One of the greatest attractions of cricket is that size, shape and even fitness need not deter one from playing the game. Even at the top level it has accommodated players a whisker over 5ft tall and those over 6ft8 such as Ireland’s Boyd Rankin. But perhaps its greatest contribution to diversity is its refusal to bow to the notion that, once you hit your mid-30s, you are “too old” to play.
The Tillain Cup final at the weekend saw Pembroke overcome their Phoenix counterparts. Being a second XIs competition both sides had their fair share of men on the way down and boys on the way up. For the record, fifties from late-thirty-something Danny Barclay and 16-year-old South African student Jody de Sousa allowed Pembroke set a stiff, but not unbeatable target.
Then up stepped Conor Hoey, not long since celebrating his 50th birthday. Still known by his teenage nickname of ‘Beany’, his wiles were far too good for the Phoenix batsmen, and he finished his four overs at a cost of just 12 runs. Had his fielders been keener he would have had more than a solitary wicket.
Hoey was a fine leg-spinner in his day – he won 42 caps between 1991 and 1995 – and was skilled enough to have Brian Lara, Dean Jones, Phil Simmons and Mike Gatting in his scalp collection. Jones, at the time playing for Durham, told me that the Irishman was “twice as good” a leggie as Ian Salisbury, then in the England test team.
Injury woes ended his Ireland career but he’s had his shoulder fixed and has spent the last eight seasons picking up wickets for fun in Division 2 with Trinity, smashing all the venerable club’s bowling records. Some still rate him as the best leg-spinner in the land.
Twenty20 may suit Hoey as he heads into his fifties, a brisk four-over stroll in the park before wandering down to the boundary to rest his old bones. Who’s to say he hasn’t a few years left in him.
Lingard Goulding would certainly agree, having resumed playing for Knockharley, the Co Meath club, in 2011 and still going strong with five games under his belt this season so far – aged 78.
Goulding – his father was an Irish cricket and squash international and his mother a Fianna Fáil senator – was a highly-rated wicket-keeper but he didn’t like league overs cricket and so confined himself to Leprechauns and Co Meath friendly fixtures for many years. Respected observers had no doubt he would have been capped had he joined a city club.
His main sporting pursuit was motor racing where he raced in the 1960s against Formula One drivers such as Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart.
Goulding was in his fifties when he finally decided to test himself in the leagues and joined Phoenix, quickly working his way on to the first XI. After his retirement as headmaster of Headfort School in Kells, Goulding wintered in Adelaide, where he began playing for Goodwood, with whom he still turns out.
He told an Australian newspaper “I'll keep going as long as my body doesn't disintegrate. My powers are obviously on the wane but for an old creature I still keep wicket rather tolerably.”
At 68, he was good enough to make an unbeaten 133 for Goodwood, and his avid commitment to fitness includes regular squash and vegetarianism.
“It's a love of the game and the perhaps the fact that I didn't play a lot in my better years that has kept me going,” he explained.
Goulding isn’t the first septuagenarian to play in the Leinster leagues, with the late Billy Tolan having a long career with Man O’War before moving to The Hills because his first club’s insurance policy didn’t cover him past age 65. Leinster CC have fielded three men in their 70s in their junior sides this summer, Bob Cramp, Trevor Dunne and Niall Carroll.
Several Fingallians have shown great longevity, with Eamonn Moore turning out for Knockbrack in his 80s and Martin Russell making his senior debut for the Hills aged 62, beating by a year the senior record of long-serving Fergus Carroll who made a brief comeback when Clontarf had a keeper crisis.
And international opener David Pigot played Division 1 in six decades from the ‘40s to the ‘90s for Trinity and Phoenix, finishing his career, aged 60, with over 14,000 senior runs.
Up north, at least three men in their seventies are still turning out – Billy ‘Bumper’ Dale (71) who won a player of the week award in the NCU just four years ago for taking 7-14 for Saintfield; Instonians’ Neville Latham (75); and Dundrum’s Tommy Curlett (78). Dougie Huey of Brigade is the oldest active player in the north-west, turning 68 last week. They aren’t as mobile as they once were, but their experience and enthusiasm is invaluable to their clubs and surely an inspiration to youngsters making their way in the game.
With all this evidence before him – and 40-year-old Rangana Herath still playing for Sri Lanka – perhaps Ed Joyce ought to reconsider his retirement from Test cricket. Four men played Tests even past their 50th birthday, including legends Wilfred Rhodes and WG Grace.
Joyce turns out today alongside Hoey for MCC in a game that marks Clontarf CC’s 150th birthday. Joyce hits his own milestone of 40 in a few weeks, but perhaps runs today and that flowing cover drive could return for Ireland – for years to come.