How is club cricket changing in Leinster? In this article we consider the accelerating pace of change in the club game.
Over the past 100 years the structure of organised club cricket in Leinster has changed many times, with an ebb and flow of activity and movements in playing strengths across and between clubs. When club cricket came to be organised in three leagues in 1919 there were 17 clubs and 29 teams that signed up for the first year. Of course there was a lot of other cricket going on at this time, especially outside of Dublin, and not every club was sold on the idea of league cricket. Over time, however, the benefits of organisation [schedules of fixtures] and the natural competitiveness of clubs and players [league tables and averages] won out and league cricket came to dominate the club scene.
The figures going back to 1919 are instructive and show an early increase in numbers [as clubs got used to the idea of playing in league competitions], followed by a long period of near stagnation when there wasn’t much in the way of expansion. This brought us up to the early 1970s after which, for about forty years, there is a steady growth in the number of teams from 64  to 102 . This growth, however, masked a major consolidation at club level, with the number of clubs at the turn of the century being the same as in 1930. This meant in effect that in order to accommodate the increased numbers playing cricket, the established clubs had to expand the number of sides that they turned out each week. The growth in playing numbers over the later period came initially from an increased throughput of young cricketers as clubs began to better organise their youth sections from around the early 1970s [previously it had been left to the schools in the main to foster the sport]. The second main source of new players, that began to have a big impact in the closing years of the 20thCentury, stemmed from the opening up of the Irish economy. This meant that there were many more people moving to the country to work, many of whom came from countries where cricket was played. This provided a vital sources of ready made cricketers for the sport.
Over the past ten years there has been a sharp rise in participation and in the number of clubs. As we go into the first year of the next centenary for the LCU, the number of clubs and teams in Leinster taking part in league competitions [there are others that take part in separate Development Leagues and only in Cups / T20 competitions] now stands at 42 and 135 respectively.
The gross figures are indicative, but they only tell part of the story. Over the past 100 years many teams, in particular outside Dublin, took part in regional leagues in the South East, the Midlands and Fingal and this activity is not fully captured in the figures above. In 1990 there were 10 clubs taking part in separate Fingal leagues, 10 in the Midlands League and 11 in the South East. Some of the clubs also took part in LCU competitions. Finally, for many years there was also cricket played among the business community. In 1970, for instance, the Leinster Handbook lists 17 companies with cricket teams taking part in the Business Houses League.
There also remains to this day a vibrant social cricket scene with teams playing in a range of formats. There has also been the growth of womens and youth cricket [their stories will be told separately]. But for now we focus on the participation in Open Competitions.
Looking at the geographical spread first and, with a little bit of poetic licence when it comes to local authority boundaries, the province is divided into four segments:
A more detailed breakdown of the activity over the past eight years is possible following the establishment of full reporting of matches from 2011 [all players records are available online] and arising out of the creation of a registration system for all those playing taking part in Open Competitions from 2013. This allows us to look in more detail at the trends and movements in participation rates.
What the figures show is both a relative and absolute drop in the number of players in the main clubs in Dublin. Indeed, all the clubs in this category lost playing members over this period with the exception of Leinster, which gained one. Dublin City clubs still host over half the cricketers in Leinster but it is worth noting that the three largest clubs by player numbers in 2018 were Merrion , Leinster  and Adamstown .
The final table [below] sets out the changes year by year over the past decade in the number of teams / clubs playing league cricket in Leinster.