WG Grace at College ParkWG Grace at College Park
WG Grace did not reappear in Ireland until 1890 when he led a side entitled WG Grace's United South of England XI against the University in College Park.

The hosts still put out a Past and Present side but now had only 11 players. A guarantee of 100 was agreed ( something approaching 2000 in today's terms), special trains from as far afield as Wexford were laid on and the expected huge crowd materialised.

The home side was led by Jack Meldon who was later to claim that when he spun the coin, WG called "Woman" so that which ever side it landed, Victoria or Britannia, he had won the toss. That may be the case but the story has other tellers than Jack and other venues than College Park. Further the hosts batted first which suggests Jack won the toss as one of WG's first rules of captaincy was, "Always think about putting the other side in, but never do it."

The University were dismissed for 131, owing much to Frank Browning (50) and Jack (45). When WG, now a ponderous and bulky figure weighing over 17 stone, came on to bowl, there was loud and widespread applause. However his team did no better than their hosts being dismissed for 124, with The Champion, never keen on Irish umpires, adjudged run out yet again, this time for 44.

Unfortunately from the University's point of view, they were unable to capitalise on their lead, Grace's XI winning by 8 wickets.

As the match finished well inside 3 days, a short "fill up" game was played in which the visitors made 122-9, Grace being bowled by Patrick Considine for 3. An interesting member of his XI was Kenny Burn, a member of the Australian  team then touring England, A Tasmanian, little known in Sydney and Melbourne, Kenny had been selected for the tour  as  reserve wicket keeper. Once the ship has safely sailed he informed his team-mates that he had never kept in his life!

WG struck up a friendship with Meldon which, added to those he later made with Ireland's  opening batsman Dan Comyn  was to lead to several holidays in the Co Galway and elsewhere in the west, for- or so it is said - out of season shooting. He was even to be found among Lady Gregory's guests at Coole Park.

In 1894 he returned to College Park heading his county side, Gloucestershire, having offered to do so for 120. It is probable that the University CC were out of pocket  after the match, as the expected large crowds did not arrive. The cricket was also substandard with the hosts outplayed in all three departments of the game. The Doctor himself was far from happy. He made only 44, despite being missed four times, being adjudged lbw when caught off his hip. He did, at least, fall to the best bowler opposing him Archie Penny. As the game finished early there was a brief "fill up" game, but WG made only 16. He complained about the weather, the state of the wicket and, above all, the quality of the umpiring.

Nevertheless, he was back for a rematch in 1897, again for a hefty fee. Benefiting from fielding errors, he found his form and made 121  before being bowled by  a high tossed leg break from Philip Meldon. He was also in  a sufficiently mellow mood to have his photograph taken with the 13 year old Pat Hone, it forms the frontispiece of the latter's "Cricket In Ireland", the Doctor is looking at me as I write. Yet again the match finished early and another "fill up" was played, WG came in at No 10 and was 9* at stumps.

1902 was a momentous year in Irish Cricket. A selection and administrative row which had rumbled on for several years was resolved, with the help of the Lord Lieutenant Lord Cadogan, and an Irish team led by Grace's old rival Sir Timothy O'Brien toured England, playing four first class matches, the first two of which were against sided led by the Doctor.

He had, by this time, parted company with Gloucestershire - not without acrimony - and was installed as Captain/Secretary etc of the newly formed London County Cricket Club, which played at Crystal Palace, the great glass edifice - still almost four decades away from its fate, dominating the boundary edge. Ireland defeated  the County with some ease, the bowling of Tom Ross and Bill Harrington and the batting of Lucius Gwynn, Browning and Bob Lambert being superior to most of what the hosts produced.

WG, however, did not let his side down. Facing an Irish score  of 241, on a wicket which had been so uncovered that even "Sir Geoffrey" might have baulked at playing on it, he put on 75  for the first wicket with his old friend the former Australian captain  Billy  Murdoch.  Grace was then bowled by Ross for 32, Murdoch (41) soon followed and the innings folded for 92.

The second innings, chasing 312,was even worse, WG's 19 being top score. At a post match dinner he, partially jokingly, accused Comyn, of intimidating the umpires, claiming that Dan's appeal, from square leg for a caught behind, had been so loud that no umpire could have turned it down. He had not, he claimed hit the ball. Kettles and pots spring to mind! Further the umpires, Hearn and Carlin, were among the best in the country. As already mentioned Grace and Comyn became good friends, "Perhaps," Lucius Gwynn  wrote to his wife, " because of their similarity in figures".

Ireland then moved on to Lord's to find Grace leading a strong MCC side against them. Had the weather not intervened they would almost certainly have lost, being destroyed by the pace of Australian exile Albert Trott. WG, with 44 in his only innings, was top scorer of the match.

The following year saw his last appearance in Ireland when London County played the university in College Park, then moved to the Mardyke to play Ireland. Though it was mid June, the weather was cold and unseasonal. A large crowd attended College Park and saw Grace win the toss, without subterfuge as far as is known, and bat. He made 33 before being caught, but the day belonged to the Australian LOS Poidevin who made 116.

The University replied with138, finding the pace of future England captain  Johnny Douglas, disconcerting. Then the County batted again. Hone claims that WG put himself in low down on the final afternoon so that the crowds  could see him. However a study of the scorecard suggests that he can only have opened. Further, the hosts batted out most of the last day, making 251-7, with George Meldon  scoring116 before being stumped off Grace.

Reverting to the visitors' innings, the University's bowling was opened by Tom Harvey, a tall dark haired double international, who later became a Church of Ireland bishop. Murdoch took a single off the first ball, then, to a collective gasp from the crowd, The Champion pushed the next one tamely back to Harvey. His final innings in Dublin had ended with a "golden duck."

He was, thus, keen to do well in Cork where the match was being staged as part of an International Exhibition held in the city. He won the toss and, naturally, batted. He and Murdoch both took singles in the first over bowled by Lambert, but, before it was completed, Grace gave a simple catch to hockey international George Mitchell.

"What happened next" would indeed have made a good clip for Messers Tufnell and Dawson to debate.  According to Gerard Siggins in "Green Days. Cricket in Ireland 1792 - 2005" WG refused to move, trying to bully the umpire into ruling that the catch had not been fairly taken. Cork County supremo Sir George Colthurst came on to the field and, following what  heated exchange,  escorted the by now  apologising Grace off it.

In the second innings, WG made 24 but was then caught by Comyn off paceman Gus Kelly. The best batting on the Irish side came from PWG Stuart (later Stuart-French) whose half century earned him an invitation to play for London County. He duly took this up and scored another fifty- against Surrey. WG presented him with a bat.  However all was not quite as it seemed. Years later the recipient was to write to Hone, "By the way I paid for that bat."

WG's final match against an Irish side came at Crystal Palace the following summer. He had limited impact on the match but was much impressed by Lambert's batting, inviting him to play  for the County. Bob duly did so and scored a fifty. He, too, received a bat, but history does not relate whether or not this was a freebee.

The following books have been helpful in writing this article.

  • Patrick Hone   Cricket in Ireland
  • Gerard Siggins   Green Days Cricket in Ireland 1792-2005
  • Michael Milne et al   Dublin University Cricket Club: A Pictorial History