TWILC emerges from its winter hibernation to bring an update on things around the club, breaks the news of the signing of the new professional, and takes a trip to the Odyssey with a few other NCU lads to watch the ice hockey

Its been a busy winter at Lisburn CC with the AGM bringing a change in personnel at the upper echelons of the club. After many years of service as Chairman, Ian Ross stepped down and handed the reins over to Dean Simpson. Club captain Greg Thompson decided that three years was plenty for him at the helm, and his successor is Davy Simpson. On the important role of entertainments convenor, Jonny Bell handed the portfolio over to Ricky Simpson while the bar convenorship was maintained by Richard Simpson. On the ladies committee, the incumbent chairwoman continues in that role, Shirley Simpson. All we have to do now is find roles for Jim, Homer and Bart and the dynasty is complete. The message is clear from Wallace Park – if you ain’t called Simpson, there’s no need to apply!! Rumours that Cecil Walker has been spotted in Lisburn Council offices changing his name by deed-poll to Simpson have been strongly denied by the Simpson, sorry, Lisburn club.

Already though the Simpsons have been quick off the mark with plans to relay 4 new clay wickets at the tail end of next season being set in train, together with the purchase of a new set of covers. We are very grateful to an anonymous donor for the latter, but work must now commence to raise the necessary funds for the pitch renovations. Already a very successful Night at the Races has been held, and together with 2 Last Man Standing competitions, the club is well on its way to meeting the targets.

Nothing in local cricket comes for free (unless of course you can get a decent cricketer a job at the local school, then anything is possible – more on that later) and the next few months will require all at the club to put their shoulder to the wheel as we move towards the new season.

The club has also been delighted within the last week or so to confirm the identity of the new professional for 2012. South African Darryl Brown will join Lisburn this year after two successful stints in the North West with Fox Lodge. A very dangerous cricketer (as described by none other than the coolest Belfast Giants fan – more on that later) Darryl should instill a competitive edge into the 1st XI squad and throughout the club, while bringing a new enthusiasm to the youth set-up. We look forward to welcoming him to Lisburn in a few months time.

The off-season is a long one, stretching through the winter months and while we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, the season is still another 3 months away. So to partly fill the breach, TWILC decided to branch out this week and sample the delights that other sports have to offer. Having been to rugby, football, racing, golf, tennis and other sporting events in the past, a new and fresh sport was just the winter medicine the doctor ordered. On the menu was the ice-hockey at the Odyssey, a trip out that had come to fruition on the back of some light-hearted banter between myself and a few other NCU guys on twitter. Our host for the evening was burly North Down opening batsman Neil “StrikeRate” Russell (a step up on Neil “Cameo” Russell” as we dubbed him last season) who is a mad-keen Belfast Giants fan and who has been clogging up timelines with ice-hockey banter on twitter all winter.

A few of us offered the view that ice-hockey was nothing more than a bit of glorified skating, chasing after a very odd shaped ball, with the occasional choreographed scrap thrown in from time to time to make it vaguely entertaining. The big Comber man had been less than impressed by this ill-informed generalised commentary on social media and had laid down the gauntlet to prove us doubters wrong. So a number of us, principally myself, Wonkle (LCC through and through now), Bushy, Peter “Hammer” Hanna and Jimbo (collectively, the ice hockey sceptics) were invited along to sample the game first hand.

We were due to meet up at 3pm in Rockies sports bar for pre-hockey pints to watch the Ulster game but prior to this there were a number of technical problems. First, Hammer had to pull out (wife and son ill, fair excuse). Then Jimbo announced that he wouldn’t be there until before kick off (playing hockey for Garvey, I am reluctant to describe this as a fair excuse, but in comparative terms, he gets away with it). Russeller then noted he would be a bit late as he was picking up Su (Andrew Sutherland, North Down’s most consistent and arguably best opening batsman who would surely have made the Newsletter’s team of the year had he not broken his finger whilst holidaying in Italy, sorry, batting mid-season) – again, reasonably fair.

So Wonkle (taxi) and me would be meeting Bushy for pre-hockey pints at 3. Not quite. Bushy, half an hour before he had the gift of a lift into Belfast, announced that he wouldn’t be there until after 4.30 as he had to, wait for it, go house-shopping with his girlfriend Kelly. Sorry Alistair, what was that again? You had to do what? Go to IKEA or Creations or one of those other God forsaken places that you should NEVER be in on ANY Saturday afternoon when there is sport on, never mind when you should be down the pub with the boys having pre-hockey scoops. What’s the world coming to we asked, and his thumb-printed head was seen sprinting, literally sprinting, over the Odyssey tarmac at around 4.35 as he sought to minimise the abuse that he was clearly expecting, and indeed duly received. His dad summed it up perfectly, via twitter #unbelievable.

Anyway, he got there and we settled down to watch a gallant Ulster, and then a bloody woeful Liverpool on the box, whilst engaging in the usual pre-season cricket chat. Bushy was very keen to hear all the latest signings at the clubs and as a bit of a wind up, we told him who Lisburn had got as their CDO. Not thinking for one moment he would believe us, we casually mentioned that Peter Connell was joining the LCC on the basis that we had got him a job at Wallace HS. An aghast Bushy was dumbstruck. He couldn’t believe it. PC – Lisburn??? Except, he did believe it. He offered his views, which weren’t exactly fulsome in their praise of the Simpson CC decision making process, but indicated that the story was “bigger than Bray” and would feature in Monday’s edition of the Newsletter. At this point we simply had to call the dogs off and let him know that we weren’t being 100 percent honest, or indeed 5% come to think of it, and it then took some 10 or so minutes before we were able to get the hook and line out from his palate! There is one born every day…..

Right, back to the ice-hockey. Whilst there was a degree of (and it was, I admit, ill-informed) scepticism about the right to call itself a sport, none of us had any real idea of what to expect at the Odyssey on Saturday night. What we didn’t expect was for all of us to unanimously agree that Russeller was by far and away the Giant’s coolest regular fan. Ice hockey supporters are, as Jimbo was to later opine, a “special” bunch of people. To be fair, it was the least threatening sporting event I’ve ever been to with a real family atmosphere and the spectators all seemed to be really into it. But boys a boys, there were a few there for whom ice hockey looks to be their raison d’etre! The drummers who jazz the crowd up looked to be absolutely loving it and one in particular looked like he was going to slit his wrists on one occasion when the Giants spurned a goal scoring opportunity.

The game itself was, how can I put this, odd. I had expected all action, goals galore, chances galore, and perhaps a scrap or 2. For the first 3-4 mins, it looked like following the script as two early goals went in and everyone was getting proper excited. However, if I am being honest, the next 55 mins were a bit of a damp squib. Only 3 more goals, not many obvious chances, a lot of faffing about and, most disappointingly, no organised violence. For most of the time it was like a bunch of headless chickens raking about indiscriminately, occasionally trying to batter each other against the glass, trying to push the goalie into the net while he was sat on the puck, and for me as a “newbie” it was all a bit disjointed. I suppose that’s part of the territory with an American/Canadian based sport, but I love baseball, like US football, and tolerate basketball. I can’t honestly say I could really get into the hockey though. But each to their own, it was good nights banter and we all enjoyed it. Apart from the bar stewards at the Odyssey tapping us for £4.15 a pint, the robbing feckers.

Also, perhaps we may have been slightly more focussed on the game itself had we not been distracted by the appearance of a celebrity fan. Half way through the first period our host spotted her along with another NCU cricketer. We quickly realised that it was none other than former Big Brother beauty (former Big Brother that is, not former beauty, at least I think that’s right) Orlaith McAllister. A few selective tweets and texts later and Orlaith was over beside us. This led to a mixture of reactions from the assembled masses. Russeller played it uber-cool, a wee cheeky smile, bit of chat, but making it clear he was a hockey fan, here for the game (despite Jimbo, Wonkle and me getting vaguely Finbarr Saunders about the whole thing). Bushy, by stark contrast, was like a dog on heat. “Stunner lads” was all he kept saying “Stunner”. Of course the not particularly inventive or original banter started up – “Can Russeller please come to the diary room etc etc”, its amazing how a few pints of extremely overpriced Heineken can turn relatively mature verging on middle age men transform into lawds but anyways) before Orlaith and her chaperon departed before the second period leaving Russeller to reclaim his coolest spectator crown which he had momentarily relinquished (shows how exciting the hockey was when it cannot command the attention of a former fifth placed BB contestant).

I could continue with this Orlaith based banter for some time – she hooked up with us again in Rockies, started following us all on twitter (Bushy was almost beside himself at this point with unadulterated excitement) and undertaking some particularly blatant flirting with Russeller which has since continued unabated on twitter – but I will leave it there. Which was what we did too, 11pm being well past most of our bedtimes these days and despite Bushy giving it the chat about going to Vaudeville (which coincidentally was where Orlaith said she was off to next), and then Bar Red (it’s been a while since he has been in Belfast if he calls it that still) and then having his bluff called and back-tracking, it was back to Lisburn for all of the troops via Wonkle taxis (in which Bushy developed a further obsession, this time a slightly more worrying one, over Wonkle’s aftershave!)

All in all though, it was a good day and evening’s banter with boys who enjoyed the craic. The ice-hockey was, when you strip it all away and examine it in an objective manner with the distractions and sideshows removed, a load of pish but maybe it is the distractions and sideshows that make it entertaining and for a change it would be a good place to take the kids in a few years time. Until then there is more of a chance of the middle drummer becoming Chairman of the NCU, or big Ivan captaining Muckamore 1sts before I’m back ……so you never know!!!! This is TWILC…………..out!

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