The short term memory is shocking, keys regularly left in the door while it seems the cooker needs someone to actually switch it off. That someone more often than not is not me. On a positive note, events of half a century can be recalled without hesitation.
So today let us go back to those simpler times. Everything changed for the young cricketer of the Leinster region in 1974. Okay that's not quite true, it changed for primarily the male youth cricketer. The reason for this was that the Leinster Cricket Union belatedly acknowledged that it had a role in the promotion of youth cricket and created a Schoolboy committee. The girls would take a good bit longer to be taken under their wing, partially in the 1990s and fully in the 2000s. That took too long but it is a debate for another day.
Previously there was an under 19 club competition, dating back to Vacation cricket in the 1950s and some ad hoc games at under 14 and 16. But from 1974 the Schoolboy Branch ran organised games at a selection of (under 13,15 and 18) levels as well. Niall McConnell of Railway was the first Chairman with Pembroke's Michael Moriarty acting as Secretary.
Leinster took the first 18s title while Clontarf and Carlisle were victors at 15s and 13s respectively as youth cricket in Leinster began. In Clontarf, we were well served, with coaching overseen by Brian Bunworth and Bill Dalton Brown. Brian is even now still well known in Leinster and indeed Irish cricket circles but perhaps Bill is a little less familiar. A Trinidadian, who married an Irish girl, Bill worked for Esso in Ireland after arriving on these shores in the late 60s. He played mainly on the 2nd team where he was a fine operator. He was also one of the early group of qualified coaches and even at such a remove the memory is of an exceptionally nice and kind man.
Clontarf side featuring Brian Bunworth and Bill Dalton Brown
We were indeed lucky to be in such hands. So on a Friday night we would head to Castle Avenue for our coaching. Friday was also the night for the recently reintroduced Women's Leagues, so growing up at that time we were very familiar with the outstanding Clontarf side including Marie Coffey, Mary Taafe, Annie Murray, Mary Hackett, Kay Lambert and of course our own contemporary Stella Owens. It was quite a side, the names who 50 odd years later still are fresh in mind.
The playing area was not as crowded as you might think, the numbers attending these coaching sessions were very manageable, nothing like the hordes which descend on training days now. But Fridays in Castle Avenue were still an "occasion", a social night for the adults, the chicken draw brought in a few who might be looking for a Sunday roast and certainly for a small group of young cricketers, possibly the highlight of the week. I wonder how I ended up there, certainly there was a cohort who might be on a daily basis in the nets but quite how word reached Raheny, I am not so sure. Nevermind my brother and myself were in and the fun began.
In my memory, and I accept that that might still be a questionable resource, my first ever game was against Rush, at home on the side square (car park end) where all the under age games took place. And for the younger folk, on a surface that you will eventually discover, grass. I could make a decent stab at the under 13 team that played that day, certainly John Forrest was captain. Johnny Daly was there too, even though he was only about 7, it seemed he would never get to move up an age group, he started so young. Peter Prendergast and Peter Duggan definitely played along with Dessie, the younger Duggan brother. And Mickey Fitz (Fitzsimmons) more than likely. Paul Milner would have been there, he always was and Kenneth Walsh, a character of whom we were all truly terrified. Padraig McTiernan and Johnny Barry whose houses backed onto the ground must have been in. Including myself, that's 11, Canice was probably overage and maybe Mario decided he was playing and bumped one of the others off the side.
Selection I can be certain was not a scientifically thought out process, being available was key, living in touching distance certainly helped. As years went on others came, the big oaf McClean for one, very few went. Kinky Byrne (don't ask, no idea why he was so called) another from Castle Grove was one who arrived, a decent player too but an even better golfer. However it was as a caddy he has made his name, under his real name Colin Byrne, he has caddied for some world class golfers, helping them to win Majors on the way. His Irish Times writings have been among the best pieces in the sports section in recent years.
No different to these days, parents bore a lot of the workload, weekend games meant they provided the transport and sometimes dubious umpiring skills. My Dad was one of those, he certainly was at square leg for two of my three consecutive hit wickets (and you think you have problems with LBW). Those dismissals are ingrained in my memory, a poorly executed pull shot off Peter O'Reilly, a much too exuberant cut shot in Malahide that took all 3 stumps out of the ground and a frankly dodgy decision by Dad in CYM when I trod on my stumps (not in the act of playing a shot Dad).
I am not so sure how good we were, the winning or losing of games is not particularly clear but we thought we were deadly. It is hard to know how many games we played in a year, there are no fixtures listed in the LCU handbooks till later but no doubt the Schoolboy Secretaries in Clontarf of that era, Dick Forrest and Mickey McTiernan kept us busy enough. And with small enough numbers around, we, the younger ones, played at most if not all age groups. For mid week away games we would meet at the Bars (a barrier at the end of the lane on the Stiles Road) where now you will find Stiles Court and get a bus to whatever club.
We knew all the bus routes intimately back then. No parents, no adults, just a gang of us and a gear bag of dodgy kit, simpler times indeed. We had some laughs, Pete Duggan attempting (but failing) to land a ball in the tennis courts in CYM, he was bowling not batting or Mickey Fitz’s wonder catch at gully in Pembroke (while fast asleep) stand out but there were many many more.
Even if we were not occupied with a game there were always the nets, where stump tests were always available. There were a few who were stump test kings (small k). Many newbies were invited into the nets on the pretext of a friendly game of stump test. Trust me there is no such thing as a friendly game of stump test. Unaware of the rules the game could be manipulated by these cold hearted mercenaries and if the poor newcomer actually came back the second day as Prendergast or Daly moved into the 300s, well then they were a keeper (not necessarily one behind the stumps, but you know what I mean). Most never came back on Day 2, more lost to the game. Stump test was a place of great innovation, before the Sky Sports commentators discovered that word.
If you have ever seen Riyan Parag’s bowling action, well Padraig McTiernan was doing that in the 70s and calling it the ducky ball. The sun didn't always shine back then I can confirm, oftentimes we were forced to abandon our outdoor exploits and repair to the lounge where a TV was installed. However in doing so we ran the risk of upsetting the club caretaker, Joe. He was pretty intolerant of any not old enough to stand him a drink and pesky kids were high on his list of ner do wells On a particularly wet day we were advised to go shelter in the nets as the rain poured down. Richie Smith loved that story, still does I bet.
One of the highlights of the season, year, was the u13 blitz which took place in Old Belvedere every year. It had started in Leinster C.C. but access to more pitches in Cabra meant that as additional clubs got involved all could be accommodated. It was a fantastic day for us kids, there for 10am and games all day, packed lunch to keep you going. If you played in one of those Blitzs, you will always have a soft spot for The Cabra Oval, it might be hidden deep but it's there.
And that brings up the thorny concept of opposition, as Old Belvedere were the powerhouses of the era. They had an immediate advantage in that all of their team were schoolmates and played together in already powerful and winning school sides. The other advantage was that they had a dedicated and brilliant coach in Robin Waters or just simply Robin to all. Not just a great coach but a tough task master and he produced top class sides year on year. Again I could name their team without much thought and there would be O’Reillys, McGraths, O’Gormans, Tuckers, Hills, Priors. They rarely seemed to be just one of those boys. They were the team to beat but we didn't have much success against them.
An under 13 Northside play off is etched on my brain. We put them in, they got 160 odd in their 20 overs (bowling figures for mise? 5-0-65-0). Peter O’Reilly got 90 odd, I was sure he got a 100 but he tells me no, felt like he did, I can tell you. Oh and in response, we got 10. Not our finest hour.
On another occasion, we were scraping for our lives in a game as the light ran out so Robin got the OB parents to turn on their car headlights in reply to our pleadings for bad light. They won that one too. But revenge was sweet, an under 18 semi final in Cabra when Richie Smith inspired us to a famous victory, one that was joyous for us but baffling for our opponents. Did not help us in the final, we lost that to Merrion, but never mind, we always had the semi final win to relive over and over again.
The most annoying thing about the Belvo lads was that they were a decent lot. More annoying was that the Priors lived a decent pull shot away from Castle Avenue and it would have been a lot easier for the O’Reillys to get from Sutton to Clontarf (31 bus, Peter) than their trek up the Navan Road. Might have saved us some beatings. As I went to a cricket playing school, there were many familiar faces around the clubs, some I had played against from other schools, a good number were school and team mates. Jonathan Garth, Cuan Hanly, Alistair Blair and Lennie Sheahan were up in Leinster while Richard and his brothers Roger and Keith Davies spent their summers up in Carlisle. If you were playing in Claremont Road you would come across Colin Haine. Peter Aldis, whose Dad was an original Schoolboy committee member, was in CYM as it was then known. And Ian Walshe, Walshy who were you playing for back then?
But familiar faces were all around. And it made for a convivial time as we cemented friendship and discovered new ones. 1978 saw a bit of a rarity when Strabane brought under 14 and 16 teams to Dublin for a tour. This was unusual in many respects, not least the political unrest of the time. I vaguely remember the game Clontarf played against the North West opposition, but I know the details as Sean Pender of The Irish Times wrote a sizeable article about the trip.
Irish Times column from 1978
Familiar names abound in the piece, Keith Finlay, a star player of his generation, Alan Moorehead, Mark Gillespie, John Stevenson (who later played in Merrion) and a host of others including those of the Gallagher and Doherty families.. Clearly youth cricket was thriving all around the island. Michael Rea,when he landed in Clontarf would often talk longingly about the Graham Cup, the NCU under 15 cup. Longingly, as Bangor rarely won it, instead he spoke of batterings taken after another long, unsuccessful trip to the powerful Waringstown.
Loss, regret, disappointment all the making of a good novel. He got his happy ending too when Clontarf beat Waringstown by 10 wickets in an Irish Senior Cup game. Afterwards, he sat Alan Waite down in the bar and would not let him leave till his angst at a childhood destroyed, worked itself out. Gentleman that he is, Waitey sat there all night and took his punishment (secure in the knowledge that he had a draw full of Graham Cup medals and Reaso had none).
We wonder why young players sometimes struggle to adapt to senior or merely adult cricket, maybe just maybe it's because that form can never begin to compare to the wonderful times and memories of the formative years. .
Thanks for indulging me in this trip down memory lane, I must get back to the present, things to do etc etc, now where did I leave my keys?