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Q&A: Ireland’s Award Winning Cricket Groundsman

Ireland’s award winning cricket groundsman Karl McDermott and now curator at Hampshire County Cricket Club has taken the time out to take part in our first Q&A Blog.

1. How and where did you start out as a cricket groundsman?
I started at Clontarf CC over 20 years ago!! The great Podge Hughes was groundsman then and he was looking for a summer- helper, I knew nothing about cricket!!!! I had never even been to Castle Avenue! I got the bug and kept it up as a summer job until he handed over the reins to me. I also know for a fact that he groomed me into the fussy groundsman I am today!

2. What is your role within Hampshire County Cricket Club?
My title is Deputy Grounds Manager. My role is to assist, and deputise in the absence of, the Grounds Manager with the day to day running of the Rose Bowl cricket playing facilties.

3. What does a regular working day consist of?
In the summertime work is obviously focused on pitch preparation and match management. There is the main ground at the Rose Bowl and a nursery ground, with separate grass practice facilities too. As you can imagine with such a big area to manage there is very little quiet time.
In the winter it is more relaxed. More time is spent on machinery maintenance and any other maintenance work that needs doing around the ground.

4. What machinery do you have at your disposal?
We have a fairly wide range of pedestrian and ride-on machinery including 2 John Deere (JD) triple cylinder ride-on mowers, 1 JD five cylinder ride-on fairway mower, 1 JD five unit rotary ride-on mower, 2 JD tractors, 3 JD gators,2 42-inch Allett cylinder mowers,  2 Dennis pedestrian mowers with interchangeable units, 1 Dennis cylinder pitch mower,  1 Paladin pedestrian cylinder mower, 1 Ryan Reno-thin scarifier/verti-cutter, 1 Graden pedestrian scarifier, 1 Graden tractor-mounted scarifier, and plenty of other bits and pieces!!!!

5. Have you many people you in charge of/working with at the Rose Bowl?

There is a core staff on the grounds team of 6 including the Grounds Manager and myself. During the summer months extra staff are employed as and when required.

6. How tough a job is it to get cricket pitches prepared during the summer months with such a heavy schedule of games played nowadays?
Certainly on the First-Class circuit it seems to be a never ending process of pitch preparation. There is a heavy fixture list on both grounds which at times makes it difficult to get sufficient watering done but it is something you learn to manage over time. At times the most difficult bit is getting pitches repaired and renovated sufficiently so as they can be used again later in the season.

7. In your opinion, why do you think playing surfaces have dramatically improved over the past 15-20 years?
There is a combination of reasons this has happened. Better machinery and the use of better covers has been a major factor. Also education in our industry has improved. I think there is more science in preparing pitches now, and groundsmen are understanding why they are doing things instead of a philosophy of “that’s what the old groundsman did”. Although our industry has a long way to go I believe it is slowly getting more recognised as a very skilled job instead of “just grass-cutting!!!”

8. How important is it to have good dedicated staff working alongside you?

Vital. You need to be able to trust your staff and their ability. On a site as large as the Rose Bowl you need to know that the job is getting done well as it is difficult to be in more than one place at a time!! We are lucky here as the groundstaff have been here a long time and know exactly what needs doing.

8. If you could change one thing about county cricket in England, what would it be?

Apart from a less congested fixture list, I would love to see more people watching cricket. There isn’t enough people attending County cricket on a regular basis. Somehow Clubs need to make it more attractive and affordable for the grounds to be fuller more often than not. Outside of International cricket the stadium has only been full once since I have been here. If I knew the answer to this problem I would be working in marketing and not cutting the grass!!!

10. What is the most pleasing aspect of your job?
I love when we are hosting International cricket matches. I enjoy the pressure. It is one of the main reasons I came to The Rose Bowl.

11. What is the one thing that you dislike about your job?

I dislike cameramen and commentators walking all over the square and pitch before a televised game.  Many of them have very little respect for the work that has gone in to preparing the ground to this level, it drives me mental!

12. What are the plans for Karl McDermott over the next few years?
We have a couple of One Day Internationals this season and next, and then we host our second Test match, England vs. India,  in 2014. So hopefully we can continue improving and producing good cricket pitches, and raise the profile of The Rose Bowl resulting in us becoming a regular Test Match venue.

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