Interview: Stephen Moreton talks to Cover Point

by Rupert Heather

 

The last 12 months could be described as the realisation of a cricketing dream for Moreton. He now combines his part-time coach education role with his new appointment as senior Irish women's coach.  Not forgetting his hugely influential contribution to Pembroke's promotion season.

Beneath Moreton's 'chirpy' exterior lies a steadfast conviction to help improve Irish cricket that is backed by serious experience and no little motivation.

It was always in Moreton's make-up to live here. He says, 'My mother is one of a large family from Larkfield outside Athy and my father's side of the family is from Leitrim, so I spent a lot of time here as a child and have throughout my life. My first contact in Irish Cricket was through Brian O'Rourke, in England, when I was playing for Warwickshire. He came over with a few young lads, a junior side, and realised through talking to me and my parents that I was keen to get involved.''

That initial involvement came through an invitation to play for Clontarf in 2006 while still at University in England. He says, 'It was too much to manage at the time to keep coming back and forth. I put it on the backburner really, but it was always my intention to come back over here.'

Three years later with experience as the head of his club's youth system, coaching in New Zealand and Australia, and as head coach of Birmingham University he enquired to 'see if that kind of thing was set up here.' Travelling over to meet Brian O'Rourke again, he saw the coach education job on Cricket Ireland's website, applied and was successful.

Given the part-time nature of the job and the fact that Cricket Ireland could not afford to employ someone with perhaps more experience, his appointment was a shrewd one.

He is keen to emphasise that his role with Cricket Ireland is based on merit. Despite his relative youth he has been involved in coaching, in some form, from an early age.

''I played first class cricket and that was a fantastic experience but for my coaching, Birmingham was a huge learning curve. It was brilliant to be working with players my age and with real ability. Coaching is something I've done ever since I was sixteen. As a coach and a captain of the teams I've played in, I naturally found myself mentoring players. It was an easy transition for me.''

Wishing to quell the rumour that he went to Oxford, ('I'm not clever enough for that,') he explains that 'Oxford Brookes do have a cricketing association with Oxford. They combine to play as Oxford MCCU who play first-class cricket against Counties and compete in a top class University competition.'

Other influences include Alvin Kallicharran, his old club pro, Keith Piper at Warwickshire and Graham Charlesworth at Oxford. People who 'don't' just coach by the book they coached by the player, by the person, I learnt a lot from that'

Impressive though his coaching pedigree is 'the Coach Education job itself isn't actually coaching' he reminds me.

''The Coach Education system isn't as well understood as it could be throughout Ireland. That is something I am personally trying to rectify now. For instance, we are looking at trying to set up a Coach's Association in each of the unions. There has been one running in Leinster for a number of years, with a degree of success, and we need to support their efforts better because there is a keenness to help our coaches.''

''The idea is that within each club you have a coaching team headed by a skilful ex-player or someone who has achieved a level two or a level three qualification. Hopefully in time, they can be supported by a number of level ones (assistant coaches) who would traditionally be volunteers or parents that lend a hand.''

''What we have found is that there a quite a number of clubs, particularly new clubs in Ireland who don't have any coaches, and they are crying out for them. Also there are coaches who have gone and done a qualification, got a certificate and that's it, they go away for 10 or 15 years and keep doing the same things, some of them good - some of them not so. There is now a system in place to try and move that on, and try and really support, benefit and develop our coaching which will directly relate to the improvement in Irish players, and increase the participation levels which is essential if we want our sport to grow and be sustainable. ''

While at pains to point out that his love of coaching and playing are a positive for his job, he is also keen to explain that the Irish Women's coaching job is entirely manageable. Moreton patiently explains how the Women's job came about.

''Getting set up here I would help out with some coaching at weekends, helping Adi out or helping Nigel Pyne out with the Women's A or Paul Delaney with the Senior Women. So actually it was back in January that I started coaching the women. I was also head coach and player at Pembroke for the summer, so I coached a number of Irish players within the women's set up and junior Irish players in the men's set up.''

The departure of Paul Delaney left little time after the European Tournament in Scotland for Cricket Ireland to appoint a successor. Moreton got the opportunity to observe the squad during that tournament.

''I went to Scotland and got an understanding of what was going on, and spoke to some of the senior players about what they felt they should be doing from there to South Africa individually and as a group. I spoke to some of the experienced former players like Miriam Grealey, who gave me some really good advice, where she saw the squad and what changes she felt needed to come in.''

Finding a bunch of players who were 'busting at the seams' to play for Ireland, were 'really talented' but it just hadn't quite 'worked out' for them, he was excited by the squad's potential.' Having a group of players to work with for a significant period before South Africa, a challenge he could not refuse.

Both he and the squad identified what was required to help Ireland compete with the top nations, like South Africa and West Indies. Improving fitness was important but the 'main thing was the culture.'

We tried to create a professional attitude and ethos where it wasn't just turn up and see what happens. We started questionning, 'what are we here for?'

The players signed up to a new gruelling fitness programme, with twice weekly 6.30 am fitness sessions. The squad remained tee-total for the 6 weeks up to and including South Africa, an easier option for Louise McCarthy, Kim Garth and Laura Delaney than others perhaps, though still impressive!

''Honestly, I am extremely excited about what we can achieve. There is a threshold of ability that you need to play international cricket and all of the players that we have, have that. That means to me that the keys are in other areas - in their mentality, their game plans, their fitness, in their knowledge of their own game, and we've got some very talented senior players, that probably haven't hit the heights they've wanted to.''

Developing the women's game on the island is a stated aim because the 'top end' is situated around Dublin. Efforts are being made in Schools and Clubs and the signs are that cricket, while competing with other sports for resources and athletes, is beginning to develop 'beyond the pale.'

''That works both ways. It's great because it means that you can really focus on a squad, you can really work as a unit to build something because everybody is around but at the same time it breeds a little bit of familiarity and a comfort zone. That's what it smacked of to me - that the players were in that comfort zone.''

For whatever reason, he admits there was a feeling of inertia surrounding the squad, a strong desire to get to the next level without the means to do so. Not in terms of talent but in their mentality.

''All the way from the Women's Committee through to the players, they understand where they're at. They would love to get the opportunities to go here and to go there, but they realise that their results haven't merited that.''

''I don't think it's wrong to say that it's been a bug bear of women's cricket that they are not on the same level as men, but the men have brought in the money through their success and it's now up to the women to really earn that right, and that's through performances.''

Creating a buzz, making the women's team an aspirational one like the men's, attracting investment  and spreading the game are dependant on results.

''That is what we are trying to do with the women's side, so we are trying to take some of the senior players through coaching courses and into schools, run cricket weeks and get the photo shoots going with the men's side so it's more recognised as a sport.''

In a word the women's team and their new coach are trying to build a sense of 'professionalism' in the squad, to give themselves the best possible chance to perform.

''Especially in this year when we have got World Cup qualifying and in the next few years when we hopefully have world Twenty20 and ODI World Cups."

''At the moment we are ninth in the world and there only eight teams that qualify to play in the world cups. Five have already qualified for Twenty20 and four have already qualified for 50 overs. In one tournament in November which is an ODI tournament, we have to finish in the top three to qualify for the Twenty20 and the top four to qualify for the ODI World Cup.''

''It's not going to be easy. We have just come back from South Africa, where West Indies were very impressive, strong and athletic, powerful players.''

''We turned in some impressive performances in South Africa without getting a win against those top sides. We beat Holland convincingly twice, which people expected us to but if you were to look at the Netherlands' other results, they nearly beat Sri Lanka and they nearly beat Pakistan.''

''I am confident that with a year's work with the squad, particularly with the ability within the squad that we will go above Sri Lanka and Pakistan and I'll be disappointed if we don't achieve that.''

Of the squad he inherited, Moreton believes captain Ciara Metcalfe, is 'as good a spinner as I saw in all the teams in South Africa, and she has the potential to be one of the best spinners in women's cricket.' Cecelia Joyce has 'superb' mental strength, Isobel Joyce is a 'top quality' all-rounder. Jill Whelan and Clare Shillington have the quality to be top performers at international level. Eimear Richardson and Mary Waldron have 'serious' ability.

''There you have got a group of good players who will improve with the real knowledge of their own game, but the best thing about the squad is what is coming into it; we've got that level of experience and knowledge of the women's game and also awareness about what our shortcomings have been over the past few years.''

''We've got a group of players between 14 and 22 that have great potential. Kim Garth, 14 years of age who has got a solid technique as a batter and bowler and she's a great fielder, she played Ireland under 13 boys last year and by all accounts was one of their best players. I'd be surprised if she wasn't able to play Ireland under 15 boys next year. Whether she does or doesn't is irrelevant but that is the potential of her.''

The emergence of Nikki Symmons, capped 142 times for the Irish Hockey side, though by no means the finished article has brought an elite mentality. 'She brings a dimension to Irish Cricket that hasn't been there before, and she has a professionalism about her that is starting to rub off on the squad.'

Louise McCarthy and Laura Delaney have brought belief in the squad that no longer are we reliant on a few players. Hopefully from 1 to 11, we have match winners.

''The more players we can have with the right attitude, the right character, and commitment to professionalism the better. An example being, we played Sri Lanka at the end of the ODI tournament, every game in over 30 degree heat.  We were defending 211 and in the second innings Nikki was sprinting from deep cover boundary to deep cover boundary between overs in the 45th over, urging, screaming the girls on. That is the level we aspire to be and the effect of seeing that within the squad is huge.''

''Quite quickly the girls have decided, you know what, we can reach that level. Yes, it's about the messages coming from the coaches at the top but it's also about the exuberance, the skill, the quality of the younger ones coming through that has awoken the squad.''

Judging by the mood in the squad the appointment of Moreton is a popular one among the players. If justification were needed, Moreton went through an interview process for the job.

He is adamant to point out to sceptics that he is qualified to do both, but he was initially brought in to establish and drive Coach Education, which he calls his 'bread and butter.' That is not to take from his commitment to the 'girls.' He admits to working 7 days a week in peak periods but correctly acknowledges that the women's job is more seasonal.

Back to that promotion season with Pembroke.  Amid the superlatives we should not forgot that Moreton is also a very good player whose mentoring skills have not gone unnoticed.

''I've thoroughly enjoyed my time at Pembroke so far, I think it's a fantastic club, I'm 26 years of age and have got no intention whatsoever of not playing cricket, its something I enjoy doing.''

His impact on the team is clear, he led from the front and in the forced absence of Allan Eastwood effectively captained the side.

Theo Lawson, whose form hit unprecedented heights under Moreton, currently in the heat of Brisbane said, ''It's hard to describe how good he is as coach. I would definitely say he is the best coach I have encountered in my time in cricket. What he says is relevant and modern, he uses experience that he gained as a player in Warwickshire and his encounters with top players like Sangakarra and Trott. He helped me prepare and play my best.''

Moteron loves what he does. He admits to having to remind himself everyday that he can go to work and help Irish Cricket get better.

''The way I look at it is that I would love to be involved in cricket at the highest level and I would love that to be with Cricket Ireland.''

His boyhood dream was to 'play for Ireland, whatever sport it was'. It hasn't happened, so the closest I can get to it is coaching.'

''Look, if I turn around in the middle of the season and I've scored five hundreds in a row and there are other guys struggling and not doing so well, then maybe the questions will start getting asked, I won't be asking them.''

No doubt he would remind us that he is 'qualified' to play for Ireland, however realistic that prospect.

He is clearly qualified to be where he is in Irish cricket.

 

By Rupert Heather

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

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