Sean Pender, 1992
In one of his last articles for the Irish Times, the late Sean Pender looked at the career of 1993 ICU President, Alfie Linehan.
Not that many international players have, over the years, gone on to be President of the Irish Cricket Union; fewer still have led their country both on and off the field. Alfie Linehan is one of the chosen few.
In this elite category he joins up with father and son William and Stuart Pollock, Donald Shearer, Pat Hone, Jim Ganly, Bob Lambert and Noel Mahony as among those who have accomplished the dual distinction.
Linehan is in no way out of place in such company. A man of lofty principle and forthright manner-only last summer he relinquished the Downpatrick presidency over what he felt was a misguided Schweppes Cup decision on the part of his club-Linehan will indeed carve out a unique and individualist niche in the prestigious ICU post.
The pedigree is outstanding. Alfie was only 14 when, in 1954, he first broke into the senior Downpatrick side. When he took over the reins six years later he was the youngest ever captain of the club. At the other end of the scale, he was into his forties during his final term at the helm in the 1980s.
By 1957 he was a regular first team free scoring middle order bat. That summer he scored his first century for the club-against NICC in the Northern Cricket Union Challenge Cup. His last three figure score came against Bangor in the 1986 Schweppes Cup at Strangford Road when he hit a magnificent 110 (nine sixes and four fours) in 100 minutes out of an all out total of 172 that was not enough to secure victory.
There was not, regrettably, to be an Ireland century. His top score in 11 appearances at that level arrived in his second match. An undefeated 61 secured a draw against Denmark at Aalborg in 1971 after Ireland, on the mat, had been skittled for 66 in their first innings. Alfie slammed 34 of his total, including three sixes, in the closing three overs.
Alfie is one of the very few Irish skippers to begin his tenure with a victory. For the away fixture against Holland in 1974 Alec O'Riordan was unexpectedly disposed after being in charge for seven successive matches, four of which were won, and Alfie, who had led Ulster Country to successive triumphs in the Interprovincial championship and had come into the international team as a rank and file player in 1971 (when he headed the batting averages) was handed the reins at the age of 34.
Though Dermott Monteith, Ivan Anderson and Jim Harrison all had to pull out of the team, letting in Simon Corlett, Jack Short and Stan Mitchell for their first caps, Alfie still managed to force a win with his understrength squad. All three new caps contributed brilliantly and the big fellow himself brought the victory horizon that little bit closer in a race against the clock with two massive sixes in the second innings.
Winning captain of Ireland against Scotland at Ayr in 1974.
Set 222 to win in 115 minutes and 20 overs-a target higher than had ever before been reached by Ireland in a fourth innings-Ireland excitingly got home with three wickets to spare in the last over, the requirement having been as many as 140 off the final 20 overs. Due to excellent work earlier by Short, who had a dream debut with scores of 71 and 55, David Pigot, O'Riordan and Dougie Goodwin, who drove a vital boundary in the penultimate over, Corlett was able to face the final over with the scores level. But it was only off the fifth delivery, with Irish hearts palpitating excessively, that the winning run was secured.
When in full cry Alfie was one of the most spectacular strikers of the ball in Irish cricket. "Biggest hit I ever saw" was a common observation at many grounds as he batted on after he had lofted the ball well out of the arena. Never fussed about statistics or records, he unleashed many an imperious six no matter what the state of the game.
Even the most renowned of bowlers suffered when the Downpatrick farmer was in the mood-which was often. In a league triumph over Lisburn at Wallace Park in 1979 he clubbed Monteith for three successive sixes. Who else can boast such an impudent feat?
As captain of Ireland, a post he held six times, Alfie proved extremely popular and displayed an ability to create among the players a "pull-together" frame of mind and team spirit. For a press man he was a godsend, always approachable and communicative in a restrictive atmosphere that those now in command in much more enlightened times might not appreciate.
My memory of the lead-up to securing Ireland team news when I started covering international cricket in the 1950s revolves around knocking nervously on doors, sidling apologetically into the inner sanctum (if indeed invited), and muttering my name and newspaper to whatever funereal eminence deigned to recognise your presence. I would then very quickly be ushered away with whatever morsels of information might reluctantly have been proffered. The captain was seldom approached. And, if he was, he was not quick to make revelations about himself, the team or team mates. If by chance he did then his future was not worth two buttons.
O'Riordan and Goodwin were among the first to nibble at away at this prehistoric mould. Alfie pushed the revolt that bit further. Not one to skirt the issues, he always spoke his mind, whether it be to colleagues, officials or the press. He could never be accused of not showing boldness and imagination both on and off the field, on which he was a great captain for bolstering up flagging spirits.
This no nonsense approach to his duties was never illustrated better than at the Mardyke in 1985 when, in a dire emergency caused by several of the side withdrawing at the last moment, he togged out for Ulster Country but insisted to the captain, Ivan Anderson, that he should be listed at number eleven so as not to deprive any other player of the opportunity of getting to the crease. As things turned out, he was the only Ulster Country player not to get to bat. But he did have the satisfaction of taking a catch off the bowling of Brian Ferris to help Country to victory.
When he lost his place on the Ireland XI Alfie still had a wish to contribute at the top level. Towards this end, he worked his way up through the administrative ranks with Ulster Country. Appointments as international selector and team manager followed.
As a member of the Northern Ireland Sports Council for many years he did valuable work not just for cricket but over a broad spectrum. Now the very top cricketing honour has come Alfie's way. In his very first report as ICU Honorary Secretary, Derek Scott described Alfie as "a genial giant who is very popular with his players and gets things done".
No doubt in next year's report the words will change only slightly and the sentiments not at all!