My father died in November 1992, aged 64, an event that looms over this season for me.
While it was in the rugby season that he died, he was unwell for most of the year, his health deteriorating week on week, drifting away from us bit by bit. I am glad he got to see at least part of the season as it holds good memories.
Like most children, I probably only appreciated my father when he was gone. Now I recognise that when I made that long distance call from the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo, the evening after I had received my first cap, he was the one to take the call. In reality he probably already knew as he would often ring the Irish Times Sports desk to find out news that was not covered on RTE and when he was not prepared to wait till the morning papers for the latest news, it was a kind of forerunner to the internet for him, I suppose.
But he was the one to pick up the phone and hear the news from me. It was he that I called from a public phone box in the Lord’s pavilion to tell the news that incredibly Alec O’Riordan had kept faith with me after a demoralising pair against Gloucestershire and I would be walking onto the Lords ground as a player rather than as a water carrier.
I do not remember the details of these conversations and as neither father nor son were particularly adept at the art of conversation but I can be sure they were short, factual and unemotional, at least on the outside.
My four siblings had been beneficiaries of my mother’s Goldswain genes which made them open, sociable and chatty whereas the more subdued Vincent genes were firmly ensconced in Dad’s and my make up. We were alike in pretty much every way and with honesty I can see that that meant we occasionally clashed, but a kind of silent clash if that's possible.
Yet, I have to accept that he taught me to bat, to bowl, to field, to pass, to kick, to tackle. Every skill that I have used in my sporting life were brought to me by a father in love with sport and hoping to pass that love onto his children.
And of course it went further than that. I had to get to games, he drove me, I needed kit, no problem and even when Tom Byrne retired as scorer for the Clontarf first team, he took that role on for a period before he could no longer do the job with the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Sitting in the scorebox, watching every ball, recording them meticulously, quietly enjoying success when it came, living through the inevitable failures, he was always there. I never questioned it, I suppose that I never really thought about it, but he was there and he was my number one supporter, good days and bad. The days of judgement were long gone. It was time to let the children do it themselves.
He died when I was settled in the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare outside Limerick getting ready for a league game against Garryowen. I like to think that he waited till it was too late for me to cry off the trip. The phrase “it was what he would have wanted” is often thrown out at times like this to justify the actions of an individual over the wishes of a family but in this case, the thought that I had missed a crucial game on his behalf would have gone against everything that he believed or stood for. He could never have accepted that he might be the reason to miss a game, it would put him centre stage and that was a long way from where he stood.
At a time in the summer, we had to accept that we were facing a situation that did not have a happy ending, so sport and teammates became even more of a safe haven than usual.
Please forgive the personal introduction but at the start of this process I did say that this was a personal history and one can hardly get more personal a situation.
And so to the cricket
This was year 2 of the LCU qualification process. In 1993 the league, at this time comprising 13 teams, would be split into 2 divisions. The results of 1991 and 1992 would form the basis of these leagues. Having won the Senior League, called the Belvedere Bond League, in 1991 we were in a solid position to ensure our presence in the top division. There was a bit of controversy in the early season when Alf Masood confirmed that he would be returning to play at Phoenix, having played with Rush the previous year and Coleraine before that. The problem was that Rush had retained Alf as their coach (non playing) and the regulations forbid professionals from playing in the Senior League in the qualification period for the new structures.
Eventually, sense was seen and Alf played in the Park and coached in Kenure. Defending our league title, Clontarf opened with an 8 wicket win against Carlisle with Michael Rea leading the way with 66 not out. It was another stellar year for Michael who averaged 73.70 for the season, yet remarkably did not pass the 100 mark though he did get one for the Irish team against Wales. He was a model of consistency which was central to our performances during the season.
I was not around for the early season as Old Wesley got to the final of the Leinster Senior Cup, the rugby one (lost to Blackrock, thanks for asking) and immediately took off on a tour to Canada for the final act of their Centenary season.
Not that it made any difference, with Enda McDermott back in charge, the League season panned out like a dream. Played 13 won 8 drew 5 lost 0 meant we pipped Phoenix and retained the title. It was tight enough, Phoenix lost just one game and that was the difference. Our league game against Merrion threw up an incident of note when Gerry Kirwan pinned Richie Waddell in front.
Richie was a Munster player and a good cricketer but with this dismissal he became Kirwan’s 1000th victim in Leinster league and cup cricket. It was just as well that Richie was an easy going guy because as he trudged off, he was met by club President, Tom Byrne, with a bottle of champagne and some glasses. I am pretty sure Richie was not entirely certain what was going on but he gamely accepted the bubbly and even posed for a photograph. Many others would have been less accommodating.
There were more celebrations in our Malahide home game when Peter Prendergast made his maiden century. He had been edging closer but just falling short in the most frustrating of ways but there was great joy around Castle Avenue when he plonked a ball into the pavilion veranda and got that monkey off his back.
The first round of the Irish Senior Cup saw us at home to Lurgan, who had beaten us in the final in 1990 and also in 1991 when Ross McCollum had got the 100 his final innings had deserved and in equally destructive style. It was a great result, then, to beat Lurgan in this competition.
Johnny Fitzpatrick, a young allrounder was the star performer with 90 and 4 for 29. Johnny was a young player who was beginning to really develop in a stable team environment. Sharp enough with the ball he was also a good, technically correct bat befitting a student of Robin Waters in Belvedere College. He had broken the unwritten rule and joined his local club, Clontarf rather than traipsing up to Cabra to play club cricket with his schoolmates, an unusual thing back then. We were happy beneficiaries.
A good win but…….well there is always a but. A week or so later Sean Pender’s weekly cricket article in the Irish Times was headed “Castle Avenue grass is always greener”. In this he bemoaned that Clontarf was the only game the previous weekend which had been cancelled due to a wet pitch and it was suggested that Clonarf were a bit precious about their ground.
However the real issue was that the Irish Senior Cup game 2 weeks prior had not been played on the main square but moved to the side square (it no longer exists), which was where youth and junior cricket (5ths and 6ths) were played. Now I have no insight into why or how this happened but it leads to an interesting possibility. Sean lived on Castle Grove, the road at the top of the Castle Avenue ground and the club groundsman, Podge Hughes lived on Dunservick Road, just around the corner from Sean, it would have made for an interesting conversation, I feel.
We went out in the next round of the Irish Cup, losing to Brigade for whom Marshall Kilgore scored a 100. Tootie Kilgore was, likely still is, arguably the funniest man in Irish Cricket, my favourite memory of him was from an U23 tour to Scotland.
We were on a bus to Stenhousemuir for our first game after the Larne-Stranraer boat and ICU secretary Derek Scott was taking a well earned doze. Tootie saw the his chance and gathered pennies from all and sundry and proceeded to entertain himself (and the rest of the bus) by tossing the pennies into Scottie’s trouser turn ups. I don't know how Scottie slept through the laughter but once he woke and stood up he knew he had been done. The rule of omerta was in place and he never got to find the culprit but he was not happy.
Winning the League was great, but in Clontarf’s mindset, it paled in comparison to the Cup. We made it to the final beating Carlisle, Old Belvedere and Pembroke along the way. The Pembroke semi final was a tight affair which finished on the Monday night with the young guns, MacNeice and Fitzpartick getting us over the line by 2 wickets. No surprise that it was YMCA who came out the other half of the draw with wins against Leinster, Railway and CYM.
The final took place in the Phoenix Park, President Mary Robinson came along to watch and a fantastic game was served up on a cracking wicket and quick outfield. It was a day of records, the highest 60 over total, the highest losing score and the highest individual score but all that mattered in the end was that after a wait of 23 years the Senior Cup was heading back to Dublin 3 and Clontarf CC.
Writing for the Sunday Tribune, Peter O’Reilly understood precisely just what the win meant to the more experienced players in our side when he opened his report with “Perhaps Gerry Kirwan can finally retire happily as he had finally played in a Clontarf cup winning side”. For Gerry, his 1000 wickets were an irrelevance in comparison to the Cup win, similarly Enda McDermot spent the night beaming with pride having steered the team so expertly on the day.
Enda McDermot at the Cup Final, some great individuals in the background
But the season was far from done. Fueled by a confidence that maybe, just maybe, we were a good team, we topped our Wiggins Teape group and qualified for a semi final against Old Belvedere led by the same Peter O’Reilly. It was a cracking semi in Castle Avenue with Belvo scoring 244 for 5 batting first. The O’Riordan cousins dominated their batting with David scoring 94 and Paul contributing 74 not out. We chased hard but ran out of steam finishing 15 runs short but there was no shame in losing in such a great game.
The other semi final saw CYM beat Railway Union, John Hoey scored 86 for the winners while Ginger O’Brien made 68 for the Sandymount side. Having started in Senior cricket in 1959, Ginger still had a long way to go before he was finished and plenty more runs to score.
The final was a low scoring affair and again I add the proviso that finals in the second week of September were unlikely to provide a run fest. Batting first Belvedere only made 146 for 9 in their 50 overs. Eddie Kavanagh top scored with 26 and I noted a certain Ted Williamson in the middle order too. The CYM bowling was particularly strong. Eddie Moore got three, Ken Plates Brennan finished with one and John and Conor Hoey both got a couple.
Having had a disappointing final outing in 1990, Belvo were very strong in the second half this time. They bowled out CYM for just 73. Peter O’Reilly took three wickets and Fintan Synnott’s wily off breaks accounted for two more but the hero of the day was Con McGrath. Con took five wickets for 29 and ripped out the middle order.
Google “Competitive Leinster cricketers” and Con and his younger brother Johnny would be early hits, a lovely man off the pitch, he was a fiery character on it. A terrific competitor and a really nice man, it was a deserving reward for Con and indeed for Belvo with a new young side.
Looking through some Clontarf programmes from the year, I found a nice mention of a Clontarf great. In 1992 Dickie Spence scored a 100 for one of our junior teams against Halverstown. It meant that he had scored a 100 in each of the precious 5 decades.
Every Clontarf player of my era played with or was captained by Dickie and he was hugely influential in the careers of many players. As an old school cricketer and by this I mean old school in the most positive sense, he had standards and expected them to be followed. It was good timing to find this nugget as the same week his granddaughter, Freya Sargent was representing Ireland in Spain against Scotland and with some success. I thought about how much Dickie would have loved to see her play and indeed her sister Gemma who had a great season with the Irish youth teams. I thought of the joy that he would take in their success, in their attitude and demeanour on the field of play. I know he would be bursting with pride that the game that he had loved and committed so much time and effort towards was still strong in his family line.
Freya (right) and Gemma Sargent with their grandmother Phyllis Spence
And I thought of my own father and his grandchildren. Of the faraway journeys he might have taken to see Andrew, Stuart, Andrew and David play in World Cups of varying sorts. Don't get me wrong he would have been just as happy to watch his granddaughters play in Clontarf and feel the same pride. And what would Saturday morning be without seeing how his great granddaughters were doing on their journey in the game. I thought of how he would have loved to wander into his old rugby stomping ground in Donnybrook and watch his grandson zip down the wing. Hockey had always been a bit of a mystery to him but I can see him stand in wonder at the pace and skills of the game now, he would have loved it too. What might have been.
A number of names mentioned in this article are no longer with us, but that doesn't mean that we have forgotten them nor should we.