1995 saw a change in Leinster regulations that allowed for professional players to compete in the Leinster league.
It was not a new situation, pros had played in the 80s and even earlier. One of those pros, Robin Waters had become one of the individuals that had contributed far beyond his ability on the pitch.
But the official feeling, by no means unanimous it has to be said was that pros had become hired guns, paid to win games on the field and contribute little off the field. Players, unpaid, had continued to travel to Dublin and play. Was there much difference? It's hard to say. Many non pros such as Tim Sullivan left an indelible mark with his club YMCA, in his one season and there were others too.
But pros were back and most clubs shelled out some money. Did they all get value? Only they can say but here is a stat that’s worth some thought. By my calculations there were 12 pros on show in Leinster cricket in 95, that’s a pro in every “senior” team bar The Hills, North County and Dublin University (who played a limited season but had played a pro previously).
That is not the stat by the way, that nugget is that five of those professionals went on to play for the Irish team in the coming years.
The five individuals were Andre Botha (Clontarf), Trent Johnston (Carlisle), Justin Benson (Malahide) Naseer Shaukat (Rush) and Gerard Brophy (Merrion and later Northants and Yorkshire).
Whatever your views on pros it is hard to argue that these players took the money and ran, they contributed hugely to the game in the region. For the record the other pros that year were Paul Cron (Leinster and still teaching up in St Columba's College) Herman Venter (CYM) Graham Charlesworth (Phoenix) Wim Jansen (Pembroke) Christo Ludeck (YMCA) Derek Heilbronn (Old Belvedere) Dilan Kanchan (Railway Union). Still plenty of decent local players too remember, it wasn't all about the pros.
We, in Clontarf, had lost Micahel Rea at the end of the 94 season and by the time the 95 version came along, Alan McClean had handed in his notice too. One was a loss, losing the two of them was a bit of a disaster. Having grown up with Mighty McClean from when he showed up at about 14, it was a loss of not just a player.
Mighty brought much more than his cricket ability to the team but his personality often drove the team, making us laugh when we wanted to cry, pushing us to better things when we got lazy and a presence that was simply hard to ignore. It left Peter Prendergast and myself as the senior players when we didn't really feel as such. The make up of the team was changed and the captain was someone we knew as a schoolboy but Johnny Fitzpatrick was now the man in charge.
A new breed of players from the John Lyon Academy were appearing and contributing too. Ronan O’Reilly, Paddy Lee, Iain Synnott, Dave McGeehan all got a regular run on the team and contributed while Johnny Barry who had been on the periphery for a while added some zip to the bowling unit. It was all change and it worked.
The season got off to a great start for this new line up when Clontarf got revenge for the thumping we had suffered at the hands of Strabane the previous year by winning the Beckett Cup, a 20 over competition, beating them by 6 wickets with a fifty for Prendergast.
The season was a little changed with the Wiggins Teape (50 overs League Cup) played in the first half of the season. Despite the early Beckett Cup win we faltered a little in the early season and our WT season was a mixed bag. Carlisle and Malahide won their groups and qualified for the final, this was a change in format with the winners going straight to the final.
Carlisle beat Merrion in their last group game, 50s from Leon Ellison and Greg Molins ensuring victory while Malahide’s Justin Benson hit a magnificent 149 to set a stiff target for Old Belvedere. Belvo gave it a decent go but fell 35 short of the target. Their top scorer was Peter O’Reilly with 97. O’Reilly at this stage of his career was opening both the batting and bowling and probably providing the ball in the manner of the best of youth sport. He was also reporting on the game for The Irish Times and in his modest manner declined to mention his contribution to the brilliant game.
Benson was clearly going to be one of the main men in the final. Carlisle would need to be at their very best to compete, the neutral might have surmised. Therefore it was a huge blow when Jason Molins pulled his hamstring the week before the game.
Carlisle’s captain. Stephen Molins, Jason’s uncle, took responsibility and promoted himself to open the innings when his side batted first. The ploy paid off. Stephen hit 78 and with Trent Johnston who scored 79, made sure that Carlisle total of 250 and Malahide, Benson and all, knew that they would have to play well to win.
Carlisle got off to a great start with the ball with Malahide old boy Tom O’Neill dismissing his former teammate Brian Gilmore for 5 and Johnston bowling Stephen Rubbathan for one less.
That meant Justin Benson was at the crease. The captain again took the responsibility and when Stephen struck Benson in front when he had made 65, the game swung the Southsiders way. Flemo made 61 and contributions from Anton Weir, Robert Weir and Alun Brophy threatened but it was too much of an ask and Carlilse won by 51 runs. Man of the Match? Well Stephen Molins also took 2 more wickets so an easy decision on that count.
Carlisle didn’t have so much luck in the Senior Cup losing to my club Clontarf in the first round, Andre Botha hit a hundred to set up the win. Clontarf had a wobble in the second round against CYM. Rugby star Bruce Deans scored 61 not out in CYM’s score of 155 for 9 but it took two youngsters (well they were youngsters then) Paul Ryan 26 not out and Dave McGeehan 25 not out to get us over the line. Man of the match for Ryaner.
And his reward for digging us out of a hole? Dropped for the semi final against Phoenix. Mention it to him, he will tell you all about it. The semi final saw another Botha 100 as we won by 45 to advance to play Merrion.
Merrion had beaten Old Belvedere in the first round and Rush in the second. This was Rush’s debut season as a Senior Club and had beaten local rivals North County in their first round game. Playing YM in the semi final, Merrion were very much second favourites in this tie but they won the local derby by 3 wickets with a Gus Joyce 50 and solid contributions down the order.
It might seem odd but due to the split nature of the league we had not played Merrion for a number of seasons. Nor had we been drawn in the cup nor in the same group in the Wiggins Teape. To complicate matters, their team had undergone a big change and of the team that we had previously known only Robbie Staunton and Kevin Allwright were familiar names.
Youth had been given its chance and now it was beginning to pay off for them. So we tapped into our own youth players who had been teammates on underage representative sides with these youngsters. We asked Ronan O’Reilly about a bowler “deadly” was the response and what about a batter “deadly” came back again. Clearly this was not going to work.
In truth we entered that final, without much of a clue about the opposition, not a wonderfully professional way to approach a game. But then the sports psychologists will tell you to concentrate on your own game and so we did and it worked out just fine.
Despite a damp and misty morning Johnny Fitzpatrick liked the look of the wicket so opted to bat first at the ground of Leinster CC. Almost as soon as we had started we were off for rain and once back we lost Peter Prendergast and Paddy Lee. However a 202 partnership steadied the nerves and with Botha notching up his 3rd cup century of the year (he added a league 100 before the season was done) we were set for a big total.
A quickfire 59 from the captain meant that we finished with a record 60 over score of 363. The rowdies in our supporters liked the symmetry of the score and before long a chant of 363 La la la was ringing around the ground.
Complacency is your worst enemy in these situations and we had had enough heartache to make sure that we set about defending the total in a proper manner. The wicket was still very good and while we may not have known many of the individuals, they had beaten YM to get to this stage and they deserved respect.
Merrion started pretty well but we got Brad Saxon for 20. The left hander at the other end looked very good and when he smacked a sharp bouncer from Johnny Barry for a one bounce 4, I decided that this must be the pro Gerard Brophy, it looked like the shot of a pro.
So I was particularly delighted to get the one I thought was the pro out just after he had passed 50. In the team huddle I mentioned this and Ronan O’Reilly stopped me and said “that’s Ed Joyce - he’s deadly” (and 16 years old).
Redser, for once I agreed and am very happy to have him as a victim of my gentle seamers. Before he headed off to England he would return the compliment in a game in Anglesea Road. Merrion’s top 4 all got good starts but Johnny Barry blew the middle order away with 4 wickets.
Merrion ended up being bowled out for 248, a decent score but on this occasion it was 116 runs shy of what was required. Having had some bad days in cup finals it was wonderful to have close to the perfect performance.
Johnny Barry with Seamus Boylan at the cup presentation
There was still the small matter of the Senior League of course. Well the good form continued and Clontarf only went and won that too. Another double, happy days indeed. We pipped YMCA to the top spot despite having the same record - Played 12 won 6 drew 4 lost 2, however we had 9 more bonus points so the trophy was ours.
CYM were relegated and in their place Leinster came back up. Merrion finished second in Section 2 emphasising their much improved record. Rush would have been pleased with their mid table finish in their debut season in which Naz Shaukat, Michael Donnelly and Dara Armstrong all did well with ball, bat and gloves.
The end of year stats show that the pros earned their money but the local players were equally important to their clubs’ records.
That was the domestic season for 95 but there were some travellers visiting the province too. Soweto CC played a couple of games on tour but the biggies were the West Indies who played Ireland at Castle Avenue.
The star attraction was Brian Lara who had made the headlines the previous year when he scored 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham in the County Championship. Four thousand people crammed into Castle Avenue to see him and let’s face it he was all they were interested in. However Neil Doak spoiled lots of afternoons when he dismissed him for only 9.
Neil Doak just about to dismiss Brian Lara
Never mind, a Chanderpaul 100 is always worth watching as was Keith Arthurton who hit 94 not out. The West Indies were not the only ones to provide the entertainment though, Stephen’s Smyth’s 98 not out and Justin Benson’s 74 kept the crowd happy for the whole day.
Typical elegance from Chanderpaul
At Easter of this year herself and myself had moved into a new house out in Lusk, equidistant from The Hill and Rush with North County just a bit further away. It seemed a long way from Clontarf on a Tuesday and Thursday evening heading home from training. Soon after the season end, we got married, in that sweet spot between the cricket and hockey seasons. Life was changing, there were still a few years left but time was beginning to run out.