At some stage over the winter of 1990/91 Dickie Spence approached me in his position as Chairman of Selectors to sound me out as to whether I would like to captain the Clontarf first team.
I imagine that I gave him an emphatic refusal at the initial approach. At the time, I was playing Division 1 AIL rugby for Old Wesley in the winter and during the summer was still trying to make my way on the Irish cricket team. It was a full plate, but Dickie, as well as being an absolute gentleman, was a hard man to refuse. I always accepted that at some stage I would have to do the captaincy but hoped it might be at a less busy time.
It is probable that all other avenues were exhausted and when he came back promising support and acceptance that during the later half of the season that my commitments would be shared with the rugby club (since there would be high profile games to celebrate Old Wesley's Centenary year) I reluctantly accepted the role. It was far from ideal for both parties.
I decided to keep a cricket diary for the season, so over 30 years on, I am transported back via my own words and thoughts and in particular, frustrations. I was not a good captain and indeed never did the job again but the time and pressures meant that despite a successful season, for me it was not a particularly enjoyable one.
We started poorly but improved throughout the season. Michael Rea was our best batsman which was a remarkable feat considering that he spend most of his weekdays in Mayo and only was back for the weekend games. With an average in excess of 57, he won the Marchant Cup and was the backbone of our league title push. In the end we won the league with a game to spare. The win was confirmed by the 24th August (remember this was the early season competition but refixes took forever to arrange) when Merrion drew with 2nd place YMCA meaning we could not be overtaken.
That however only tells a part of the story. Firstly this was a 110 over game, 55 each however if a team were inserted they could bat 60 overs. Since YM needed a victory to stay in the title they set a target, 187, as quickly as they could, 46 overs and declared, leaving Merrion a whopping 64 overs to chase down the target. Alan Lewis took out the top 3 and at that stage Merrion decided that they were not going to play ball and shut up shop. At the end of the 64th over that they had faced, they had a grand total of 54 for the loss of 7 wickets.
Clontarf’s Johnny Daly and Feargal O’Mahony had taken themselves out to Anglesea Road to watch the game. In keeping with the tradition of Irish cricket watchers, they lapped the pitch and while things were going well (for Clontarf anyway) they kept walking. Well they never stopped and never took the smile off their faces either. There were some interesting bowling figures that day. Stewart Taylor, a classical left arm spinner who had made his Irish debut a month before, bowled 17 overs, 14 of them were maidens and he took 2 wickets at a cost of 4 runs. Thanks Merrion, you did us a favour that day.
The following week I received a lovely letter of congratulation from Louis Jacobsen. Louis J as he was known to us had played for Clontarf first team from 1944 to 1960. In that time the league had not been won, despite some exceptional players in the team, so he understood just how difficult it was to come out on top, it was a lovely gesture on his part.
The standout performance in the league was when Alun Brophy of Malahide took all 10 Merrion wickets in their game in April. It was the first time since 1942 that the feat had been achieved and not only was Alun the youngest to do it (20) he also bowled 8 of his victims. A remarkable achievement. The same year, North County’s Joe Murphy and Railway’s Alan Corcoran took 9 wickets in an innings. Some decent bowlers back then.
The Cup saw a YM and Leinster final played at Castle Avenue. YM had cruised through the rounds, beating Clontarf, Merrion and Pembroke without breaking sweat. Leinster had seen off Phoenix and The Hills before facing North County in their semi.
As an aside, North County had beaten Rush in an earlier round. Now Rush were a Senior 2 side, permitted entry to the cup and in their ranks was one Alf Masood, formerly of Phoenix. It was a tight derby game in which North County won the bragging rights.
The semi final was a tight affair, played in the Nevitt, the former home of North County and Man o’ War before them. Sean Pender of The Irish Times reported that the Leinster fielding was crucial to their winning of the game by just 2 runs, crediting Joe Byrne and Tom McDonnell with some outstanding fielding during the course of the game. However in the final over, he felt that Gerry Delany’s fielding had saved at least 6 runs and was key to the victory
And so to the final played in Castle Avenue. Unfortunately for Leinster the semi final was the last game played by their visiting Australian batsman Geoff Lewis and how they missed him. YM had batted first and scored 236 for 6 in their 60 overs. Would it surprise you to hear that Alan Lewis got another Cup Final 100? He got 124 in 153 balls after Paddy O’Herilhy had given Leinster a great start by dismissing Ian Burns and Angus Dunlop early.
The Leinster reply never got going. With a line up of 4 international bowlers, it was the non international who took the plaudits on this occasion. Neil Bailey took 4 for 19 in his 12 overs and effectively ended the contest. Neil was a very fine outswing bowler, with a good action and an ability to use his height to extract bounce, if the wickets of those days allowed. 1991 was his big year, taking 38 wickets.
The O’Grady Cup (bowling cup) was won by Matt Dwyer, he actually retained it, but if Neil had managed to reach the qualification level of 40 wickets his average was even better than Matt’s. It wasn't alway easy in a YM line up to get many overs with as many as eight bowlers regularly in their line up. Modestly, Neil recalls that he has always felt sorry for his fourth victim which was his bowling of Alistair Blair, since it was the one and only time in his career that he managed to bring a ball back to a right hander. Save it for when it is necessary, Neil.
My old friend, Peter Prendergast had an excellent year, scoring 480 runs and that included missing the month of July. He threatened his maiden 100 twice, once against Dublin Uni (86) and then on 17th August against Old Belvedere he made 97 before succumbing. That same day saw Enda McDermott play his 500th Leinster league and cup game for Clontarf. A great servant to the club on and off the field for what seems like forever, there was a presentation in the changing room after our win to acknowledge a tremendous achievement.
Enda McDermott and Tom Byrne
We made it to the final of the Alan Murray (20 overs) where YM gave us their traditional hosing. We made only 70 odd and they chased it for 2. My pre-season arrangement with Dickie Spence meant that I did not play in this competition at all. I called into the game on the way home from rugby training in Donnybrook and received a cool reception from a few of the team, who seemed to feel I should have been playing (and doing someone who has played throughout the competition? I think not).
In the Wiggins Teape, we qualified for a semi final place pipping CYM by run rate. YM won our group while unbeaten The Hills and Malahide went forward from Section A. As a result, we travelled to Miverton to play our semi final against The Hills. Cue the drama.
The Hills batted first and scored 228 for 5 with Patrick Hoare top scoring with a typical stylish 45 but there were steady contributions all the all through the batters. Gerry Kirwan took all of our wickets and we knew we had a battle on our hands. We stayed within touching distance but it was clear that this game was going to the wire. A boundary conversation as we neared the conclusion resulted in digging out the LCU yearbook which included the regulations and there we found some crucial information.
Usually in those days, in the event of a tie, the team losing fewest wickets were deemed winners, however this competition had no such allowance. So when Fergal O’Mahony managed just a single off the final ball, he knew that he had succeeded in getting us a replay. The Hills however, on completion of that run, thought that they had won on fewer wickets lost and celebrated as winners would.
It is fair to say that they were devastated and a little bemused when the regs were pointed out to them. Not unreasonably, they felt a bit hard done by. There is no doubt that The Hills carried a hangover from that first game into the replay the following Tuesday back in Castle Avenue when we won by 8 wickets and qualified for the final the following Saturday against YMCA (of course it was).
Before that I had a small matter of a huge rugby game. The centrepiece of the Old Wesley RFC centenary programme was a game against The Barbarians, the famous travelling club, known for their exciting brand of rugby. They were on a tour and had beaten Scotland and a combined Wesley and Cork Constitution (also centurions) in the previous week. It was a star studded international squad and quite a challenge.
However, what followed was something special and maybe just a bit miraculous, with the final play of the game, our outhalf Adrian Hawe dropped a goal from all of 40 metres to win the game 37-36. By that stage my day was long done. After about 20 minutes I was involved in a collision with the English winger Ian Hunter, as a result I was knocked out and carted off to hospital, out cold. It was a pretty serious incident (and tragically my injury was the least serious to result from the incident) and it meant that there was no way I could play in the final on Saturday not least because I only left hospital at 4pm on the Saturday well after the start time.
My memories therefore of this game are particularly patchy which is a pity because it was a cracker. With Brendan Bergin back in charge, what I do know is that Clontarf batted first and made 205. Michael Rea and Johnny Daly both made 65 with 4 wickets for “you know who”. Johnny was the best runner between the wickets that I have ever seen. We used to say that if the ball was bowled then Johnny reckoned that there was at least one. He was fearless and could cause havoc with the fielding side with his antics, great fun to watch.
Jonny Daly batting with Michael Rea, non striker
Due to an early morning rain delay, the game had to be completed on the following Monday night. At 168 for 2 and Lewis and Starkey in control, the game was going only one way. Until Feargal O’Mahony started weaving some magic. Firstly Brian MacNeice got Starkey when he clipped one to Peter Prendergast. No panic required, after all only 38 was needed off the final 7 overs. Wickets began to fall, Lewis was trapped in front for 98 by O’Mahony then he produced a double wicket maiden.
Peter ran out Keith Bailey with a direct hit, it was all happening. The final over saw 6 needed and Johnny Fitzpatrick was entrusted with the ball. Colin Haine and Stewart Taylor managed 5 singles, remarkably leaving the game tied. Incredibly both semifinal and final were ties. And of course that meant another replay.
That game was scheduled for the following weekend. I really shouldn’t have but I agreed to play, there was no way I was fit but at least Brendan agreed to stay on as captain. In the end it was immaterial as the game was washed out before one innings had been completed and therefore the title was shared. So despite having the most reluctant captain it was a decent year with a double of sorts.
David Starkey and myself with Wiggins Teape trophy.
1991 saw the end of my captaincy career, I never did it again. It also saw the end of my international career, having written to Derek Scott after the English and Welsh tour making myself unavailable for selection in the future. The letter was never acknowledged which I suppose was the way things were done back then.
This week we said goodbye to two great servants of Leinster and Irish cricket. Brian O’Sullivan was a fellow club man, as a player he loved junior cricket having come to the game later in life.
He was central to the establishment of youth structures in Clontarf, the remarkable Friday Night Cricket originated with Brian. Later his work at Leinster and Irish level in structuring, organising and delivering is something from which generations of young players benefitted. You might not always have agreed with Brian but you would never question his integrity or his desire to make sure that things were done correctly, they alway were.
Paul Reynolds was someone I got to know through the cricket committee in Cricket Leinster. He was immediately likeable but also very wise, considered and persuasive.
Clearly he developed into an outstanding umpire and it says much that the young player in this house was genuinely upset to hear of his passing.