Traditional GAA heartlands bowled over by cricket
NEW cricket clubs have started sprouting up in traditional GAA heartlands, as the sport ups the ante in the battle to recruit new players.
Ireland's cricket playing population has boomed by over 300pc over the past decade as the international team enjoys unprecedented success on the world stage.
Ireland's latest World Cup victory over the West Indies will push the popularity of the sport here to new levels.
Historically, the game was strongest in Dublin, Belfast, and Derry - and to a lesser extent in Cork.
However, a Cricket Ireland spokesman said there has been a surge in the popularity of the sport "in non-traditional areas" for the game.
The official number for those playing has continued to show a dramatic increase - from 13,000 in 2006, to 25,000 in 2011, to over 40,000 in 2012.
And this is likely to have gone up even further over the past year as the sport continues to move into the mainstream.
"We have seen new clubs develop over the years - but the real growth has been in the number of people playing particularly at junior level.
"The game has really come on in areas such as Kerry, Galway, Tipperary and Waterford," a spokesman told the Irish Independent.
Thurles Cricket Club - established in the town where the GAA was founded - has been in operation since 2010.
Meanwhile, Nenagh Cricket Club, in the heart of Tipperary hurling territory, has been on the go since 2005, and was affiliated to the Munster Cricket Union in 2011.
These trends are further indication it is increasingly competing with the other major field sports such as Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and rugby, for playing members.
A further sign of the increase in the popularity of the sport is that Cricket Ireland has grown from having a single staff member in 2006, to its current quota of more than 20 full-time employees.
The spokesman said it is gratifying to see a "surge" in the number of younger school children expressing an interest in cricket. "We've introduced a number of initiatives and competitions in primary schools," he added.
He also said huge strides have been made to erode the "snob factor" which has long been associated with the game.
"There was a social divide in the past, but that doesn't exist any more," he said.
The sport is also developing in some unlikely areas west of the Shannon under the control of the Connaught Cricket Union. Apart from in Co Galway there are also clubs in Ballaghaderreen and Ballyhaunis in Co Mayo.
Historically cricket, which had been rapidly gaining in popularity at the turn of the last century, was hard hit by the"ban on foreign games".
This prevented GAA players from playing - or even watching - designated sports such as cricket.
The sport was particularly hard hit by the introduction of Rule 42, according to the Cricket Ireland spokesman.
"But now cricket in Ireland is making a remarkable comeback in areas where it has been long absent."