DESPITE the suggestion that North West cricket seems to be struggling domestically it is quite clear that at the highest level of the sport, things have rarely been as promising for this region.
In terms of numbers the local Union is obviously the smallest, both in clubs and indeed individual participation and yet there are now four North West-born players in the full Ireland squad.
Skipper William Porterfield learned his trade in the fields of Killyclooney and Donemana while Andy McBrine, Stuart Thompson and Craig Young have all made inroads into the camp in the past 12 months.
And yet one name keeps coming up time and again as almost the “forgotten man” of this current crop of players as competition heats up for seats on the plane to Australia in eight months time.
On Friday night last Gloucester went in to the final over in their T20 match with Sussex with just 10 runs to play with. The east coast men had plenty of wickets in hand, including those of former England Internationals Ed Joyce and Luke Wright and they were long odds-on favourites to close out the win. Gloucester threw the ball to Graeme McCarter and not only did he restrict Sussex to just 5 from the over, but he also helped himself to three wickets as well, including Wright and Joyce (first ball) to finish with his first ever “five for”.
Obviously on a high after the game Graeme was delighted to have made his mark but it was quite clear on talking to him afterwards that he feels now is his time to kick on. The 21-year old has been involved with Gloucester since 2008 and he says he has now made his home in Bristol.
“I started here with the Academy during that summer as a 15- year old and after three years I earned my first contract. Obviously I want to play professional cricket and I have knuckled down and worked hard to achieve that goal.
“John Bracewell has been my coach here since the start and I work very well with him- he is like a father figure to the younger players and he has been a major part of my career to date”.
Having gone to Australia during the past winter the seam bowler also acknowledged the part that Aussie bowling coach Craig McDermott played in his recent development.
“Gloucester felt that although my skills were progressing well enough, I could benefit from an extra yard of pace and with Cricket Ireland they decided on the Australian fast bowling clinic.
It was a fantastic experience to work with Craig, particularly as we were involved during the Ashes series and got to see all the action unfold at close quarters.
“The main thing however was the work we did and I’m really feeling the benefit of that this season. I learned different things during my time there- things that I have no doubt will help me become a better bowler in the coming seasons”
Many people here feel that McCarter has been overlooked somewhat by the Ireland selectors and with the World Cup looming “down under” soon, the Gloucester man is a natural choice. He has only played a couple of Intercontinental Cup matches so far, one in 2011 and one last September in which he bowled really well.
“I did OK against Scotland in Dublin to finish with figures of 5 for 30 over the two innings so I was happy enough. At the start of this season I met Kyle McCallan in Bristol as he was over for pre-season with Waringstown and we got chatting. I didn’t even know at that time that Kyle was an International selector but I felt that if I kept working hard and getting wickets that my turn would come.
“Obviously the World Cup is a huge deal for any cricketer and it is no different for me. I would love to be involved and I have to believe that if I keep playing well and taking wickets that it will happen”.
Before that however Graeme knows he has even more pressing business as he bids to win a new contract at his adopted home.
“I have settled really well here and have my own place in Bristol so I am completely focused on my role with Gloucester. As well as the T20’s I have broken through into the 4-day squad and I plan to do whatever I can to stay there. I signed a two-year contract in 2012 so that obviously runs out at the end of the current season therefore my goal now has to be to secure a new deal with the county.
“It is all about working hard, not just on my bowling but on my batting too, and seeing where that takes me. I love playing for Gloucester and obviously to play for Ireland at the World Cup would be a massive highlight, however I don’t make those decisions”.
And of that brilliant performance against Sussex on Friday night Graeme gave his own honest take.
“You have no idea how nervous I was bowling that last over in front of a big crowd. Once I got into my stride however I settled into it and afterwards I was on a real high. Without doubt it was my best experience in cricket so far and I’m looking forward to plenty more”.
Ireland selectors take note, this is one young man who has quietly gone about his business over the past couple of seasons but who is starting to come into his own on the first class stage.