Cricket Ireland's stated aim is to introduce a First Class structure into the game, with Test status as the ultimate goal, and Cork County Cricket Club's Head groundsman, Matt Reed, wants to be part of it, notwithstanding considerable interference from the Electricity Supply Board
The city of Cork lies in the south west of Ireland and is often regarded as the rebel city, being thus described in the 17th century; "they trust not the country adjoining [and only marry within the town] so that the whole city is linked to each other in affinity."
Corkonians speak with an accent quite unlike the rest of the country, the spoken word being both fast, musical and undulating - imagine County Cork's famous son, Graham Norton, after a few glasses of his favourite wine! Famous sports stars from the city have included Denis Irwin, Roy Keane and rugby legend Ronan O'Gara.
The name Cork comes from the Gaelic Corcaigh, meaning marsh and, as recently as 2009, it suffered its worse floods as the River Lee, which flows eastwards through the city, burst its banks, not aided by ESB's (Electricity Supply Board) decision to release water from the Inniscarra hydro-electric dam. This unleashed 535 tonnes of water per second into the already flooded river, raising the flood to 1.5 metres in parts of the city centre. The ESB insisted this was an essential move; Corkonians disagreed as forty percent of the population (50,000 people) were without running water for over one week!
Sadly, for Cork County Cricket Club, whose ground sits in one of the lowest parts of the city, the affects were devastating. General Manager and Groundsman, Matt Reed, comments; "The severity of the major flood in 2009 was a man-made event and we hope that future occurrences like this can be avoided." Fair comment, no doubt.
That said, the problems associated with looking after such a low lying ground in, what is, one of the wettest countries in Europe, are many. "Our ground is in the Mardyke area of the city and, as the name suggests, this is a region that was once wetlands and waterways, which was subsequently drained. Consequently, the native soil is largely silt. The ground level, being at most only a couple of feet above high tide, means that drainage is a major issue. French drains have been attempted with little success. The project for the near future would be to raise the square."
Matt has worked at Cork County for five years, three as groundsman and two as general manager, including grounds. "My initial studies were a BSc in Geography and a BCA in Management from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand."
"All my previous work was in hospitality," explains Matt. "I was a playing member of the cricket club and had shown some practical abilities through various building projects, and even project managed the redevelopment of the clubhouse after the 2009 flood. I was asked if I would be interested in working on the grounds as the then head groundsman, William Bradley, was retiring from the job. His initial guidance was helpful, but I then did my own web based research and used resources such as Pitchcare and sought guidance from those in the industry, eventually attending courses run by Len Smith, the former head groundsman at Sophia Gardens. Meeting with other groundsmen and speaking with technical experts encouraged me to delve deeper into the scientific aspects of turf care."
"In the beginning, I was working on the grounds during the day whilst continuing to work in hospitality at night, but the job is now full-time."
Matt is responsible for all budgets. "As general manager, I am tasked with ensuring the financial stability of the club. This is done primarily through the bar, function facilities and squash club. I report to the committee. A major aim of mine is to focus funds towards the development of playing and training facilities and also the development and maintenance of the clubhouse and bar."
He has an assistant groundsman, Oscar Cotter (22) who is doing his second summer. "He also doubles up as an excellent barman," confesses Matt. "A vegetable and herb plot is a new addition by Oscar. Fresh mint for our mojitos and salad for our sandwiches has been a handy perk."
"Contractors carry out spring and autumn work; namely verti-draining of the outfield, fertilisation, weed and pest control. The owner of Blarney Castle, Sir Charles Colthurst, is our benefactor in this regard."
The outfield is cut twice a week, using a Robin ride on triple cylinder mower, to 12mm and the square is cut once or twice a week as required. New wicket preparations begin two weeks in advance of planned use. Solid tining is undertaken at the end of season. "With my square, I have found that increased tining has assisted in reducing organic matter and has encouraged deep root growth," says Matt.
"Effective fertilisation is one of the key elements of my work. This is done every four to six weeks; mostly lower nitrogen granular feed supplemented with a liquid seaweed extract. The seaweed extract is helping maintain the pH value for rye grass. Everris Renovator Pro and an autumn fertiliser, BioAtlantis Ocean Green Complex with micro nutrients, are used."
"In addition, I carry out regular scarification throughout the summer and use selective herbicides as and when necessary. I try to delegate as much rolling as possible to whoever is willing and able!"
Matt puts great store in presenting the ground in the best possible light. "After a true and fair playing surface, presentation is my next priority. I feel an aesthetically pleasing environment is not only important for our players, but for those who choose to spend their weekends enjoying our club. Not only the playing surface with striping etc., but the surrounding areas should also be attractive. Planting, seating areas and so on are all important."
"At the end of the season a full renovation of the square is carried out, including a thorough scarification, solid tining, sarrel spiking, overseeding or reseeding, topdressing (heavily for the last few years with five tonnes at a time) and fertilisation. Over the last two years, I've completely reseeded the square using Limagrain's MM50; the results have been pleasing."
"Budgets are tight and more could always be done, but the last few years work has been satisfactory in maintaining good performing wickets," states Matt.
"Increases in high intensity rainfall, especially over the summer period, have created more challenges," Matt explains. "Ground preparation for cricket in the South West of Ireland is difficult enough so, should these trends continue, serious thought will need to be put in to how best to combat these forces out of our control. In the meantime, we do our best to keep wickets dry and encourage better drainage. We now have roll-on, roll-off raised covers which have proven to be far superior to the previous flat sheet covers I inherited."
"Advances in techniques and products are continually evolving, thereby allowing for the general improvements in the standard of sports turf facilities, yet the cricket groundsman is generally undervalued; the job often falling to whoever is around at the time, or willing to take it on. Clubs investing in longer term arrangements with their groundsmen and assisting ongoing education would result in better facilities all round, which is what we are trying to achieve here. Higher quality playing surfaces will continue to raise the profile for the turfcare professional."
Asked if he attends industry shows, seminars, demo days, road shows his reply was short. "No, but it would be great to have more opportunities to do so!"
Due to flood damage, all buildings were gutted and renovated in 2009. "Luckily, insurance covered most of the expenditure and we now, again, have excellent facilities," confirms Matt. "Most building and maintenance work is carried out or overseen by myself."
"The introduction of an electronic score board and the renovations of the existing scoreboard and scorers area has recently been completed, with the work being carried out by myself. In the near future, we hope to negotiate the acquisition of some ground adjacent to our club. This would be developed into, primarily, much needed training facilities, but this would also allow us to facilitate larger audiences."
"With cricket growing strongly in Ireland, and especially with Cricket Ireland pushing towards a first class structure, my club aims to be the first choice venue for matches held outside of Dublin and the North. An excellent, international standard facility has been developed in Malahide just north of Dublin, proof that cricket in Ireland is moving in the right direction."
What's in the shed?
Triple cylinder outfield mower
Ransomes Super Certes 51 cylinder mower
Husqvarna ride on rotary mower
Bomag heavy roller
John Deere pedestrian rotary mower
John Deere scarifier
Local company, Geaney & O'Neill Ltd., who specialise in the maintenance and sales of professional turfcare equipment, do all works. "I find that well maintained machinery allows work to be done when needed, reducing the hassle of untimely and expensive breakdowns. Also, having the ability to maintain and repair machinery oneself, i.e. having basic mechanical knowledge, is an important part of the job."
"Oh, and my wish list would include a vertical action aerator. At the moment, all aeration equipment is hired in."