Back in 1997 South African captain Hansie Cronje came to Ireland to play and coach as part of a plan by Ali Bacher to help Irish cricket, funded by Tony O'Reilly of Independent Newspapers.

Cronje, Jonty Rhodes and the Waugh twins would all visit as part of this initiative. was Cronje the money grabber and cheat as portrayed by the media following his fall from grace? Former Cricket Ireland Chairman David Williams got to know him as his designated driver back in 1997. He gives us his thoughts on Hansie.

When asked by the editor to share my experience of Hansie Cronje in Ireland I immediately reflected that his very name would bring memories of a match fixer and a manipulative guy who brought the game of cricket into disrepute.

It is difficult not to agree with this view as the proof all came out in the Enquiry held in South Africa but there was another side to Hansie.

Back in the Spring of 1997 with a view to encouraging Associate Members of ICC to develop further Dr Ali Bacher of South Africa championed the idea of having a prominent established Test cricketer visit Ireland and play for us in the ECB Benson and Hedges Competition.

Cronje was the choice for the first of such visits being sponsored by the Independent Newspaper Group. There were some communication difficulties initially and then the great and the good of the Irish Cricket Union departed for Malaysia where the World Cup Qualifiers were taking place.

Our Chairperson Gavin Craig asked me to see if I could establish proper contact and make the arrangements which I did through Hansie's legal representative.

Hansie Cronje's arrival coincided with a bitter April day but he was very cordial and said how much he was looking forward to the next three weeks.

Brian O Rourke arranged for a group of promising Leinster cricketers to have a net in the Belvedere College Indoor facility that evening and Hansie agreed immediately to participate in a net session with them.

As Brian said "he regularly used words like ' these are your coaches, I am only here for one session to show you some new and innovative aspects of the game.' Brian said he was an absolute pleasure to work with and that he subsequently brought a new and innovative approach to the Irish players and to the National Coach Mike Hendrick.

As I was on taxi duty for Hansie I asked would he come for a drink with us after the session to which he immediately agreed. On the way he asked me about my cricketing life and my club background.

I explained that my club had a sister rugby club and that our most famous player in recent years was Ollie Campbell. Hansie was very pleased to hear this as Campbell was one of his heroes and that he was a ballboy when the Lions played South Africa in Blomfontein in 1980.

After a drink or two in Ashtons of Clonskeagh who should come in the door with some Old Belvedere rugby friends but Ollie Campbell himself! Hansie was positively thrilled to meet Ollie and also Gerry Murphy the then Ireland rugby coach.

Batting against Middlesex in the Benson & Hedges Cup match at Clontarf

I left Hansie back to his quarters in the house of the South African Ambassador (who was in his pajamyas) at some ungodly hour.

I had to ferry Hansie to numerous interviews on Radio, TV and with the press. At all stages he was charming ,helpful, and very open to talk about his experiences in the game including some embarrassing moments.

The highlight of the visit on the field was, of course, the victory over Middlesex in Clontarf. It is my belief that this match further confirmed what Mike Hendrick had been saying that the Irish players could be just as good as their professional counterparts.

Celebrating the victory over Middlesex with Decker Curry

Hansie confirmed that with a top professional Ireland could easily compete with English Counties and South African Provinces.

So at the end of his visit did his profile fit that of a money-grabbing mercenary who had a miserly attitude to spending his own money as he was portrayed subsequently?

Nothing could be further from the truth in my experience.

He attempted to pay for some meals when he was our guest. In addition he was entitled to claim a "per diem" of $ 100. On his final day here I raised the matter with him; he made it clear that he did not wish to take money from ICU and that his out of pocket expenses could be restricted to E120 only.

I felt then and still do now that this was the act of a generous guy who put the well-being of ICU before personal gain declining a payment of approx. E2,000.

Of course such an thoughtful act cannot airbrush what subsequently emerged.

However perhaps there was a little more to this guy than history will record.