It has been a number of years in the making, but 2022 is to be proud year for Mullingar Cricket Clubas they enter a team into the Sprint Coatings Division 4 Women’s League for the first time since nineties.
While it’s been a focus for the club as a whole for the last five years, the driving force behind the recent push for girls’ and women’s cricket has been youth and women’s coach, Robert Delaney. Cricket Leinster’s Women & Girls’ Development Officer, Isobel Joyce, caught up with Robert to find out how the club went about growing the women’s section, and where Mullingar are headed.
Q: How did you go about starting a girls’ section in Mullingar?
Back in 2017 we decided to make a big push on our youth section. It was May and June that year when we started our Primary Schools cricket programme around Mullingar. We visited five or six different Primary Schools for six weeks and promoted the club and cricket as much as possible. There was a gradual growth in youth numbers from roughly 15 to about 30 kids between 2017 and 2019.
Due to Covid-19 we obviously put a halt to our visits in 2020, but we resumed in 2021. This time we visited some new Primary Schools which had been established within the town and this proved very successful. Along with this I was completing the final year of my PME in Wilsons Hospital School in Multyfarnham, where I did an internal drive to bring students out to try cricket.
Cricket Leinster’s Bernard O’Mara worked with us for the 2021 season where he aided our Primary Schools visits as well as Youth training on a Wednesday night throughout the summer. His help during the season was appreciated by the club and a big thanks to Cricket Leinster for providing us with that assistance for the 2021 season.
This resulted in further growth – we went from 30 players to upwards of 70 this past summer. We had not expected such an increase but we were well prepared. Four of our members, myself included, completed a cricket coaching course in May. We restructured our training schedule which allowed us to run youth training on a Wednesday night, and runtaster sessions for girls and women’s cricket on Tuesday evenings to see how much interest there was. Mullingar CC has a history of women's cricket, with the club having a team in the 1980s and 1990s playing out of Mountmurray. A team Cricket Leinster’s Siobhan McBennett – Chair of the Women’s Committee - was a part of!
Q: How did you progress to starting a women’s team?
In 2015 we attempted to get women’s cricket back in the club, but it was unsuccessful. We were reliant on players coming into the club and giving it a try rather than building from the bottom up and using our youth players, which at the time had no female players over the age of 10. We had plenty of women show some interest but we found it difficult to get players coming on the same night which was unfortunate.
What is different in 2021 is that with the growth in our youth section, more and more girls started to come through. At the end of the 2020 season, we had five or six young teenagers. We were left with the dilemma of getting a girls’ and women’s section going ASAP, or telling them we no longer had a service to offer them and that they would have to leave for another club if they wanted to play cricket. It was evident which option we needed to choose.
On a cold and wet Tuesday night at the start of May in 2021, we ran our first session of soft-ball cricket in the tennis courts beside the pitch in St Finian’s College. We had a turn-out of eight players which we were absolutely delighted with. From there, the girls brought friends who in turn brought friends. Others saw our post on social media and came down to give it a go. It just seemed to all fall into place and keep building. We finished the season with a strong squad of 18 players which we are sure will be added to in the season coming.
Q: What are your plans for winter sessions?
The plan for our winter sessions is to work on key specific skills and to keep working on last year's progress to make sure they can be as competitive as possible next year while still enjoying it! A lot of the players are still learning the game and the rules, so this will certainly help. They have bonded extremely well and have a great team spirit which will hopefully help them grow together as a team.
We will train twice a month in the new year between January and April and then return to outdoor sessions. Unfortunately, the current facility only allows for softball training but the key skills can still be worked on.
The girls are keen to learn new tricks such as wicket-keeping, leg-spin and powerful ball striking. They have improved immensely already and there is only more to come.
Q: What are the driving forces behind this new push for women and girls’ cricket?
The main driving force behind the push was to promote women's sport and show we are making an effort to drive women’s cricket in the province of Leinster. With being outside of Dublin it presents its challenges, such as picking from a smaller pool of potential players, but if it is possible for Mullingar to do it, every club can. It takes time but it will happen. Realistically, this is five seasons in the making, working quietly, building up slowly and creating solid foundations.
We also had to offer the chance for our girls to progress on to play women's cricket. It has given the club a new lease of life and we are very proud to now be able to say we will have a women’s team in the club. In 2021 we hosted an underage Interprovincial game between Cricket Leinster’s U13 girls’ team and the NCU U13 girls’ team, a proud day for the club.
Q: How has the women’s team gone so far?
Over the course of the 2021 Summer, we slowly moved away from softball training into full hard ball cricket with full rules. After a few months of training, I contacted a few clubs about potential friendlies. The team played a total of five games throughout the summer, three home games vs Terenure 2s, North Kildare 2s and an 8-a-side social cricket game vs Athlone as well as travelling to Leinster to play their 3rd XI and to Terenure for a return fixture. Our side was extremely young, but were competitive in all five games, winning two, losing two and having one rained off.
Q: How are you going about attracting new members?
We have a lot of players who are students in Wilson’s Hospital School and, ideally, they would be able to feed players through to us like they have done for our men’s side over the years. We are proud that our firstteam consists mainly of players who learned their cricket with Mullingar and came through our youth system, along with a blended mix of new incoming players each year. Unfortunately, I am no longer in Wilson’s Hospital myself, but club President Mark Condell is a teacher in the school and is holding the link strong.
We would be delighted if a few players came into our women’s side who have played before, who would bring a bit of experience to help guide our players in the early years. For now, they will have the full support on match days from many of our senior men's players. We also hope our strong social media presence will help attract new players. 2021 saw massive interactions on our social media pages as well as our newly founded website, so our PRO can take a lot of credit for this. One of our club members also runs an account on Twitter, The Fionn Hand Appreciation Society, which has earned us a lot of new friends in the Cricket Leinster circles. This has led to the likes of Fionn Hand and Gaby Lewis giving up their free time to come down for sessions which is also great for our younger members to see and learn from.
Q: What are the long-term goals for girls’ and women’s cricket in Mullingar
A long-term goal has to be to try and maintain this team for as long as possible. We are under no illusion that the first few years will be easy, but once we get through this period, we hope we can keep producing new players in our youth section who will develop on to join our women’s team. Winning matches and flying up the leagues is not an immediate priority; if it happens, great, but once they continue to enjoy their cricket and add to the club’s spirit, that is all we can ask for now.
Lastly, as a club we hope we can continue to grow at the rate we are and we will hopefully have more exciting news to bring shortly.