These days I look forward to a trip to Claremont Road. It wasn’t always so, the old ground was not a nice surface on which to bat, we rarely won and the clubhouse, well maybe the less said the better. The facilities now however are excellent. But it is not the cricket ground that I look forward to as I nip across the toll bridge.

Sandymount village is a lovely spot and it is home to one of my favourite book shops, Books on the Green. It is a tiny independent bookshop and I never fail to find something new, different or interesting on the shelves. Heading back across the bridge with the points and a new book, well as Lou Read sang “It’s such a perfect day”.

Cover of Anxious People

These days, however, Sandymount is outside my 5km travel limit and with the cessation of sporting fixtures, it has been hard to find a reason for the trip, so I have not been able to visit Books on the Green for some time. Nonetheless, a little while back, I noticed a post on their Facebook page promoting a new book Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. The blurb sounded interesting. I was intrigued, not because I had heard of Fredrik Backman but the opposite. I had never heard of him and as a reader and lover of books I am always on the lookout for something new and different.

Google quickly told me that Mr Backman was a well regarded Swedish writer with sales of over 10 million copies so I put him on my to-read list. When I finally did get into a bookshop, Anxious People was not the book I choose however, I went for Backman’s 2017 novel Us against You. Essentially the book is about two competing ice hockey teams from two competing villages. Now I am not a literary critic by any means but I know what I like and I loved this book. It is full of sporting wisdom and there is a lot to which we can relate in terms of the importance of sport to a community. The rivalry of the communities is at the heart of the book.

In our local cricket we have no shortage of rivalries. The aforementioned Sandymount area boasts four clubs, YMCA , Pembroke, Merrion and Railway Union. One can imagine that bragging rights are hard fought between them. My home club, Clontarf, does not have any clubs in its immediate environs. The closest Northside clubs such as Phoenix, Malahide, the late Old Belvedere are all about 10 kilometres from Dublin 3 whereas Trinity and the Sandymount clubs are significantly closer, so local rivalry was never something I experienced. Rivalries instead were based on who was the competition at the time. And of course that changed periodically.

When I began, Leinster and Phoenix were the sides to beat. I am not sure that they considered us to be rivals though, much as we would have liked. Mid table specialists were not a threat. Later as we improved YM became the rivals. We were close but not quite close enough and that hurt. And they knew it. I recall arriving at a final; early we thought, to find them playing football on the outfield, a raucous, carefree affair. How could they? While we were sick with nerves they seemed not to have a care in the world. In that moment, I am ashamed to admit it, I hated them. Sport can reveal our basest instincts. Us against You.

In North County Dublin, however, rivalry was fierce. Jim Bennett has written some brilliant articles on the extremely competitive nature of cricket in the Fingal area but without personal experience of it, it would be wrong of me to comment. However, it was still possible to feel the edge to a game played in the region. The Hills in particular had waited a long time before being allowed into the ranks of Senior cricket and they carried that resentment into their games against the supposed big clubs who perhaps they felt had held back their ambitions. Games carried an atmosphere, maybe the supposed big clubs did not always recognise it for what it was. You against Us.

However as an area and provincial side, North Leinster had a natural rival, the Southsiders. North and South Leinster competed only at Under 18 and Senior level. Whichever team it was, I know that I felt a fierce rivalry. Perhaps it was that chip on the shoulder. The superiority and natural confidence of the Southsider irked. Having been schooled on the southside of the city, I had lived for six years with the inevitable remarks and jibes. I loved my school but at 4 o’clock every day I was ready to get back across the Liffey. I looked forward to those North v South games more than any other. Let me take you back in time.

31st August 1981, Venue: Rush Cricket Club. The under 18 Esso sponsored Interprovincial game. A beautiful sunny day and a rock hard wicket. North Leinster won the toss and had a bat, clocking up 201, a decent total but was it enough. After all, South Leinster was the star studded side, 10 out of their 11 were Senior club First team cricketers, North Leinster boasted just the one. It did not start well for us as Peter O’Reilly from the Skerries end struggled with his run up in his first over. At a guess, the first over took 10 balls, but what followed was incredible. Bowling the most hostile spell I have ever witnessed on these shores, Peter ripped the South Leinster side apart, almost literally.

The records show that he took 7 wickets at a cost of 20 in his allotted 12 overs as The Southsiders subsided to 63 all out. Nick Prior who fielded at short leg that day took 4 catches. Such was the hostility he, at times in danger of being taken out by the batsman as they retreated to leg. It was glorious. Nearly 40 years on, the memories of that day still bring a glow and to top it off, North Leinster finished 2nd in the table while South Leinster finished 2nd last. Us against You