Going batty for willow can make Ireland A driving force
Plant it and make most of growing global demands for cricket bats
Ireland's victory over England in the Cricket World Cup must rank as one of our greatest sporting achievements ever. It certainly cheered us all up and, judging by the letters to the newspapers, it dramatically lifted the spirits of Irishmen and women living and working abroad and those of us at home.
Cricket used to be widely enjoyed in rural Ireland and was played on summer evenings on village greens throughout the country, by people of all ages and from all walks of life. That was, of course, before the infamous GAA ban on anyone taking part in games that were perceived as being British.
Thank goodness that particular piece of bigotry has since been put to bed and we can now enjoy all sports regardless of their perceived origin.
When you consider our small population and the relatively tiny numbers of sportsmen and women we have to choose from compared to other countries such as France and England, our successes down the years at international level have been quite spectacular. We compete successfully against the world's best in rugby, along with many other sports, and now our cricketers are showing their mettle.
But is anyone here growing the willow required for the manufacture of cricket bats? We are soon going to be self-sufficient in ash for hurley making and, given our damp climate and rich soil, we can surely also grow willow for cricket bat manufacture.
I ran the idea past Neil Foulkes, who featured in this column recently, and he replied with the encouraging statistic that there are more than a billion people in India alone and 90pc of them are cricket mad. Add to that list Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia and other countries throughout the world where cricket is almost a national sport and the picture starts to become clear.
The potential for growing willow and making cricket bats must be huge and anyone with suitable land should at least examine the possibilities.
Up to now we have focused on growing willow for biomass but with a bit of horticultural expertise and lots of hands-on management, good willow for the cricket bat industry can undoubtedly be grown here.