on the pitch, Shields is excited about what he can offer the club off it as well.

“These things are never straight forward,” he added.

“As you can imagine he probably wasn’t short of suitors coming back.

“We spoke to Paul about a long-term project so rather than it being a one or two year thing, it’s long-term and that’s something he’s really interested in too.

“He wanted something to get his teeth in to and something he can have an impact on – not just on the pitch but off it and with our younger guys.

“We are very keen to have the best team as possible of the pitch but the most important thing is that we are pulling in the same direction and we aren’t interested in a short-term project for anyone.

“We are looking at long-term plans and the guys we have signed have all fitted the profile of younger guys that are keen to come, further their cricket and push onto the Knights. I think he can help with that.”

The current proposals will see cricket hopefully return at the end of next month, and if that is the case, Shields is confident his squad will be able to challenge on all fronts.

“Fingers crossed we get cricket and then fingers crossed we can challenge,” he said.

“We are keen to compete in all the competitions we enter and we do have a lot of quality in the changing room.

“Hopefully we can find ourselves at the top end of the league and challenging at the latter stages of cups. That’s the aim for this season and going forward.”

 

Lockdown coaching Q&A: Andy McCrea

Andy McCrea was appointed as NCU Coaches Mentor earlier this year but his first summer in the role where he should be meeting up with coaches and observing sessions has been heavily impacted.

He has still been able to pass on advice and help those coaches he interacts with on Zoom calls and provide drills for players to do both all over the NCU and at his home club Templepatrick, but there hasn’t been the usual contact.

McCrea was recognised for the impact his coaching has had in Ireland at the Cricket Ireland Awards Night in February, picking up the Sunday Independent Outstanding Contribution to Coaching.

In this Q&A, the school teacher talks about the challenges of lockdown on coaching, how it has affected his roles and much more.

Has it been a challenging time for coaches with everything that has been going on?

AM: “Yes I think it has. The fact that lockdown really kicked in when it did, when people were looking to get outdoors and wanting to get into the swing of things, everyone was thrown a curveball and had to think quite quickly about how we go about tackling it.

“I have to say that I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen through the NCU. They’ve set up the Google Classrooms and that’s really good for keeping people engaged in cricket, keeping cricket in everyone’s mind and giving them the opportunity to practice at home even though they might be restricted.

“I see some people working on some tactical stuff as well which is great. People are being creative out there, both coaches and players.”

How much has it affected your various roles as the NCU Coaches Mentor and even within your own club?

AM: “It has actually made me think about if we could do things differently in the future. We have had a few Zoom meetings and I have to say I quite like it because it saves you travelling to and from the meeting and you can get a record of the meeting.

“I think the good organisers and thinkers will be looking at this and seeing what they can take forward. What I have noticed through the whole lockdown process as a teacher as well is that it has sorted out who the real innovators are, who the doers are and who says this isn’t a challenge but an opportunity.

“I think the good organisations will come out of this in a better situition.”

Speaking to another coach they thought coaching may have changed for good with the introduction of Zoom etc. Do you think along similar lines with that?

AM: “I do. I think the more innovative coaches were already using online coaching tools. For example, we’ve used video and sending the clips off to them via email so their parents can see them as well and doing voiceovers on the videos, so we have always done that.

“I see Shane Getkate videoing in their own premises and doing voiceovers so fair play to the likes of him who are thinking out the problems there.

“You can’t beat the one-to-one contact though with you and the player out there and working with a group of players. I think the good coaches will take a little bit of the online stuff and still keep their personal skills up as well.”

Have you been keeping in contact with the coaches you look after?

AM: “There has been a few one-to-one calls and there have also been some more general Zoom calls.

“I think my job as a NCU mentor is that they keep thinking about developing their own skills. I’m a great believer in that you have to keep developing your own education and I have been trying to do that during lockdown myself. There have been a few things I’ve had on the long finger that I hadn’t got round to watching or reading and I’ve made sure I’ve done that.

“I’m sure people have heard of them because they’ve been doing the rounds but The Test is superb. Justin Langer is very impressive. He is hard and knows what he wants but also understands the player. There is a bit of old-school in him but also some modern thinking about how to get the best out of a player. He’s also very good at using his coaching team and getting others involved so I really enjoyed that.

“The Last Dance is another one. I enjoyed basketball and played it as a kid, but it is top drawer. Michael Jordan is such an unbelievable competitor and you don’t really understand that until you watch it. That’s all coaching and the drive of world class players. They are all just things about learning and gathering information.

“What I’ve been doing for the coaches in the NCU and my own club is watching webinars, researching stuff and then passing the good ones on to them. There are a couple of very good podcasts out there which I would recommend.

“Inside The Mind of Champions by Jeremy Snape, who is a former international cricketer so it’s quite cricket relevant, but he’s a motivational speaker and sports psychologist so he’s very interesting to listen to. Help Me Coach is another good one from two coaches from the south of Ireland. They are GAA coaches but talk about quality coaching and very interesting to listen to. Another cricket podcast which is great is Pitchside Experts with Ian Bishop, Tom Moody and Freddie Wilde. They take different topics each week like spin bowling in T20 cricket, the modern fast bowler and is it a dying breed, so it’s interesting listening to that.

“We do have more time on our hands during lockdown so it would be a shame to come out of it thinking what did I actually do over the last few months? My job is to encourage people to keep learning, developing their skills and pointing them in the right direction for resources that are worth listening to.”

Although coaches haven’t been in their usual situation, do you think they might come out of it better because they’ve had to think outside the box and innovate?

AM:  “Yes I do and I think they’ll value their coaching time because people are missing cricket and coaching.

“We are chomping at the bit to get back out there, so once we get back out there and we’ve done all this learning and reenergised ourselves, there should be some really good stuff happening and kids will be looking forward to playing again.

“It has hit the refresh button. It has given people a break but it’s about using that time in an advantageous way and once we are allowed out there to do it again, we are doing it really well.”

Are you happy with how the coaches you work with have been dealing with it?

AM: “I think so yes. It was interesting reading James Cameron-Dow’s article where he was talking about how in the first month it’s all kind of new, it’s about sustaining it over three months.

“Fair play to them. The resources the NCU put in place with Google Classroom was excellent. I’m also very wary of the end user. As a teacher I’m wary of pupils and families, as a coach I’m wary of players and families and as a mentor I’m wary of the coaches.

“We have to look after people and what’s going on in their lives. Are they affected by coronavirus? Has there been deaths in their family? Are there NHS workers in their family that have been foot to the floor? Is there mental pressures due to the stress and strain of the whole thing?

“While coaches need to understand their players, mentors need to understand their coaches and the stresses that they can be under in their lives. It’s about knowing when to put an arm around the shoulder or when to give them a wee gee up. There’s a lot going on and we need to put people and their needs at the heart of things.

“Cricket is lovely and all, but people are the most important resource in life. If you’ve good people working for you and with you, your organisation is going to go in the right way so you need to value them.”

You play a big role in the youth side of things as well. Are you worried about the impact this break could have on the youth section and playing numbers?

AM: “Potentially, if I’m being honest, yes. When we come out of lockdown, every sport is wanting to get going because they haven’t done anything for three months so let’s have rugby and football sessions.

“Cricket has to keep its eye on that and make sure we are still getting our share of kids playing. I think if your organisation, whether that’s a club, school or Union, if they’ve kept the kids engaged throughout – at my own club we’ve been doing little quizzes and been using the Google Classroom.

“It’s nice to bump into parents at the shop and hear their kids really enjoyed the quiz or the little challenges where we’ve asked to see what skills they’ve been working on at home and put them on social media.

“Some kids have really bought in and loved doing that. If you’ve kept your kids engaged, I think they’ll come back again.”

Is there anything you’ve learned during this time that you’ll take with you as a coach when we get back to normal?

AM: “The big thing, and I’m speaking here as a father as well of a 15-year-old boy, he has really missed the social aspect of being in that team environment.

“While he has the odd Zoom call and quiz, he has just really missed being with his mates. While we are offering cricket to people, you are probably more importantly offering a really good social experience.

“I think coaches when they get back to playing need to think that it’s about getting people together and enjoying this great game. It’s great because it gives people a chance to enjoy themselves and have fun.

“If coaches are jumping in a bit early with technical stuff, I don’t think it’s what young players want at the minute. They want to be with their mates again. You just want two or three mates being together having fun and the coach facilitating that making sure they are enjoying themselves.”

Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston discusses coaching during lockdown

You just have to take a look at the number of Northern Knights players that have made an impact on the international stage in the past 16 months to realise what a great job head coach Simon Johnston has been doing.

Anyone you speak to about him provides glowing reports on the effort he puts in, the time he gives to all of his players and perhaps most importantly, the impact he has had on their careers as a whole.

Going back to February 2019, Shane Getkate was rewarded with his first international cap in a Twenty20 against Oman before a few weeks later James Cameron-Dow and James McCollum joined him in earning their debuts.

In the following months came the emergence of Mark Adair, the recall of Greg Thompson to the Ireland ranks after a run of blistering performances and the breakthrough of both Harry Tector and David Delany who have spent time with the Knights.

Jacob Mulder would have also been back in the green of Ireland if it wasn’t for injury and it’s when you go through the extensive list that you truly get a sense of what the Knights are building.

A lot of it comes down to how much a player wants it and ultimately their destiny is in their own hands, but there is no doubting that having someone like Johnston around to motivate and help you become the best player you can be is a massive part of achieving success.

Usually outdoors slinging cricket balls at this time of year, Johnston is having to deal with the uncertainty of when he will be able to join back up with his players and continue the work that they so brilliantly put in during 2019.

“I was furloughed really early so that has obviously been a massive challenge,” he said.

“With me being a physical coach and being out coaching all the time we knew it was going to happen, so what we were able to do a week before was get the Google Classroom up and running before I was put on furlough.

“Charlotte Lyons was phenomenal with all of that setting it up for everybody.

“Basically, I was able to say here is all the information and links you can use and you work away leading it. It gave the coaches ownership because I wasn’t there to lead it.

“I’ve been there as a friend if they need me but legally I’m not allowed to do anything so I haven’t.

“Callum (Atkinson) has been running it brilliantly. If you know enough about me you know I’m very hands on so that has been a real challenge not being involved, but the guys are doing great work.”

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Simon Johnston. ©CricketEurope

Coronavirus has resulted in coaches utilising other methods to get their message across and the NCU have been putting on Zoom calls and webinars for club coaches and players at different age groups.

With the innovations that have come about due to this enforced break and technology that is available, Johnston believes it could have a lasting change on coaching.

“That has probably changed the face of coaching forever,” he added.

“Over the winter months there will be a lot more Zoom calls and it’s cost saving.

“I know Northern Ireland isn’t a big place but there can be a lot of travelling involved. Going forward, we will probably implement Zoom a lot more.

“With my coaching style, I’m a social person and very big on building relationships and trust with my players, so I would class a lot of the players as friends.

“I would be chatting to them every day or every couple of days anyway. I speak to Wilo (Gary Wilson) as captain a lot and most of the boys I would be chatting to at least twice a week.

“The majority of time it isn’t about cricket but just staying in touch and making sure they are alright. The stronger you can build your relationships the better.”

A major part of being a successful coach is knowing your players extremely well and having the knowledge of what each individual requires.

Lockdown has heightened that even more with usually active cricketers now not able to do any sort of meaningful training and personal interaction limited.

“You treat them all individually,” said Johnston.

“I know enough about the guys to know some would struggle on their own.

“Some weeks I’ve been ringing them to pick me up because there can be some dark weeks.

“You know the guys that can get on with it and you know the guys who need the social contact. That’s just about me knowing who needs more attention.

“The contracted boys are very well taken care of with their S&C programmes and their calls with Fordy (Graham Ford, Ireland head coach), so for me, I can let them go.

“It’s the tier below of what I would call the semi-pro guys. We have provided them with S&C too.

“While the Classroom is great for young guys because you can give them drills and stuff to do, the majority of senior boys are shadow batting and doing their S&C work – there isn’t a lot of technical stuff they can do.

“Someone like a Marc Ellison will be shadow batting in his apartment and James McCollum will have his sister throwing tennis balls out the back to him.

“It’s very hard for a lot of people. It has to be tailored for different people. I know at youth level the guys have been posting drills to do but at senior level you just have to trust them.”

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Northern Knights. ©CricketEurope

The main message that Johnston has been getting across to his squad is one of opportunity.

“The one thing I did say to them when this all kicked off was that this is an opportunity,” he added.

“It’s an opportunity for guys who have been injured to rest, for guys who have been on the international circuit like Wilo for 10 years to take a bit of a break for a few months because it’s probably the only chance you’ve had in that time.

“For other guys like Elly, it’s about reading up and going deeper into your game. Shane Getkate is very similar to that.

“The one thing I told them we can control and that there is no excuse for is our fitness.

“If people come out of this and they rock up with a wee belly on them, you know they haven’t been doing anything. Even I’m out running twice a day just to get out of the house!

“If anyone comes out of this not fit that would ring alarm bells for a coach. It’s just how you take it.

“It’s going to be interesting when I get back in to see what the Knights guys have been doing but I think they are going to be grand.

“From a youth level, I think we will learn a lot about our players in underage squads and see the guys who have been putting in the hard yards and those that haven’t.”

As captain and with his experience, Gary Wilson plays a big role in the Knights set-up both on and off the pitch.

It was clear the impact he made during his first full season back in Northern Ireland last year and Johnston’s relationship with the Ireland international has been vital to their progress.

“I remember doing an interview with you just over a year ago saying my biggest challenge was getting to know him and making our relationship strong,” said Johnston.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the bloke. He is a real people person but is determined and knows what he wants.

“He will bring people with him to what he wants and it was like a breath of fresh air him coming in with the stuff he said and did for the guys.

“He is very motivated about his own game and wants to get back firing being that number one in all formats in the Irish team.

“People talk about an extra 5% someone can give you but I reckon he gives us an extra 20%. The impact he makes as a captain is phenomenal.

“People are always judging runs and this and that, but it’s as good captaincy as I’ve seen. Last year was definitely some of the best I’ve been around and that can’t be underestimated.”

If the 2020 season does get underway, one of the most exciting things for local cricket fans will be seeing Paul Stirling in action.

The hard-hitting batsman will be playing for the Knights after returning from his time with Middlesex and his addition will further enhance their chances of winning more silverware.

Just like Wilson, Johnston says Stirling has bought into what they are trying to achieve.

“Every fan in the country would have been excited to see him play this year – I know I certainly was,” he added.

“A bit like Wilo coming in, he has been a breath of fresh air at training.

“They are two completely different characters but it’s fascinating to see the way he goes about it. It will probably take me another year to work out his dos and don’ts.

“Just to have him in your changing room is a massive thing. I know he is one of the guys that people look to in the Irish changing room, so the value he is going to add on and off the pitch is phenomenal.”

This break has meant many people have developed a deeper appreciation for the sport and felt a new drive to improve when it returns.

Johnston is no different and says he can’t wait to be back on the training pitch once again and is confident the feeling is similar within his group.

“The boys all wind me up saying at least my shoulder is getting a rest because it’s usually killing me!

“The positives for me personally has been getting myself fit and recharging the batteries but I can’t wait to get back.

“It has give me a wee buzz again about how much I love coaching and I can’t wait to get out there.

“Hopefully it is the same for the guys and hopefully all injuries are cleared up so the guys are ready to go with a real passion.”

 

Shane Getkate looking to carry the positives with him when cricket returns

In recent times, there would rarely have been a summer’s day that went by where Shane Getkate didn’t partake in some form of cricket activity.

Making his Ireland debut in February 2019, he has played in the likes of a Twenty20 World Cup qualifying campaign while travelling the globe competing in the sport he loves and enjoying a position he has grinded towards over many years.

Add to that his commitments with Ireland A, Northern Knights and Instonians, a large majority of Getkate’s time is spent on a cricket pitch.

That was until this year when the country, and most of the world, was forced into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving athletes across the globe unable to participate or put in any meaningful practice to their craft.

Getkate has experienced that from both a player and coach perspective, with his SG Coaching business moving all practice online while facing the task of coming up with productive drills that can be done in the confines of a back garden.

Although tough at the beginning getting to grips with what was now the new normal, the 28-year-old believes he has learnt lessons that will help him become a better coach in the long-term.

“It has obviously been very difficult and I think it’s just about adapting and being as proactive as you can,” he said.

“It did take a few weeks to come up with ideas and I feel it has helped my coaching and helped me to communicate better, be creative and come up with new ideas.

“Most of the kids and guys that I work with are at the age groups where we have been drilling it since November time, so it’s about doing that while bringing in little games to keep it fun and engaging.

“I’ve been learning from my contacts in Ireland, England and all over the world really to see what has been working for them and trying to learn off each other.

“I’ve had to be more creative and come up with a new way of delivering a message through social media, email, phone calls and Zoom sessions.

“We’ve all had to adapt to it and there won’t be many coaches that have used this method in the past.

“It has definitely helped my skills and made me more proactive and creative.

“I also feel it has given me confidence when I’m still playing that I can keep my coaching business going alongside my playing career.

“If I am away on international tours I can still help people online and that has give me a lot of confidence.

“It has taken the pressure off the cricket nearly which has been a big eye opener.”

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Getkate batting in the Challenge Cup final last season. ©CricketEurope

Coaching is something that has always interested Getkate, starting in his mid-teens while still living in Dublin.

With his move up north, he continued to learn and grow as a leader and it’s a role he can see himself fulfilling throughout his own playing career and beyond.

“I started coaching when I was 16 living down in Dublin,” he added.

“Brian O’Rourke would have introduced me to coaching and he was a big mentor back in the day.

“I used to coach on Friday nights with Leinster age groups and I kept building on it that way.

“I did a lot of one to ones at different clubs I’ve been at and I worked with Belfast Community Sports Development Network two or three years ago for an eight-month period.

“That was great to be involved with coaches in various different sports.

“Unfortunately the funding got reduced by Sport NI and I got let go but that forced me to set up my own business and do things by myself.

“I felt less restricted then and I could go all over Ireland and not just certain areas in Belfast.

“I enjoyed that freedom and I enjoy passing on my knowledge and helping others improve their game in all aspects.

“I would like to continue doing it while playing and then after my career.”

Matchday is the most important part of any cricketer’s schedule but another crucial aspect to the sport is the camaraderie and relationships built up with team-mates.

Losing that over the last couple of months will have been disappointing for cricketers at all levels with contact having basically been limited to Zoom calls and more recently socially distanced activities.

Despite the hardships that lockdown has brought, Getkate has tried to find the positives from the situation and is hoping he can carry certain aspects into a time when cricket is back up and running.

“It has been quite tricky,” he said.

“It was a shock to the system for the first week or two but it has helped me to realise that getting into a routine and staying patient is key.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of my team-mates and guys outside of cricket and keeping that communication open, helping others and learning from others what is working for them so that I can learn from them to help us stay together as a group even if we aren’t together.

“We have been chatting with each other as much as possible and keeping the team morale has been really important.

“We are on a strict regime fitness wise so I’ve been working out six to seven times a week and it’s very good for the mindset.

“Hopefully I can continue these good habits when things go back to normal.

“Missing the competitive side of the game has been frustrating and the weather has been superb in May so it has been frustrating not getting out there but it’s about being patient.

“Most of us have been away to countries where we are stuck in hotels for long periods and not allowed to roam about, but those times have given us a few tools to work on and reflect on what you did then and bring that into the times we are going through at the moment.”

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Getkate after making his ODI debut. ©CricketEurope

It can be easy to take a lot of things for granted in day-to-day life but it feels like the current period has helped bring a lot of things into perspective for many people.

You only have to pick up your phone or switch on the television to realise the impact that coronavirus has had worldwide with a rising death toll, people losing their jobs and businesses closing.

This enforced break has provided Getkate with a new clarity about the path he wants to be on and a deeper appreciation for what he gets to do for a living.

“I’ve learnt a lot during this time but the main thing is getting into a good routine, staying active and communicating with people on all levels as best you can,” he added.

“I think that is something I can bring into life when things do go back to normality.

“It will be a bit more difficult with distractions around but this time has shown that if you slow things down, reflect and take a bit of a back seat you can see where your life is going.

“This period has helped me get clarity on where I want to go in terms of cricket, lifestyle and coaching career. I have definitely learnt a lot that way.

“You look at a lot of people and situations on the news which makes you appreciate just how lucky we are to still be contracted and still have jobs.

“Millions of people have lost their jobs and lives around the world so it makes you appreciate the small things a lot more.

“Cricket is really important but there is so much more to life so it’s about making sure I’m grateful and have a clear perspective on where I’m at and how lucky we are to be playing full-time cricket and travelling the world for free.

“It has made me appreciate the small things and hopefully I can try to continue that as much as I can.”

Lockdown coaching Q&A with NCU Cricket Development Officer Callum Atkinson

Lockdown has thrown up a number of challenges for people in cricket and coaches have had to adapt the way they communicate with their players.

Callum Atkinson has been at the forefront of development coaching in the NCU for the past few years, working with a variety of age groups and in the community.

Along with his own playing commitments for Premier League side Lisburn, Atkinson is usually busy all week long during the summer coaching sessions and working alongside his colleagues to provide the best training possible to the young NCU and Irish stars.

Coronavirus has meant that coaching and the way practice is done has drastically changed and Atkinson has had to deal with that experience first hand.

Here, he answers questions on the issues he has faced, how he has found this time and much more.

How has this time been for you as a coach and what have the main issues been?

CA: “I suppose more than anything mentally as a coach this is the time of the year where you’re out in the sun and working with your squads. Especially from a regional point of view and an Irish youth view where we have been working with those squads from October last year until the start of lockdown. A lot of that has been technical and tactical training. To do that all winter and not get an opportunity to play has been frustrating. There has been ways around it and we have adapted quite well. At the start of lockdown we were looking at how teachers were going to educate their pupils and Google Classroom was one of the main platforms. We have a NCU Google Classroom where squads and clubs can go on to find drills that our coaches are creating and we are getting stuff from coaches across the water as well.”

Have you found that you’ve had to adapt how you’re getting your message across with everything moved online?

CA: “The main challenge for us that we are finding is the two-way engagement that you would get with players face to face. There is a lot of work going on with the Google Classroom, webinars and things like that and it’s a lot of us talking at people and getting other coaches to talk at people. It’s the engagement that has been the struggle, especially for young players. You may put a link up to a session on Google Classroom but mightn’t get a response. In coaching, it’s a two-way relationship where you work on something together. If you don’t get that engagement or response it can be difficult to know what stage players are at.”

We have missed a big part of the early summer now so are participation numbers a concern for you?

CA: “I think for all sports but especially for us being traditionally a summer sport and missing that school phase where we would have went in to deliver programmes and worked closely with clubs to signpost children to clubs we have missed. It’s definitely a concern but there are ways around that. The first point of call is to retain current members when we get cricket back up and running and I think we need to look at winter options. If we can if possible, get indoors and start indoor cricket with schools and clubs on a regional level to get cricketers playing matches but also to make the season longer. That is maybe one of the positives that will come out of this is that we do create programmes throughout the winter that will be sustainable rather than just not seeing our kids for six months during the winter.”

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Atkinson batting for Lisburn last season. ©CricketEurope

Has it been tough coming up with drills to suit everyone because there are limiting factors such as space etc?

CA: “We are trying our best to find drills you can do in other areas of the house. Not everyone has a big back garden or garage that they can work in, so even at the side of the house there are drills for catching and batting. When we are putting drills onto the Classroom, as coaches we are looking for drills in different parts of the household so we aren’t just targeting the kids with the garden or garage.”

Has there been a good response to Google Classroom?

CA: “There has. We have about 400 kids on the Classroom from regional squads to club teams. You even see the likes of North Down who have created their own Google Classroom which has been great to see. The response has been good. There’s just that challenge of getting the two-way engagement that has been difficult. We can put everything out there for kids but it’s hard to know who is participating in the sessions.”

Right through the age groups I suppose the coaches are putting trust in their players that they are doing the drills and getting what they need out of it.

CA: “Absolutely. There is probably no way around that. One thing that the team worked on at the start of lockdown was a self-evaluation form. For players at club and regional level and generally this has been a good time for staff and clubs to do a bit of planning. The players filled in forms and will work with club coaches or us as regional coaches to discuss their game and once we get out of lockdown we can work on areas they need to improve.”

Keeping morale up must also be crucial because there’s a chance players put all this work in and don’t get rewarded with cricket this summer.

CA: “100%. It’s about keeping morale up but it’s about keeping the habit up as well. There’s a habit that cricketers have at this time of year of playing cricket, so it would be wrong of us as a development team not to continue cricket at this time of year. Hopefully they have had that opportunity and can continue the habit so that morale and motivation is there when we come back.”

In a way, has this helped improve coaches? You’ve had to think outside the box and evaluate what you’re doing so has it helped in any way?

CA: “There has been some positives to come out of this. We have certainly had to think outside the box in terms of the learning platform, webinars and Zoom calls. From a coach development perspective, coaches are working all year round and don’t often get a chance to look at our own personal development. Andy McCrea, who is our coach development mentor, would be big on learning opportunities and developing yourself. For example tonight (Thursday) we have Darren Thomas, an ex-Glamorgan fast bowler delivering a webinar to our club coaches. It has given us a chance to take a step back and look at our own development as coaches and players.”

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Atkinson alongside his Section One winning team-mates in 2018. ©CricketEurope

We have a lot of good coaches in the NCU so have you been able to bounce ideas off each other?

CA: “We have almost become closer during this time. There has been plenty of Zoom calls and chats amongst all of our coaches and bouncing ideas off each other. I think everyone at this stage during lockdown is happy to share experiences of their development so that has been a big positive.”

From a general view over the past few seasons and looking towards the future, are you happy with how everything is progressing on the development side?

CA: “Definitely. We have a good system now in terms of school and club development. We have staff members focusing on clubs and staff focusing on schools and working closely together. The school-club link is crucial for us to gain new members and hopefully we will start seeing the benefits of that in the next couple of years from having those focused staff roles. There is plenty of new programmes out there. We are targeting new schools who traditionally don’t play cricket, we now have a walking programme for older people and we have a disability programme up and running. There are a lot of new programmes that have been piloted within the last year and we will see the benefits of them when we sustain them over the next couple of years.”

What have the numbers and participation been like in them?

CA: “The numbers have been good. The kids are loving the new schools programme. For example, one school that has worked really well with us in Our Lady’s in Knock. It’s a Catholic school and they’ve absolutely loved it. What we have found is that in schools like that they aren’t aware of what cricket is. They are really into GAA, basketball and other sports and sometimes aren’t aware of what cricket is. They think it’s standing around for five days in whites but that’s not necessarily cricket and we need to modify our formats for schools to try and get more engagement. Numbers have been good and I’m really looking forward to seeing the disability programme progress as well.”

It must be very exciting as a coach to be involved with such varied programmes?

CA: “It has certainly been exciting for the last few years that I’ve been involved. It’s moving quite quickly and in cricket in Ireland in general there seems like there’s always change going on and we are moving at a hundred miles an hour which is great. One of the positives of the past few months has been taking time to take a deep breath and work on your own game as a coach.”

James Cameron-Dow on the challenges of coaching during lockdown

After being announced as new head coach of the NCU Women’s side earlier this year, this should have been James Cameron-Dow’s busiest summer to date.

Mixing his new role with CIYMS, Northern Knights, Ireland A and potential senior international playing commitments, Cameron-Dow will be leading an ever-improving women’s team alongside club team-mate David Miller.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a wide-reaching impact on sport and society in general and it has thrown the chance of any local cricket season taking place into doubt, but it has also changed the way coaches have had to go about their business.

Swapping net sessions for Zoom calls and regular training turned into online content, Cameron-Dow and his fellow coaches have had to think outside the box in order to provide their squad of players with worthwhile drills and constructive practice with many limiting factors.

As Cameron-Dow explains, total trust has been passed onto his players to try and do what they can during these unprecedented times to keep sharp for the eventual return of cricket.

“Everything has obviously gone online and we have been using Google Classroom, but to track players and keep tabs on them is impossible,” he said.

“The responsibility all turns onto the players now and how much they want to get done. We can’t track them at all so it’s very difficult.

“I also understand as a player that it’s very difficult to keep motivated yourself, to do these sessions and feel like you’re making progress and working towards something.

“From a coach’s perspective, you have to trust that each player knows what they can and can’t benefit from and that when the season comes around they are motivated.”

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Cameron-Dow batting in last season’s Twenty20 Cup final. ©CricketEurope

Cameron-Dow would have had a general season plan in mind on what he wanted to achieve with the women’s side in 2020 but the enforced break has made him truly focus on the fine details moving forward.

Any session has had to be planned in advance and to great detail due to the limited interaction between coach and player in the current climate and there is also the requirement of making sure that the group are progressing towards their targets.

“It’s quite easy to sit down and plan a pre-season or sessions going into a season with a progressive plan and structure, but now you’re literally looking at anything that you can do at home that is going to be semi-constructive and add benefit to the players,” he added.

“You’re taking those things and trying to put a session together but there’s no real structure to it.

“For me, the real difficulty at the start was sitting down and planning out a six to eight week programme and making sure we were progressing through the levels and working towards something as opposed to just throwing everything into one session and going random but doesn’t make sense.

“Putting that together was actually quite difficult. The big change is obviously that everything is done online.

“I’ve been posting once a week onto Google Classroom and then sending a couple of extra sessions to the girls who want to do more.

“We did seven or eight sessions like that and I had a chat with the girls last week so we are going to do a session every second week now.

“We try the likes of a Zoom quiz where we can talk nonsense and get some team building and a Zoom fitness call.

“It’s really the difficulty of having a progressive plan and having a target with everything you set out.”

While a coach’s main job is to improve their player’s technical ability and their all-round game, another important requirement is to make sure that morale within a camp remains high.

That will have taken on every more importance for cricket coaches in general around the country with the season being thrown into doubt and players potentially losing motivation due to not being rewarded for their hard work on the pitch.

Cameron-Dow is in the prime of his own playing career and will be able to relate to those concerns and worries that his squad will have but says the motivation must come from within.

“That was one of the main things I felt we needed to discuss when we had a chat last week because I felt as time was going on the responses were getting less and less and the enthusiasm wasn’t there,” he said.

“It was quite easy early on when we were in lockdown for three weeks and everyone was buzzing to start fitness programmes and there were videos everywhere online, but as the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak was taken away and you didn’t know what you’re working towards, motivation can go out the window quickly.

“That motivation has to come from within a player and I’m speaking from both the perspective of a player and coach because I know what it has been like.

“That can be very difficult when you don’t know what you’re working towards and there’s not too much a coach can do about that motivation to be fair.”

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Cameron-Dow helped CIYMS win four trophies last season. ©CricketEurope

An extra challenge that Cameron-Dow has faced is the lack of training time he had with the group before lockdown came into place.

He is still getting to know many members of his squad while trying to keep everyone occupied with relevant content.

“I’ve only met probably 10 of the players in the team out of a squad of 16 or 17,” he added.

“There are quite a few of the girls that I’m not too familiar with.

“I’m trying to put together a programme, keep them semi-busy and make sure they are still switched on and not thinking that cricket is done basically.

“That can also be a difficult thing if you go 18 months without cricket. All of a sudden you come back into season and there will be questions of who will play or if that’ll be the end of cricket for some people. I think that is the really alarming thing.

“We have been trying to tick over but planning sessions for a team that is very new to you makes things very difficult.

“You can’t track players at home and see how they are progressing so it’s tough making sessions that are relevant to the team and making sure they can learn and progress.

“One or two wasting time videos and it’ll be the last time they watch! It is difficult with a new team and not knowing the girls as I don’t yet.”

Coronavirus has brought problems aplenty, but it has also handed people the opportunity to improve certain aspects of their profession and chance to put time into areas that they wouldn’t have been able to normally.

In Cameron-Dow’s case, he has had to work hard on the planning side of his coaching efforts and is hopeful that it’s something he will be able to carry forward with him.

“One thing that I’m not fantastic at is sitting down and planning coaching programmes and this has forced me to do it as opposed to thinking on your feet most of the time,” he said.

“You have a rough idea what you want to do in a session and are able to adjust if it’s not going well and add in something else.

“Now, I’ve had to sit down and make sure there is some sort of structure to everything which has helped me a lot.

“Not only are you coming up with new ideas but for me personally it has made me spend a bit more time on organising and planning which hasn’t been a strength of mine in the past.

“Johnty (Simon Johnston) has been sending me different coaching social media accounts to follow and I have 10/15 new coaches or academies I’m following that I wouldn’t have been and getting little drills and learning a lot from that.

“The emphasis on having to be organised and switched on in planning will hopefully serve me well.”