Isobel Joyce Interview

In the final of our interviews with women in prominent positions in the Club as part of the 20X20 initiative, we sit down with our Director of Coaching, Isobel Joyce. Clontarf are delighted to announce that Isobel will be returning to her role in 2020.

Before looking forward to next season, can we take you back to last year. There were probably a few eyebrows raised round around Leinster when the news broke you had made the move across the Liffey to take up the role in Clontarf. How did it first come about?

I think you’re right; a few people were surprised that I decided to move clubs but a few things contributed to me choosing to go. The first thing that happened was that Keith Sinnott, who I got to know through my work at Trinity, called to see if I had any interest in the role. I think he expected me to thank him and say no outright, but having already decided that I was going to bring an end to my international playing career, a change of scenery seemed like a good idea for the following season.

What was it that enticed you to make to the move?

I had worked on the coaching side with Merrion Cricket Club almost all of my adult life and a new challenge was really appealing to me at that point in my career. Clontarf were implementing new plans to improve every aspect of the club and were very supportive in what I thought were the best ways to move forward.

Two more things attracted me: the prospect of helping an up and coming women’s section to keep progressing and the opportunity to coach one of the most successful men’s First XI teams in the country.

Your role is multi-faceted and involves playing with the Women’s First XI. What is your impression of Women’s cricket in the club?

I think women’s cricket in the club is in a good place. It’s clearly supported at the highest level in terms of how the club as a whole is being run. We have some top-class talent for the younger girls to look up to and we also have some older players and supportive parents who help to keep everything running smoothly. One thing we have that I think other clubs would envy us is the competition we have for places which means people have to stay on their toes and train hard.

The average age of the players in the Women’s teams is quite young, have you seen a development in their game and are you confident the Club can retain the players and avoid the dreaded “drop-off” that often occurs?

Clontarf is one of the only clubs around that seems able to retain female youth members into their teenage years and on into adulthood, which is a very precious commodity – if we could bottle it, we would make a mint! There are plenty of opportunities for these younger players in our women’s teams and there is a great transition from the youth programme into the women’s teams. I think one of the reasons this side of things works so well is the fact that the coaches taking youth games, like Emma Butler and Anna Kirk, are then playing with the girls when they come into the second team which makes it much less daunting.

You have a role in Cricket Leinster for the development of women’s cricket, how do things look at provincial level as we move into next year?

Attendance at Winter training is very good with plenty of players looking to work on technique in the off season. Lots of the Clontarf girls are adding to their skills and vying for spots on teams for next year, and there are a few exciting opportunities coming up for them that I’m sure will keep interest high as we continue to compete with other sports to keep and attract players.

As Director of Coaching you are responsible for all coaching from end to end in the club. How would you describe the youth pipeline in the terms of the girls and boys coming through?

It’s a very exciting time for the club. The effort that Robert Forrest put in ahead of the 2019 season in putting in place our schools programme paid huge dividends and we are extremely lucky to have him running that side of things, as well as a lot of the operational end of youth cricket.

Belgrove Boys won the Leprechaun cup with a number of Clontarf coaches leading them to the trophy, and that kind of connection with schools in the area is invaluable. The textbooks all say the same thing, you have to get into schools with the coaches that will actually be there when those kids come down to the club, and we have a great team of coaches who can provide this service from end to end, which means we have had a huge influx of youth members at all ages.

Through the season, we saw constant growth in the number of kids coming down to the club of their own volition just to train and play at the boundary edge and I think that is always the sign that a youth section is in a good place.

There are lots of coaches within the Club, how do you, working with others such as Robert Forrest ensure that the sessions are delivering the right blend of sessions for the development of various age groups?

Bobbo and I would be in constant communication about the right way to go about things with different groups, who the best people are to work with those groups of players, and if things are not working, we work well together to come up with a solution. While Bobbo works more on the organisational side, he has done a huge amount of coaching and knows a lot of the players himself so he is a great resource for me. One of the things he does well is help to bring on the younger coaches, give them opportunities to get their qualifications and develop as coaches.

Coach Development is still something that I am quite new to and I hope to be a better resource in this area for the Clontarf coaches going forward.

Who would you say are the “ones to watch” coming through into the Women’s and Men’s teams in the next few years?

This is a very difficult question! There are so many players that I could mention, but it often comes down to who wants it the most as opposed to who has the most talent. On the girls’ side, I think that Ana Marshall and Jenny Wilson. They both put a huge amount of extra time into their games last year and showed that they have ambition to go far. Ana’s brother Ethan is also an extremely hard worker and has the talent to go places to boot.

Freya and Gemma Sargeant both had a fantastic 2019 season and I expect big things from them both going forward. Another family that is putting in a lot of work is the McNallys, both Julie and John came on a huge amount last year.

My last mention goes to the Butler family, all of them possess a great competitive nature that means they are great to have in your team whether it’s as a teammate or a coach.

A big part of your role is as the Men’s First XI coach. How did you find the transition into that role coaching a senior side for a full season?

I’ve been involved on the playing and captaining side of a lot of women’s teams, from U13 girls to Women’s 1st XI to Ireland at a World Cup, but I’ve never worked with a settled men’s team with a huge amount of experience behind them and so I was constantly learning.

It was definitely a challenge, and one that has taught me so much. It would have been easy to stay in my comfort zone but I knew that if I wanted to progress as a coach, this was the way to do it. It was an opportunity for me to learn from a new set of players as well as those players learning from me.

While the 2019 season wasn’t a golden one in the First XI’s history there were a lot of positives in terms of youth players transitioning into the team. How would you see the 2020 season shaping up in this regard?

It started out as a tough year but I think the balance sheet ended up in the positive. A lot of younger players got their shot; even more pleasing was that, for the most part, they took their shot. There was a real feeling of looking forward to seeing what we could achieve in 2020 as well as the knowledge that there are a few more youngsters who will be knocking on the door before long.

It’s going to be a different team next year without the retired Billy Coghlan. His brand of humour and the way that he played the game was something that has become synonymous with Clontarf Cricket Club, and he will be missed. But now it’s time for other players to fill his boots and make their mark.

The fact that a number of younger players were blooded in 2019 means that we are in a good place to have a young team, but not a completely inexperienced one, going forward.

Everyone in Clontarf was very proud to see David Delany transition so well to the Irish team, have you been impressed by his development as a fast bowler where he showed the value of the Interpros in impressing the selectors?

I think if I had asked all of the Clontarf members what their greatest wish was when I first came to the club, it would have been something to do with David fulfilling his potential and breaking into the Irish team.

I was really pleased with his decision to play for the Northern Knights. I thought it was a good fit for him personnel-wise and it gave him the chance to bowl at the strongest batting line up in the Interpro competition, the Leinster Lightning.

Davy always had the ability to make it at the top level but I think the turning point for him was when he played the T20 Quadrangular series in Malahide against Scotland and The Netherlands, because that was when he realised that he also has the drive to make it at that level. I’m delighted he has done so well and excited to see where he goes from here, the sky is the limit.

Finally, none of us have a crystal ball but do you have any specific goals for 2020 for the Club across the various elements of your role?

I think goals are meaningless unless you come together with your team to decide upon them. Ahead of the season I’ll be meeting with the coaching team and the First XI squad separately to discuss our goals as two teams going forward. Now that we’ve had a bit of distance, we’ll take stock of last season and move forward from there. It’s always a team effort and it takes the whole team to achieve a goal, regardless of what it is.