Bill Carne met up with a young cricketer who is out of the game injured but is keeping involved by becoming the youngest umpire to officiate in local league games...

Pembrokeshire Cricket has just seen an interesting new record achieved because Kieran O’Connor has just officiated at his first two league matches – at the age of 16!

The previous record was held by Radio Pembrokeshire presenter Ollie Cole when he was 18 but when Kieran stepped out alongside his mentor Huw Davies on the opening day of the new campaign at Hook for their Division Two match against Pembroke he easily broke the old record and enjoyed the match.

It was nice for Kieran because he was later congratulated by Huw on his competent performance and by veteran Pembroke batsman Barry Evans, who said it was unusual for him to have an umpire young enough to be his son, rather than old enough to be his father!

Then it was on to his second game at Treleet, where Pembroke entertained Saundersfoot, this time with Glyn Pawlett as his colleague, and again Kieran enjoyed the experience – and is looking forward to continuing his involvement, once his studies for GCSE examinations are over.

Kieran hails from Fishguard but plays his cricket at Haverfordwest and has been a regular with the Pembrokeshire County junior team throughout the age groups – and his story is one of battling against adversity because in 2009 he had to have an operation on his back which included having metal rods set in his spine, and which kept him out of the game for a whole season.

So he switched from bowling medium pace to off-spin to take any pressure off his back and he was soon back performing really well for the county team coached by Ian Poole, helped Haverfordwest win the Ormond Youth Cup for the first time since 2001, and was also the youngest player in the Haverfordwest Third XI which won the Ken Morris Cup at Narberth against their counterparts from Cresselly.

Since then Kieran gained a place in Haverfordwest’s second team as an off-spin bowler/batsman and he also gained some vital batting and bowling practice for The Town in the indoor league, where he joined first teamers of the calibre and experience of Huw Scriven, Ben Field, Danny Potter and Simon Holliday.

He certainly didn’t look out of place, especially against champions Neyland, where he opened the batting and scored 25 not out before having to retire, bowled his two overs whilst conceding only nine runs, claimed a good catch and ran a Neyland batsman out!

Kieran’s introduction to cricket came in a very unusual way because he was only about five years old when his mum Judith took him to Australia when England were there for a test match series in 2003.

They were supposed to watch day five of the fifth test match but Australia won on the fourth day – so Judith managed to get tickets at the Sydney Ground for the 20/20 match and he was captivated watching Adam Gilchrist bat for the Aussies, especially when the ace keeper/batsman smashed a huge six into the stand nearby.

Kieran was only four but by the time they got home he had a small plastic bat and soft rubber ball which seemed to go everywhere with him.

“There were a few smashed light bulbs in the house,” admitted Kieran with a chuckle!

It wasn’t long before he was enrolled at Fishguard Cricket Club, playing Kwik Kricket under the watchful eye of coach Russell Parry-Jones.

“Russell gave me every encouragement,” said Kieran, “and I had plenty of batting and bowling practice.”

Someone else who quickly spotted Kieran’s potential was Martin Jones, from Neyland, who was the county under 10s coach and played him when he was only nine years old.

“It was obvious that Kieran had great potential,” Martin told us, “and he matched this with real commitment and a willingness to learn from good advice. He was a pleasure to have in my squad.”

It seems the respect is mutual because when Kieran had to stop bowling quickly because of his back it was Martin who suggested he tried spin – and it certainly paid off!

His best county performance was a 6 for 8 haul from nine overs against West Glamorgan and he scored his first half century for Pembrokeshire as he joined Kurtis Marsh in opening the batting and putting on 75 for the first wicket in a huge total of 241 runs from their allotted 40 overs.

He also marked another milestone for Haverfordwest Fourths when he hit a boundary from the final ball of the innings to take him to his first-ever half century on 52 not out. It was performances like this which saw Kieran chosen for the third team in the Ken Morris Cup Final and bowling well in both innings to help The Town beat Cresselly 3rds.

But it was the Ormond Youth Cup which was the biggest thrill after beating a strong Neyland Youth team in the semi-final and earning them a final spot against Whitland, who had been winners eight times in the previous ten seasons and were seeking a hat-trick of victories.

But Kieran Griffiths produced an amazing performance with bat and ball alongside Dan Cole, Nitin Mathias and others well coached by Andrew Phillips. Kieran certainly played his part with 2 for 12 and 2 for 21 in his four-over stints and he also caught key Whitland batsman Steffan James on the boundary – but only after a heart-stopping juggling act!

That Kieran is a sports lover is only natural because his father Chris, known to all as ‘Paddy’, started playing rugby for Fishguard and Goodwick as a prop at 16 and now, over 20 years later, still turns out when needed. Chris also played in goal and as a striker for Goodwick United in his teens but readily admits he was no cricketer. Mum Judith played hockey in her younger days and, says Kieran,

“She is a great chauffeur who will take me anywhere I need to go for sport – and is now ferrying me to umpire games!”

Kieran had his final operation on his spine in November and when told he might be out for a year decided sitting around was not for him – so he contacted Jonathan Twigg for details and before long he was attending the Umpires’ Course over two Sundays at Whitland under the watchful eye of Huw Davies and Peter Williams.

“Haverfordwest CC paid for my course and I was delighted to repay their faith in me by passing,” admitted Kieran, “and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the game.”

We wish Kieran O’Connor a speedy return to playing cricket at his age but in the meanwhile it is great to see a youngster putting something back into his game – and even when he’s back in action he can officiate at evening cup games and continue to show all that is good in local cricket in playing or umpiring!