The best thing about team sport is that you have teammates. I often wonder about individual sports people and the lonely life of their chosen pastime. Perhaps it suits them. But it was team sport for me, cricket in the summer, rugby in the winter. What a treat, 10 teammates in the sun and a whopping 14 in the muck and rain.
While this article will concentrate on the cricket aspect, I should acknowledge my rugby teammates as well. It's fair to say that I was amongst the grumpiest scrum halfs to have played the game but when you are also one of the smallest, personal protection becomes, at times literally, a matter of life and death. I demanded their protection, that I still can stand, walk and talk is testament to the outstanding job they did in keeping me safe for those years. I've never said it to them but I am eternally grateful (and sorry about the grumpiness).
In cricket, over all my years there have been hundreds of teammates but looking back, it's fair to say that two stand out. The history goes back, in one case as far as our respective cricket histories goes, the other joined the party a little later. When I first landed in Castle Avenue, there was a relatively small band of lads, including John Forrest, Pete Duggan, Padraig McTiernan, Johnny Daly and the Prendergast brothers Canice and Peter and one girl, the best cricketer amongst us Stella Owens.
This group lived in the cricket ground, they could usually be relied upon to be there, if not the local orchard was in a bit of bother. Peter in those days was a quiet lad, not surprising, in hindsight as he had only recently lost his father. He was also pretty small. It might be stretching it to say we were the best of buddies but we were the quieter lads in a gathering of noisy gits.
And given the dearth of players we ended up playing pretty much all the games the club had to offer. Of course in youth cricket of that and most eras, everyone did everything and Pete often found the ball tossed in his direction. He modelled his action on Aussie speedster Jeff Thompson, though it might have helped his accuracy if he had kept his head looking forward rather than skyward. Mind you, as a keeper I loved nothing more than a good legside dive, so I was happy at his occasional waywardness.
A few years later, a cousin of Johnny Daly's found his way into the club. Unlike Johnny, he was a big lad, a very big lad. At 13 he was about 6 foot 2. Unlike Johnny, he was pretty loud. Alan McClean had arrived. At that time Enda McDermott was nicknamed "The Mighty Atom" and in response Richie Smith, I think it was who named Alan as our " Mighty". The name stuck firm.
Virtually all of the cricket that I subsequently played had one of this pair in the line up, more often than not the two of them were in attendance. In retrospect, it seems that the vast majority of my good days involved the company of one of those two at the other end. That shouldn't be a surprise really, most players are at their most relaxed with people whose company they most enjoy.
On a good day in 1992, while Peter batted beautifully, I fretted and fumbled desperately trying to find some form in the biggest game of our year. At one stage, on the verge of tears, I met with Pete mid wicket, I unleashed my frustrations and in the process found the key. Peter said little, sometimes providing the listening ear is more than enough. Later that day, I was incensed when the opposition tried to claim a catch, a ball that bounced 2 yards in front of the fielder. Mighty enveloped me in a bear hug and let the rage ride out. In a McClean bear hug there was little other option. Alongside Peter, we had wrecked Old Belvedere's hope of a Wiggins Teape trophy when we chased down their then record score without losing a wicket.
With the winning of the game one scoring shot away, Peter played out a maiden, something that left myself and umpire Liam Keegan bemused. Bemused until I read in Karl Johnson's Evening Press report that he had done so deliberately to allow the winning of the game to be in my hands. It is the most humbling act I have experienced on a field of sport and I am ashamed that I didn't recognise the wonderful sportsmanship at the time. By the way, that report remains one of the most beautiful pieces of cricketing writing. I hope it works both ways though.
Mighty announced himself as a senior cricketer in 1987 in one of the great cup matches against an excellent Trinity side led by Michael Rea. On a baking day he smashed the ball all over Castle Avenue in one of the most joyful knocks ever played on the ground. It was clear to all watching that day, that the young player had arrived. His first hundred came in June of 1988 in Cabra. However he and 2 others of the team very nearly never made it to the game.
My brother had been married the day before in Courtown. Mighty was the driver so he took responsibility for getting David Fleming, a work colleague of my brother and another Clontarf player, and myself back on the morning of the game. However, not the most mechanically minded Mighty had not tightened the wheel nuts when replacing a punctured tyre on his car. The wheel was literally hanging off when we somehow arrived back in Dublin. Not a man to be worried about such things he went out and scored his maiden ton. Some might remember the day for the innings but most remember it as the day Ray Houghton scored a famous goal against a near neighbour.
I was with Mighty some of the way for another of his great 100s. This time against Pembroke in Sydney Parade. In a 110 over game Pembroke had opted to take the extra 5 overs over the usual 55 allowed them if they had been inserted to bat. Having opted to take the extra overs, bizarrely they seemed unwilling to make the most of the additional time to score, plodding along without increasing the scoring rate. The motivation, we reasoned, to be purely to deny us the time to bat and not to pile on extra runs. Eddie Dwyer finished 94 not out, a score that remains his highest senior effort. The 100 was there for the taking.
Initially mystified, I became increasingly angry at Pembroke's approach, to such an extent that I couldn't bring myself to go into the tea room where my parent's good work on instilling manners in their children would have been seen to have been wasted. Peter didn't get any that day but Mighty caught the mood and in his own inimitable way chased down the 240 runs needed in only 42 overs, chalking up his 100 as he won the game at a canter.
It took Peter longer to score his hundred. He had a reputation for playing nicely but getting out in odd ways. At one stage the pull shot was not only his best scoring shot but almost certainly a guarantee of getting out. He refused to cut it out, stubborn man that he is. So while not at the wicket, I was at the top of Castle Avenue, desperately needing a trip to the loo but fearful of hexing his knock if I moved, as he made his way to that first 100. In my memory, it was a pull shot off Malahide's Alan Brophy that brought up the landmark but that might be just how I want it to be. He will know, honestly he has the most extraordinary memory. In any case, the shot brought up raucous cheering and delight that he had got there. One of the most popular and celebrated debut hundreds.
Both were top class sportsmen outside of cricket. In 1984 the gang gathered in the club to watch Alan play for Dublin minors as they beat Tipperary to win the All Ireland final. As is customary the commentary for this game is "as Gaeilge" so it was tough to follow, no big screens in those days. When we pointed out to Mighty that he didn't seem to get much ball, he noted that he had been doing a lot of running off the ball, to make space for others, primarily the team's star player Jim Stynes, later of Aussie Rules fame. We got some mileage from that over the years
Peter played League of Ireland football for an exceptionally good UCD side, most of which went on to play in the European Cup. But he had stopped by then. He played instead for Killester United with great success and where he is still highly regarded. But the truth is that outside of cricket we saw little of each other's sporting lives. I did go see Peter play a Cup Final for Killester in Tolka Park, a game they won. My only memory is Peter taking a teammate aside and making his feelings known after he had heard him having a go at the referee. A good teammate sometimes needs to be honest as well.
Support of a teammate is one of the great privileges of team sport. A golfer outside of the professional game has no one on which to unload frustrations after a bad day but week on week, we see small pockets of cricketers wander around to the boundary ropes, raising the spirits of a forlorn colleague. Even on the pitch when a bowler is under the pump, you will see an arm around the shoulder, a pat on the back, an effort to raise the flagging spirits. Small gestures, no doubt but so much more meaningful than a nonsensical "backing you" public shout which merely emphasises to all and sundry that the bowler is under pressure.
A walk around the ropes with Mighty is always sure to bring a smile, even if at the time it's a grudging one, whereas with Peter the conversation could take any route. A highly intelligent character - if you don't believe me, ask him, he’ll confirm it - he is extremely well read and conversations designed to distract from the miseries of a cricket field can end up anywhere.
With this pair, there was so much more than on field memories. Christened " The gruesome twosome" they were a guarantee to an enjoyable night. Mighty is a gregarious character, much loved beyond the Clontarf parish. He seems to know everyone and even Pembroke forgave him his earlier hundred and brought him to Australia on tour, it's unlikely they were disappointed with their guesting tourist.
The wit of Peter is drier and more cutting and they worked like a double act. What they were not was a singing duo. At one stage it was normal for the still much missed Gerry Ring to miraculously find his guitar in the back of his car as the night became late. A fine musician and singer, Gerry didn't need the help of two loud and very out of tune backing singers. But that's what he got and his innate good nature never allowed him to dispense with their unwanted services.
There are many bar room stories involving this pair but that is for another day. As a new season approaches, take the time to look around your changing room. You will spend a lot of time with your teammates, make the most of it. Enjoy their company, help them if they need it, console them if that is what is needed, be honest with them, it sure beats flaccid platitudes.
If you are lucky you will have two like Peter and Alan.
If you are lucky.