There were only three of us. Alistair Bushe, David Holmes and myself have been covering NCU cricket for the three main newspapers here for the last few years and as I write this 24 hours after hearing the news of David’s death, I still cannot believe he will not be around next summer.
At 54 years old he had so much more to give, so many more seasons to cover and, cruelly, for a lover of cricket at every level, he won’t be at Ireland’s Test match debut in May.
It was only recently that he had started attending Ireland matches but his personality gave him instant access to the players and Gary Wilson and Andy Balbirnie, currently in the UAE with the Ireland squad, were among the first to tweet their condolences.
I wasn’t on social media when Alistair announced his death at 11.16 on Monday morning and when I was told the news by Cricket Ireland, in an email half an hour later, I did not comprehend the message, which said “Ian, We’ve only just heard about David’s sudden passing. He was an absolute gentleman and we’re all heartbroken.”
My reply suggested the email had been to the “wrong Ian” but an immediate response by phone confirmed the unbelievable news that Holmesy had died.
When I went onto Twitter, my timeline already had almost 100 notifications, all paying tribute to David. He had over 2,000 followers so no-doubt the hundreds that I saw were multiplied many times over to someone who posted more than 25,000 tweets since he joined in May 2010 – note the month, in time for the cricket season!
His last was sent at 11.05 on Sunday morning, in reply to North Down’s announcement that Ryan Haire was returning to the club, hailing him as a “quality act and sure to strengthen the side”. How he would have loved to have seen Ryan back in action at Comber this summer. And that is when David will be missed. Can anyone imagine an NCU season without Holmesy?
He was the life and soul of every conversation he took part in – and they were non-stop from when he arrived at the ground until he left. He knew someone from virtually every club at every level and he would be welcomed back time and time again. My constant joke with him was he didn’t know that cricket existed on the other side of the Glenshane Pass! And as for Dublin – well that was literally in a foreign country.
I remember, one weekend, when rain had wiped out the entire NCU programme, the three of us took a road trip to Coleraine to introduce David to North West cricket. As expected, he had a great time and acted as if he had been a regular there all his life and, unsurprisingly, got on well with everyone.
And, in the last few years, David embraced those cultures and leagues as well so by the end of last season he had many friends in both regions who will miss him just as much as those in his beloved NCU.
Heatley Tector is one such person in Dublin. Their friendship grew from David’s regular appearances on the Slog Sweep, where David was the NCU contributor, telling with his usual boundless enthusiasm the story of the weekend’s matches. Heatley’s tweet on Monday summed up many people’s opinion. “Don't believe there will ever be another Holmsey. An absolute gentleman a lover of cricket and a truly wonderful colleague. Goodbye my friend.”
I must admit I knew little about David’s playing career but Cricket Ireland president Brian Walsh was a team-mate when Holmesy captained the 3rd XI at Instonians to a league title. One story sums up the way he made friends and got things done.
“I remember the time we were trying to organise a pre-season tour and Holmesy suggested Barbados. We all replied, “don’t be daft”. But David made contact with Fred Rumsey and not only set up the trip but also got David Gower and Godfrey Evans over for a fund-raising dinner before the tour. He remained friends with Gower and Mike Gatting, another ex-England captain. He’s irreplaceable. A great character who will be sadly missed.”
The last time I saw David was at the Cricket Ireland Awards in November – we were both on the judging panel - when he was taking pictures and tweeting (of course) throughout the event, a follower you could rely on to keep you up to date with what was happening in cricket circles.
Many times I would try to contact him by phone when he was at a match during the season but invariably he didn’t pick up; he would either be in full flow talking to someone or sending his latest tweet.
Totally reliable, if I was missing a result on a Saturday night for the Sunday Life scoreboard, I had only to ring David – who was already collating up to 10 scores for me every week – and he would dip into his vast contact book and come up with the details.
But now there are only two of us.