Remembrance of things past

Long before JB became JB he was my much older brother Bryan. He still is my brother though not much older any more. In the summer of 1960 he was bullied or browbeaten or persuaded by our mother to take me along to the cricket club as I was alone and palely loitering.

Noel Grier, long before he became NJ, had decamped for a week to the distant, exotic holiday resort that Donabate then was. I did not stay after that first week. I knew Paddy Murphy (long before he became The Crow ) from school but everyone knew everyone else. I was tiny, withdrawn and an outsider and knew the aloneness of those whose names are never called when choosing teams.

Whatever, in 1960 I was eight and had started my teddyboy apprenticeship- albeit the smallest, most timid aspirant to teddyboyhood - and cricket did not belong in that image. I was a dab hand at filching fags from my mother’s pack of Bristol from much practice. I watched my future with their brylcreamed hair which needed the regular and frequent attention of the must-have fashion accessory of ‘60, the steel comb. I could stand on one leg with the sole of my other foot flat against the wall of any corner.

Clontarf Vacation League Winners 1963

When Noel and I were flush with funds, should we happen upon some lemonade bottles worth thruppence each, or better still a Cidona bottle worth fourpence, we might share sitdown chips in The Lido and I would select Billy Fury on the jukebox. I was well on my way while still beyond terrified of the ‘others’ the others were those who did not live in Clontarf. I did not know then if there was life east of Clontarf but knew that north of Clontarf was Killester whose very name spoke volumes. To the west was the city, only to be visited with parents though we had explored the villages in between. Beyond the railway bridge was Fairview, though some called it Marino, and we had been to the Fairah cinema. This was grand as the bus stop was directly outside, the presence of adults protecting us from the local ne’er-do-wells. We did venture to the Killer regularly but Noel never allowed us to wallow at the end of a film there, had us out and down the road to sanctuary before the end of the credits.

Once we went to the Strand. We went to see the most recent John Wayne but all I saw was a sea of bullet-headed gurriers, each of whom terrified me. While Noel was tall, brave and slow I was small, windy and fast; not a great combination when trying to maintain dignity (Noel)/ beat a hasty retreat(me). If running backwards was an Olympic sport I’d have been unbeatable that afternoon, covering the distance to Annesley Bridge, which proved to be some barrier to the b-h gurriers, faster than the bikes and busses. Had John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis been in the Strand cinema in person I would not have gone back.

Later that year JB brought me out to Sutton proving that there was some life east of Clontarf but we passed cows so we were in the country, no place for a teddyboy with an L plate. In 1961 our mother and Mrs. Grier connived and persuaded JB to try once more, this time the two of us. He brought us up to the hard nets which were busy and we knew some of them. Paddy Murphy was back and there were others from Beller whom we knew who drifted away over time and are long forgotten. Gerry Murphy, Tim Donovan, Kevin Harding. We found our place, the group opened and accepted two more over the following days. Morning, noon and night is a much overused term to the point of cliché but that was when we played, or began to learn, cricket on days of endless sunshine. Like Camelot rain only fell in Clontarf while we slept.

The match started every morning. There was one old ball and a couple of raggedy bats so the ball was beyond precious. Behind us wherever we played was a hedge as dense, forbidding and prickly as those protecting sleeping beauty. If the ball made it to the hedge it was very difficult to find, all were drafted in to search for it so shots behind the wicket were banned and resulted in automatic dismissal. There were some disagreements. Cohorts went through year after year unwilling to cut or pull and entirely unaware of the leg glance and late cut. Those posted to backward point and backward of square were there to protect the ball as the batsman had forfeited his wicket already. The wicket was a jumper which the batsman tried to narrow while the wicket keeper tried to nudge it wider, necessitating much honour about bowled and run outs. There were some disagreements. LBW was ignored. JB, Anto McRedmond, StJohn Connolly,, Finnian Lennon and Denis O’Kelly dominated.

Below those and having some status were David Delaney, Spud Murphy, Brian Evans, Peter Daly and Norman Kirwan occasionally. Of the rest Finbarr Crowley while young had some status as he was quick, left arm and nasty to face. The motley remainder had no status but were unaware of that, we were thrilled to be allowed to play. We never bowled, rarely batted, always fielded and might have to field against our own team if too few had turned up. I remember sharp criticism of those who had the sense to let screamers hit by Anto or Finn or whoever pass. If the ball got to the square the glower of Paddy Cody was added.

In ‘61 the game started in late June and finished in late August when the big fellas prepared to return to secondary school and their long trousers and we returned to Beller. The match started beside the lower sight screen, the purpose of which was a mystery to most and the initiated would not explain. The sight screen was wooden, white and solid. The top had to be hoisted into place before each match and lowered later, the reveille and taps of a cricket match then. The game moved clockwise over the weeks to reach the top screen but never beyond and the mantra - no play in front of the pavilion - was drilled into us. While it was one long, unresolved match there was a daily ritual of a toss and choosing teams. The raggle taggle bunch of 8-12 year olds was distributed with indifference after the third or fourth choice. Some were disgruntled by this but I knew this as fate and just as this was my lot whenever we played football. Both captains wanted Finbarr Crowley as we had no pads. Some day during this nine-week match each of us experienced being chosen rather than merely assigned and we knew that we had made it, made it to the top, ignoring any niggle that it might be a day of smaller turnout.

Paddy Cody

Paddy Cody was the groundsman and much more. It is likely that he was in his fifties in 1961 but looked eighty, maybe he looked fifty at twenty. His face was crease upon crease, line upon line, weathered to autumn chestnut dark brown. His forehead was wrinkled just right to keep the sun out of his eyes as his cap was a decoration or kept his head warm. He was agile and slow moving, indeed moved like a countryman though he was a Dub. He had a fearsome look and a knowing head. He knew that our game would leave scratches on his outfield, otherwise pristine and presented as only commitment and pride can. But he also knew that we had to play to learn, to be enveloped by cricket, to learn its etiquette and the mores of the club so it would become our club. His growled comments and mutterings were almost always leavened with tolerance and understanding of boys; we all recognised the other times immediately and did not argue.

Somehow JB or Anto or someone knew when to move the crease on to the next patch of the half of the ground available to us. The area of the grass nets was forbidden for play though the nets were only erected on Tuesdays and Thursdays, immediately after Paddy had cut, rolled and marked two wickets for that evening’s practice. Paddy drafted some helpers though he always drove in the stakes and tightened the ropes, I often watched jealous of those asked, no told, to help. The grass nets were out of bounds but there is no word or combination of words in English to convey how verboten the square was and the big fellas had the courage of our convictions to send one of the disposables to fetch a ball which trickled onto that holy ground. Paddy had eyes like an octopus has legs, at least eight and two always focused on the square. We all felt the bore of these on us, mostly once, some - the foolish - more than once. We revered Paddy, maybe loved him.

The match was interrupted each weekend as the adults wanted to play. New heroes - Ernie Bodell, swift and purposeful of stride, always in a hurry, shining specs, bristling and individual moustache, I could have hidden in his bag with room over, a bag consistent with its owner. Johnny Bell, the captain, who wore his collar up so some of us did also until slagged out of that. Mick Moffett, Roy Buckley who bowled improbably slowly but always got wickets and smiled shyly when he did. Vinny Savino recognised me one day and greeted status rose. Gerry Kirwan who looked young enough to be playing with us during the week was described by Anto as piss-quick, a description I did not share with my mother, Podge Hughes, enough Carrolls for half a packet of fags. New heroes to watch, to dare to wonder, to wonder could I ever???

The only building I knew to be older than the pavilion was St. John’s church on Seafield Road, though Mr. O’Donnell looked much the same age as the pav. A. A. O’Donnell never became Allan and rightly so. AA or Asquared was a regular and frequent sight, fascinating to all small boys because of his damaged hand and soon fascinating because he just was. His presence and the ever present Paddy Cody made the grounds safe, though likely we were parents ourselves before we realised that. Our mothers knew the value of our safety and the treasure of our obsession. The pav was wooden, dark, dusty, interesting. The piano had a jaded look, the look of a piano which was built old. The following year the vandals tore down the pav and replaced it with a vulgarity the entrance to which was a men’s jax which always reeked the way the slashery in Beller did.

AA O'Donnell

The Aussies toured in ‘61 so we discovered tests on the wireless, how to tune in the third programme from the BBC which we had all avoided hitherto as all it broadcast was fat oulwans singing in languages we did not know or music for funerals. Once I heard the Lone Ranger music but that was a mistake, obviously. Thursday 11.30a.m through to Tuesday (Sunday a rest day) interrupted only by the sea area forecast - Cromarty and Dogger, eleven miles, 1,024, rising slowly. I developed adoration: Benaud, Davidson, Harvey, Burge, Grout and Arlott Trueman comes in from the Nursery End/ the Kirkstall Lane end bowling right arm FAST. His voice stayed in my head all through that summer and through the bleak winter, another of cricket’s invisible hooks stealthily inserted in me in that summer of endless sunshine.

I fell in love that summer, in August when I had just turned ten, and may well still be, with Mary O’Riordan, sixty years later. I never told her, should I now - no I still fear the rejection, better leave it unsaid, maintain hope. Mary is the sister of Alec, Alec who was spoken of in hushed awe, known to be more god than man, indeed would have graced an Athenian thoroughfare and was from Clontarf. Even a small boy could recognise how handsome he was, so handsome we could have watched him in a film in the Fairah on a Saturday afternoon. But Mary was more beautiful than Alec was handsome and one day when Noel and I were walking home through the lane Mary greeted me by name...”hello Rossa” was all it took. I blushed as never before or since and my heart beat so loudly I was sure that Mary could hear it as she passed. That bowsie Grier slagged me all the way home but I did not mind, protected by the shield of love, unrealisable love but all the sweeter for that.

Gerry Murphy had a bat, not just any old bat but one made for Keith Miller as this sticker below the splice informed us. In the summer of 61 it was quite dark blonde, already in its second season of use and ownership, but over the next few years it darkened to a streaky Cadburys milk tray from the application of linseed oil and endless use. The bat had a sweet spot wider than itself, it was Excalibur, clicky ba and John Wayne’s Winchester 73 rolled into one harrow size of shaped willow and we understood what coveting means. Gerry also had a cricket ball – he was popular. One day he brought a football but that was alien and after a couple of minutes desultory kickabout it was put behind the sight screen. Football was for winter, to be played on the road while watching out for a policeman cycling up the road to award us our probation act. Street football was safe; there were no cars.

Paddy Cody sent us home in October. I was less inclined to teddyboyhood though traces of the attraction remained. The following March Noel and I could not wait any longer. With a hand-medown bat from JB and a composite ball – Christmas present – we strode confidently into our club, henceforth called ‘the club’. We had to brush the snow off the hard wickets; while that warmed our shorts clad legs our hands froze through our woolly mittens. Our first net of the season set a pattern which persisted for years, Noel batted and I bowled. Noel was a much better bat than I, better at 11 than I would ever become, difficult to dislodge and singularly persuasive that no, the ball had hit the net below the line. Grumbling I went back and bowled again. Some days by the time I got him out the snow or rain would have started or threatened. On other days if I got him out he got me out quickly so I was back bowling. Thinking back I wonder if I had been a better bowler or Noel a lesser batsman might I have been an all-rounder. Hmmmmmmm

The season started officially with a schoolboy AGM. We had gathered in April but were sent home by Paddy Cody as the pitch was too soft. We were allowed through the gates in May but only onto the hard nets, still not allowed onto the outfield. We were allowed one day, indeed we were told, to report to Paddy Cody on the Saturday morning. Paddy told us that a type of grass was growing on the pitch which the mower could not catch to cut so we were to dig these out. We were given an ice pop stick or an old knife or a fork, shown what to look for, arrayed from the bottom to the top of the pitch on the pavilion side and set to gleaning the pitch, and army on its knees heading west. We did more after luncheon and the really small boys, me included, were set on the wickets. When we finished about eight we were thanked by an oulfla , introduced as the president, and given a packet of Tayto and a glass of mi- wadi orange.

Many of the boys from the previous year reappeared and much to my delight, new younger boys joined giving me the status of veteran. We knew what would happen so we had our subscription, five shillings for us, 10 bob for those over 14. Noel was declared captain of the under 12‘s and the rest hardly mattered. We paid our sub and got our membership card with the legend Admit ..................... to all matches. I carried my card around, shifting it from pocket to pocket, until it was threadbare. It did not survive a wash cycle and I was devastated. I asked JB would I be allowed into matches. JB laughed and I squirmed.

Five shillings was a bit of a deal and Noel and I had to justify the expenditure to our parents, guaranteeing that we would stay for the whole season. Five whole shillings, 60 pennies, called d, one quarter of a £pound when £pounds were near myth. 6d got sit- down chips in the Lido, 4d got a packet of Tayto, three for Perri, an eight square bar of Cadburys was 6d, that summer the Superman comics went up from 6d to 6 1/2d but the Hotspur remained at 6d. Bunty and Judy could have been free for all they mattered, they were only fit for cat litter. 2d got you to Fairview on the bus and 4d in to see a film, usually two with the main feature on second. For 6d you got a balcony seat and we almost always did that after a boy a few seats behind us jumped up screaming – they’re pissing down on me. They were. My parents kept me from children who were rough, but not always. The bus fare to town was 3d and a 64er –64 page war comic – cost a full shilling, 12d. From these we learned German, that German soldiers – always called Krauts – said Donner und Blintzen or Gott in Himmel as they were done to death by brave Tommies, Steve or Joe. Comics were expensive and tradeable and went through many hands. Five shillings was a big deal Meet at the bars. It was many years before that meant anything other than meeting at the end of the cricket club lane on Stiles Road, to get the bus from Howth Road for an away match.

(Selected for coaching at Lord's)

We had not played competitively against another Club in 61 but in 62 we played for the under 12‘s. Home matches were on a well cut, marked and prepared wicket about 15 yards up from the lower sight screen. For away matches we met at the bars. We watched as they walked in our gates, they watched us into Observatory Lane, Park Avenue, Sydney Parade, Anglesey Road. First the 54A bus to Abbey Street – be careful of two way traffic. Easy to get the number three bus from O’Connell Street but be careful if crossing Eden Quay – two way traffic – to get to Westmorland Street to get the number 16 bus to Rathmines. No traffic lights. There was a wonderful chipper at the end of Observatory Lane but who had 6d? How did we get to Merrion? 54A bus to Fairview, cross at the bottom of Malahide Road to pick up the 42 outside the tech – a hive of gurriers. We never had an adult with us. How did we get to the civil service ground where we played against half a dozen Yates-Hales and some others?

I remember the walk up when we got off the bus too early at Kingsbridge station. We were not all of an age. Noel was the oldest, then me, Bill Cunningham, Bernie Daly (later Ben) Sid Mullins (known as Brian in another sport) but sometimes Collie Daly played and he was only six. We met Frank and Jim Kenny and the wonderful in many ways Mrs Kenny in Rathmines and I loved their pavilion. Frank and Maurice Whelan dominated Railway union along with Archie. Typically I cannot remember Pembroke except Terry Dunne who had played with us in Clontarf. Eddie Lewis and Johnny O’Hagan in Merrion. Johnny knocked us over the fence so we saw the amazing garden with the globe.

In Malahide we played the milky bar kid, Barry O’Brien, Gilly and a little Gilly. Leinster and Malahide were great as we got fed. Getting home was a bit trickier. Easy getting into town but be careful about the Malahide bus which only came every never are so. Cross O’Connell Street to the 54A bus stop. Someone may have a penny or tuppence to spend in Reynolds. If we were at the top of the queue we jumped on, dumped the gear in the cubbyhole and ran upstairs, three or 4 to a seat, 30 adults, no windows open. 30 adults smoking. By the time we got to our stop we had inhaled three fags or more.

We watched a lot of matches as we had given up the pretence of any life other than cricket . We saw mostly the firsts or seconds on Saturdays and the 3rds 4ths and 5ths on sundays. We watched Greg Ledwidge keep wicket to Noel Taylor, standing up directly behind the stumps. Noel was very quick and bowling off the wrong foot must have added considerably to the confusion of batsmen. We tried to imitate him in the nets but never mastered the skill. We were told why Greg stood up to all bowlers – including Gerry Kirwan – and were embarrassed for a second or two, then went back to admiring his batting and wicket-keeping even more. We had watched the seconds in 61 in the cup final but failed to appreciate how wonderful the match was. We became more discerning in 62 when we were invited to be scorers. Noel scored for the seconds and then the firsts and poor, kindly, gentle Donal O’Sullivan allowed me score for the thirds. Noel had amazingly neat, legible handwriting while I had the amazingly bit only.

But the thirds had the great advantage to an insular, cocooned Clontarf dweller of Rudy Dworzak and Ishmael Minti - he never said call me Ishmael, I would not have understood. Rudy was from Sierra Leone and Ishmael from South Africa, such exoticism and both on one team. My father had served with the United Nations in Congo but that was over there; Rudy and Ishmael were over here. Ishmael had a smiling face and eyes, always cheerful. Even a small boy could recognise that Rudy had a wicked sense of humour. Noel and I traded stories after matches and Noel told me that Gus and Mick and others would speak to him and I asked again and again - what did he say?

The Clontarf side of 1969 containing Rossa Bunworth

Our training as scorers was rudimentary, we learned from doing, some better than others. One Sunday I was scheduled to score for the thirds in Leinster and Noel and I mooched up at the appointed time, Noel intending to stay in the club to watch whoever. Donal was in quite a flap – two late cry-offs and two chances of finding replacements, only one of which could be written. He asked us how long it would take to get our gear and we were back before he could change his mind. We fielded third man and fine leg, attentive and obedient to every instruction. We got some kindly applause with no appreciation that it was kindly and revelled in it. We got tea at the players table, not at the scorers table, thrill piled upon thrill, experiences to be filed away and savoured again when we told Paddy and Gerry and spoken of over the winter. Noel was put in to bat number 10 so I was number 11. Within two hours I was leaving the sanctuary of the lovely old pavilion, padded up by Jim Kenny senior from their schoolboy supplies and allowed to use one of their Harrow bats. Down those steps, which I came to know and love almost as much as the club, with words of encouragement from Donal and the others.

The Leinster players, who all seemed to be giants, entered into the spirit of that gloriously sunny summer Sunday evening, welcomed me to the crease and bowled some gentle stuff to us. Noel dealt with this and knew enough to pinch the bowling and dealt with the next over and the next. The humour became less and they dismissed one of us – I allowed my memory to erase that detail – and the Leinster players and our team applauded us off that lovely pitch. Someone bought us chips in the second best chipper we knew of and had the thoughtfulness to bring us back to the club so we could drop casually into the conversation some of the thousand details of the match. We floated home.

We got no formal coaching. We bowled, batted, fielded all day except when it rained, which happened more than 61. We played our match around the edge of the ground but some of the big fellas seemed less inclined than they had been the previous year. I began reading cricket books. For the first time I accompanied my mother willingly to the library in Fairview , also known as Marino – safer in the summer as the gurriers from the tech and the bowsies from Joeys were wherever they were incarcerated when not in detention. My mother must have spoken to the librarian as the selection increased and became more appropriate. Somewhere and somehow I got a book with the scorecard of every Ashes test from the first through to 1956.

Benaud and Davidson had made me an Aussie fan and the bowling of Fred Trueman had bonded me to Yorkshire. I read through the scorecards regularly and often – just 10 more, then I’ll do my chores/ekker . Those names, Spofforth and Trumper to Lindwall and Miller through McLaren, McCabe, O’Reilly, Ponsford and Armstrong and Bradman – as though the world had waited for Bradman. For England – enough Graces for every meal and supper, CB Fry, Wooley, Tyldesley, and Jessop, Hendren, and Douglas with four initials, the other Douglas – Jardine – boooo. Larwood, Voce, Sutcliffe, Hobbs and Hammond, Rhodes, Verity and Hutton, Compton and Edrich, Laker and Lock.

For Christmas I got a narrative of the Ashes and knew those matches better than any school subject. Over the autumn/winter of 61 and spring of 62 I had grown from very small to just small so I was able to bowl quicker. I liked the sense of purpose walking back through my run-up, Gerry or Tim shouting the local rule – no passing the end of the tarmac. I must have also liked the menace their shouts anticipated. I knew cricket as a team game but also as a game of individual performances, a game with nowhere to hide from oneself , a team game with a separateness for each, each with a specialty and back-up skill, opener and slip, wicket-keeper and bat, bat and spin bowler, quick bowler and fine leg. I noted the aloneness, the oneness, the singularity of fast bowling and that I liked these and other elements. If I was going to bowl fast I needed the heavy, ankle protecting boots of a fast bowler, my first pair an early birthday present. 54A bus into lower Abbey Street stop, outside Wynne’s hotel, across into Elvery’s beside the 54A bus stop to get me home. The studs came in a bag in the box, as well as the implement needed and shaped to insert these. I knew the drill. Old newspapers in the bottom of the bath, soaked but not running water, the boots weighted sole down on these overnight. I tried the boots next morning, perfectly prepared and ready to receive the studs. The sole dried over the next two days, locking in the studs which never fell out. Somewhere in a North Dublin dump, maybe 100 feet below the surface, is a thoroughly rotted pair of cricket boots with the studs still attached.

We got to see Ireland versus Pakistan in Trinity that summer. Dublin was a stage beyond monochrome then but we had Ishmael and Rudy so we were much more sophisticated. We knew the names – Hanif, Mushtaq, Intikhab – from listening to the Tests.

Days were all the same, all different that Summer. After breakfast collect Noel, meet Paddy on the way, swing by the bars, through the lane to the gates, the merest hint of a pause at the gates to allow the thrill of the sight of the ground course through me. Home when we were told to or hungry. Same at 2 pm, same at 7 pm until the curfew tolled the knell of parting day and we headed home.

In 62 we were absorbed with and by the club and bonded to it. The die was cast, there was no removing those hooks.