James McCollum backed to break into the international stage

James McCollum. Picture by Andrew Paton/Press Eye
James McCollum. Picture by Andrew Paton/Press Eye

It feels like it is only a matter of time before James McCollum breaks onto the international stage.

There is a sense of inevitability about it.

The 22-year-old is fresh off scoring 170 for the Ireland Wolves side in a series win over Scotland A last week, adding to his 116 for the Northern Knights, and further scores of 87 and 84 earlier this season.

McCollum has built a reputation for himself as one of the finest young batsmen in Ireland, and it appears the bigger the stage and the higher the stakes, the brighter he shines.

That was shown in last year’s Irish Senior Cup quarter-final against Merrion, where McCollum stepped up to hit 107* and drag his team over the line by three wickets, almost single-handedly.

If he continues his current form at representative level, it will be no surprise to see him fulfil a life-long dream of playing for Ireland in the near future.

McCollum is determined to extend this purple patch, and believes spending the winter at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide is a big reason behind his success.

“I spent quite a long winter out in Australia which really helped,” he said.

“I was going into the season with six months of cricket under my belt which was very good. Cricket is a funny game in the sense that you can be in form for weeks and then have a barren spell.

“It’s nice to get runs in the Interpro’s and for Ireland A, but I haven’t probably scored as many runs in club cricket as I would have liked.

“The last couple of weeks have been really good and I’ll try to keep that going for as long as possible.”

At Waringstown, he is surrounded by experience and players who have been there and done it - none more so than Kyle McCallan.

McCallan spent over two decades playing for Ireland, and McCollum says playing alongside someone of that calibre was a big reason for his switch from Lurgan.

“It’s my fifth year now at Waringstown, and one of the big reasons for me coming over from Lurgan was that you have the likes of Kyle here,” he said.

“He’s the third most capped player for Ireland and he is class to have on and off the field. I am able to tap into his knowledge and he is great with the younger guys.

“We have a lot of players like that - James Hall, Gary Kidd and Greg Thompson. Those guys have been there and done it, so we have a lot of experience in the team.

“Even though I have been here for five years, I still learn new things off those guys and we have a really good club environment here.”

Instonians batsman James Shannon has set the blueprint for what young players in the NCU need to do to get into the senior Irish side, having hit a barrage of runs over the last few years to the point where he couldn’t be denied.

McCollum will hope to follow that path, and says Shannon, who is captain of the Northern Knights squad, has had a positive influence on him.

“Shannon has performed for the senior team in the last few weeks, and it’s been really good to have him to help with my own development,” he said.

“He was probably where I am now six years ago, and he is an extremely talented player who has been knocking down the Ireland door for the past four or five years.

“It’s been great having him and Johnty (coach Simon Johnston) in the Knights.

“Even though the Knights haven’t got the wins and results we would have wanted this year, we have a good core group of players and we have been hampered a bit by injuries. Johnty and Shanno have done a good job in getting us to be a close knit squad.”

McCollum is an integral part of the best club side in Ireland currently, with Waringstown winning three trophies last year, including the Irish Senior Cup and Premier League.

The constant drive for excellence and silverware could potentially bring pressure to a changing room - but not this one.

“It’s a very laid back changing room and we always know that we have guys 1-11 that can change the game,” he said.

“We have guys with a lot of experience and talent, and everyone puts in hard work.

“Guys are down here netting for a couple of hours most evenings and I think the work we put in off the pitch shows in terms of performance on it.”

There is no better time to be a young cricketer in Ireland, with Test cricket now a reality and the prospect of making a career from the sport.

The core group of batsmen in the current team are over 30, so chances will arrive for the next generation, and McCollum is determined to put himself in a position to grab it.

“A big thing for guys coming through the ranks now is having the opportunity to play Test cricket. That really is the pinnacle,” he said.

“I never thought four or five years ago when I was starting university that we would be playing Test cricket in 2018.

“The opportunities are there and we are now seeing a lot of younger players coming through the ranks who want to put their hand up and take those opportunities.

“There are a lot of guys in the senior Ireland team who have served us greatly and got us to where we are who won’t be there in a few years, so there is no better time to stick your hand up and try to break into the team.”