Some of Irish cricket’s greatest moments have been sparked by men who came from the land Down Under. Who could ever forget Ireland’s first-ever game in a cricket world cup, when Jeremy Bray’s brilliant century set the target that Zimbabwe scrambled to tie? And who still gets a tingle up the spine when they think of Trent Johnston’s thrilling six to seal the win over Pakistan two days later?
But that those men were wearing green was, for Irish cricket, just the reaping of a harvest sowed almost 150 years ago.
Back in the 1850s Phoenix professional Charles Lawrence was the prime mover in Irish cricket, introducing an all-professional touring side that brought the game to towns and villages all over the island. He was a good player, turning out for Surrey and Middlesex as well as making the first 50 for Ireland. In 1868 he headed for Australia, where he introduced coaching to the colony and was a noted administrator. Former Australian off spinner, Ashley Mallett, wrote: “He, more than any other person could claim the title of Father of Australian cricket.”
In the late 1850s the Horan family from Midleton, Co Cork, emigrated to Melbourne where their son Tom grew into a fine cricketer. He played for his adopted country in the first ever Test, when he went in first drop and made 12 and 20. Horan played 15 tests before he too made his life in the game, going on to be Australia’s leading cricket journalist, under the pen-name ‘Felix’. Tom Kelly from Waterford played alongside Horan against England in the first of his two tests.
So while those Irishmen were in at the birth of Australian cricket, their new countrymen returned to pay homage many times over the following decades. They even visited on four occasions before they got around to playing Ireland! In 1880 the Australians faced Dublin University at College Park, with the students playing 18 batsmen. The ‘Demon’, Spofforth, took 10-46 in the first innings but the match was ruined by rain. Twenty-five years later the colonials returned to Trinity, who this time called up some former players. The tourists were bowled out twice, with Philip Meldon recording match figures of 10-216, but Australia won by 231 runs with Victor Trumper’s 65 a highlight.
In September 1909 Monty Noble’s Australians came to Woodbrook, a private estate just north of Bray, where they took on Sir Stanley Cochrane’s XI in a first- class three-day game. Cochrane, heir to the C&C drinks fortune, hired several county stars, including arguably the greatest England batsman and bowler of all- time, Jack Hobbs and Sydney Barnes. The match was drawn.
The Aussies returned three years later to play a CB Fry XI which included Hobbs, Wilfred Rhodes and Frank Woolley. Fry’s team won by eight wickets. Cochrane later tired of cricket and built a concert hall. The ground is now part of Woodbrook golf course.
Ireland’s first game against Australia was in 1938, when they played in Ormeau and College Park. Since then there have been games in 1961 (Ormeau and College Park again), 1968 (Clontarf and Ormeau), 1977 (Rathmines), 1985 (Downpatrick), 1993 (Clontarf), 1997 (Eglinton) and 2001 (Ormeau).
Ireland have yet to visit Australia, but played them in Barbados during the Super Eights of the 2007 World Cup. It was arguably the only game Ireland was completely outclassed in at the competition, with the first four batsmen blown away for 1,1,0,0 as we collapsed to 12-4. The Railwaymen put a respectable tinge on the score with 17 (Kevin) and 16 (TJ, including one lovely four off Glenn McGrath) before we were bowled out for 91. Trent bowled Adam Gilchrist as the Aussies passed Ireland’s score for one.
A very strong Australia A side came here in 1998, when players such as Matt Hayden, Mike Hussey, Jason Gillespie and Damien Martyn took on Ireland (who included Steve Waugh) in a series of one-day and three-day games.
And now the Aussies are here again. They come back to the land that gave them McGrath, O’Donnell, O’Reilly and McCabe, and to which it sent Bray, Johnston, Cusack and Langford-Smith. It hasn’t been a bad bit of trade for both parties.