A bit like the Irish weather forecast, 1990 would be good on occasions but with significant lows.
The 1990 season began on the 28th April and ended on the 15th September. Twenty one weekends, therefore, available for cricket matches. There was just one game in April, two in May so it was a slow start but for my club, Clontarf, it was a relentless series of games thereafter. In that season, we played 30 Senior games, 13 in the Leinster Senior League, 4 in the Leinster Senior Cup, 8 in the Wiggins Teape League and 5 in the Irish Senior Cup. That amounts to every Senior game that it was possible for us to play.
Modernists will wonder about the Alan Murray 20 overs but as I have mentioned previously this was not considered “Senior”, but for the sake of clarity, we played in two of those as well. The sharper amongst you will recognise that that means that we got to the final of the Leinster Cup, Wiggins Teape League (which was a league cup competition) and the Irish Senior Cup for good measure. We also managed 2nd in the league which indicates a high level of consistency.
The measure of a season is not always in the trophy cabinet but let's face it, it's nice. By that measure it was unfortunately only moderately successful however if you ask any Clontarf player, I have no doubt that they will judge 1990 as perhaps their favourite season. Double weekends, long road trips and success on the pitch make for a happy crew and for the best part of the season we were a very happy crew. There is so much to remember in a season like this, that this column will concentrate primarily on my own club since we were involved at the business end of all the competitions.
Of course, there were other things happening in the year, North County debuted in Senior cricket. An amalgamation of Man o' War and Balrothery they did well in their first season and brought some excellent cricketers and wonderful characters into the senior cricket world. In the wider sporting world it was the year of football’s Italia 90.
It was also when Botham and Hick came to town. Apologies but that involves Clontarf and Castle Avenue as well as the Irish games against their county, Worcestershire were played at the North Dublin venue. Both games were comfortably won by the visitors however the opening game was not without its moment of controversy when at 47 for 3, Warringstown’s Alan Nelson induced an edge from Graeme Hick and as you would expect, Paul Jackson took the catch. Cue an appeal and beginnings of a celebration.
However, Hick wasn't moving and Peter Lunney, the autograph collecting umpire decided that the good folk who had paid their money deserved to see more of the superstar batsman. Poor Nelly couldn't believe it, probably still can’t and he wasn't alone. Hick for the record went on to complete a 74 ball hundred, pretty sharp however his first 50 had taken a pedestrian 63 balls, you can do the maths on his second 50 yourself.
Back to the local stuff, Brendan Bergin came back as captain his first stint since 1985, leaving Alan McClean to concentrate on his batting. It worked out well for both. Alan had a terrific season scoring 861 league and cup runs, the most in the province. Courtesy of an anecdote in Irish Cricket Annual,I know that he also won a six hitting challenge in Carlisle. I had forgotten this but it was no surprise, Mighty could hit a big ball. However it contrasted to his efforts the previous weekend, which I all too well remember, when he batted 94 overs in the 3 interprovincial games for North Leinster when scoring a total of 77 runs. To be fair, this was an aberration, he was an attacking bat but the good people of Lisburn, Comber and Lurgan suffered that weekend, we try not to let him forget that.
We had just one change to our line up this year with the addition of Aussie, Peter Scolari. Pete had been in Clontarf with the University of New South Wales who toured and stopped in Castle Avenue for a game. He liked the place and when he decided to come to Ireland for a year, Clontarf was his choice. We were grateful for it, he bowled occasional leggies, batted in the top half and fielded magnificently. He brought the hard nosed Australian attitude to training, was ferociously competitive and before every game reminded us that “winners are grinners”. He was also a great bloke to such an extent that despite only being in Ireland for a year he is still regularly in contact with his captain of 33 years previous, Brendan Bergin. It was that type of season.
In such a season it might be easy to focus on finals which all had a lot of drama. In cup or league/cup competitions often there is as much drama in lead up as there is in the end game. Take the Irish Senior Cup run, along the way we beat Brigade, Phoenix, Waringstown and Woodvale to qualify for the final. It's a decent run of scalps, top teams from the North West, NCU and Leinster. We had a nice run of home games, it had to be said and maybe that is why the Woodvale game stands out.
Against Waringstown, we had been excellent, winning by an (even now) unthinkable 10 wickets. Against Woodvale, we were far from dominant, we had to scrap and fight to get over the line. Feargal O’Mahony dislocated his shoulder chasing a ball, not an ideal situation for your left arm spinner to find himself in. Then Brendan Bergin's hamstrings started twanging. Despite the pain and discomfort that he found himself in, he was there at the end in the final over to see us over the line, hobbling admittedly and into our first Irish Cup final. It is only a couple of hours down the road but what a trip home it was.
In the final, we were well beaten by an excellent Lurgan side. No excuses, they were the better team and Ross McCollum hit a magnificent and memorable 91 to set up the victory. Dessie Neill and Graham Hunter also batted superbly after we had got the dream start we…dreamed about in having Lurgan 2 for 2 with pro Kshirasgar back in the pavilion without scoring. Even before that, there had been some drama when Lurgan captain Gary McCollum had a selection decision to make. Incredibly, he opted to drop himself, handing a starting spot to Alan Woods and captaincy to Alan Johnston, who had made his international debut this summer in the Worcestershire series. Whatever the merits, it is probably the most selfless decision imaginable from Gary.
In the Leinster Cup, we had straightforward wins against Pembroke and North County in the early rounds. In the semi final against CYM, we had a wobble when chasing. Fifties from Michael Rea and Alan McClean seemed to set us up for a comfortable win but a flurry of wickets meant that wicket keeper Johnny Daly was needed to steady the ship and see us home by four wickets with just 9 balls left.
That meant another big day out against, yes you’ve guessed it, YMCA who were playing in their 4th final in 5 years. After the disaster of the 1987 cup final, we resolved to do better. We did but it wasn't enough. I won't rehash the details of the game, it has been done elsewhere. One could argue quite reasonably that we lost due to a remarkable performance from Alan Lewis (again) who scored 129 not out and took 6 for 36 with the ball.
A match winning performance without a doubt although Clive Davis who struck 60 not out also rubbed salt into our wounds that day. As an aside, at the end of this past season, it was great to meet Clive again in Claremont Road where he had always performed so well for his club, he is now resident in Kenya. However, 33 years on, I cannot let go the feeling that at 201 for 1 with just under 20 overs to go, we really should have won this one. Time has not been a healer.
The Wiggins Teape produced something special too. A semi final against, well you have probably guessed it already, so yes it was YM yet again. Of course it provided a chance to, at least temporarily, to get over the angst of the Cup Final. Batting first, we found ourselves in trouble at 44 for 4, big trouble. But up stepped Enda McDermott to rescue the innings. Enda was well known as a stylish left hander but when the occasion demanded or indeed the wicket demanded, he settled in and relied on excellent technique and patience to build an innings. Sheer bloody mindedness too. All of these attributes were needed that day. His 59 and some late hitting from Brendan Bergin and Feargal O’Mahony got us up to 177, a score but far from an imposing one.
The YM line up included 5 internationals in Angus Dunlop, Alan Lewis, Mark Nulty, Keith Bailey and Stuart Taylor. But opening bowler Brian MacNeice got Nulty in the third and soon after he bowled David Starkey (who had moved from Carlisle) leaving YM 18 for 2. It left Dunlop and Lewis at the wicket. Alan McClean caught Lewis and and by the time Dunlop nicked one to Johnny Daly behind the stumps, the score was 78 and all 6 wickets to fall were credited to MacNeice.
Eamon Masterson, Keith Bailey and Stu McCready all got starts and threatened to spoil our day, but Brian was in no mood to finish on the losing side. At 133 for 9, he had taken all the wickets to fall. Then McCready decided to come down the wicket to Gerry Kirwan, missed the ball and Johnny Daly after encouragement from Gerry took off the bails to complete the stumping and victory.
Brian’s final figures were 9 for 77 off 23 consecutive overs, a remarkable feat of skill and endurance in a pressure situation. The 10 wickets would have been very nice, a feat that has never been achieved in Clontarf senior cricket. Only Ernie Bodell managed to take 9 previously (Pembroke declared at that stage denying the opportunity to finish the job). Another WT final beckoned and the chance to finish this endless season with a trophy.
So it was off to Malahide CC again to play the final game, this time against Old Belvedere who had beaten CYM in their semi final. Belvo had had a great Wiggins Teape campaign and were a very good, well balanced side. Brendan Bergin opted to bowl on winning the toss, reasoning that we were better chasing (despite the evidence of the two finals to date) and that at this time of year, the wicket would likely become a bit easier through the day.
Belvedere started well with Peter O'Reilly and Johnny McGrath putting on 63 for the first wicket. Oddly both would be better known as opening bowlers rather than opening bats but they were good bats too, technically correct as befitting players coached by Robin Waters. The first wicket brought Anto Canavan to the crease, Anto was not just a very good wicketkeeper, he was an excellent batsman too. Belvedere serenely batted on, however our captain noticed that the rate was not increasing despite the comfort with which the opposition were playing. Their intensity was low so he took a gamble. He decided to spread the field and aim to limit the potential for boundaries. In doing so he backed his batting line up to chase whatever we were set.
I remember that Enda was not happy about this, he wanted to attack and try bowl the opposition out but Brendan was not for moving. I know now that in the lead up to the game, the Belvo management had looked at the stats and had reasoned that in past finals, 200 was a winning score and in most cases a winning score by some margin. Therefore, they set out their stall to get 200. There is logic to this position but you will find some logic in most theories, it just doesn't mean that they are correct. In fact Belvedere ended up with 201 and David O’Riordan top scored with a typically stylish 57 not out.
The telling statistic was that in scoring 201 they only lost 4 wickets. In reality they left runs behind them and that's criminal in a final. In hindsight I am sure that they will accept this. At the half time tea, therefore, both sides were happy. The records will show that 201 was not enough, we chased down the total losing no wickets, in the 39th of the allotted 50 and in doing so Peter Prendergast and myself set a club 1st wicket record.
Of course it was as straightforward as that, O’Reilly bowled a quick and testing opening spell, we availed of moments of good fortune but confidence grew as the innings went on, in just about the same proportion as confidence ebbed from Belvedere. For a large chunk of time, I had opened with Peter Prendergast, so it was nice to set the record with him. He was an easy person to bat with, end of over chats rarely ventured into the technicalities more often as he has described, a type of check in, sometimes a joke but just as often, a glance, a nod and turn back to our respective spots with no words exchanged. Being comfortable enough to say nothing is a crucial part of any partnership.
So a long season ended with a trophy and Pete Scolari was right, we were winners and finally we were grinners.
Brendan Bergin receives Wiggins Teape trophy from Arthur Vincent (L) and John Wright(r)
Footnote: in the 1989 review I mistakenly referred to a CYM batsman as Sean Moore, players of the era will have spotted this and noted that it should have been Sean Clarke, a particularly gifted batsman from the Terenure club, apologies.