Clontarf Cricket Club is a big supporter of the 20×20 initiative. To kick off things off, we thought it would be good to highlight a number of the women currently in senior prominent positions in the Club and get to know them a bit better through a Q&A. We will publish additional Q&A’s in the next few weeks.

First up, needing no introduction, is Stella Downes, who holds our highest office, President of Clontarf Cricket Club. Everyone knows you have been an integral part of the club for quite some time, would you like to tell us how long?

I qualified as a teacher and moved to the Northside. After a year living in Raheny, I moved to Clontarf in 1984/1985. I moved into a shared house and one of the girls had just met the opening bowler of the First XI in Clontarf. She persuaded us all to go down to the Club with her when she was going down to meet him for a drink as she didn’t want to walk in on her own. The rest, as they say, is history!

What brought you to Clontarf?

I had loved watching cricket as a child as my Dad was a huge fan. My secondary school introduced cricket when I was in sixth year and we were coached by the legendary Rodney Green of Railway Union who was our maths teacher. I was hooked! When I moved to Clontarf I heard that there was a women’s team and I asked Dick Forrest, who was friends with the opening bowler mentioned earlier, to point me in the right direction so that I could join.

Tell us about – the early years…

I joined a club with the most formidable First XI in the country. The Second XI was equally feared so, as a beginner, I was delighted to get an occasional game on the Third XI. There was a great crowd of 20 somethings and the social life was brilliant! Everyone else lived at home so our rented house was a mecca for parties every Saturday night after the Club bar closed… our Live Aid party was legendary! There were great social events in the club like Shorts’n’Shades parties and live music in the bar. Friendships forged in those heady days have stood the test of time.

Your playing career

I loved to bat! I played for many years on the 2nd and 3rd XIs and was captain of both teams for years. There were a few highlights, the most notable being a ton against Phoenix in a 20 over game. Dermot Gunn was umpiring and he said to me “you must be close now”… I thought he meant to a 50 but the crowd erupted a few balls later and I realised he was talking about a ton. I was never one for counting runs and individual scores weren’t displayed in those days. The other highlight was winning the Division 2 cup three years in a row as captain.

How you got into scoring

Hoppy Ellis was captain of the 2nd XI and he asked me to score a game for them. I really enjoyed it and ended up doing the rest of the season for him. From there, it was a natural step to score for the 1st XI when the lovely Billy Vincent stepped down. I’ve been scoring for the 1st XI for about 30 years now and I still really enjoy it. My first international game was in 1988 (I think) and it was Ireland against Wales in a three day game at Castle Avenue.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel with the Irish side on numerous occasions, to places like Guyana, South Africa and Holland as well as to Scotland and to many grounds around England, including Lords which was a wonderful experience. The friends you’ve made along the way Cricket brings lifelong friendships and I have been lucky enough to meet many wonderful people through my association with the game.

I met my closest friends through cricket … people like Liz Kirk and the inimitable Jenny Cassidy who I still miss every day. I’ve made great friends in other clubs as well … the likes of Siobhan McBennett in Rush, Angela Mooney in North County and Judy Cohen in Railway. As scorer for the men’s teams I’ve also forged strong bonds with players and love to catch up with them whenever I get the opportunity… Andre Botha being one of my all time favourites!

I’ve also made great friends in clubs north of the border over the years through my interprovincial and international scoring and I enjoy catching up with them when cricket brings me to the NCU and NWCU. Being with the Ireland team in the CWC in 2007 I didn’t get to the World Cup in 2007 unfortunately… long story!!

I was glued to every ball in the club and cried buckets on the phone to Roy Torrens (the Ireland manager) when they beat Pakistan! I was so proud of them… and I earned massive brownie points with my nieces when I was interviewed by Will Goodbody on RTE news the following day!

I travelled with the team to Guyana for the 2010 T20 World Cup where we were knocked out because of rain in the match against England! Guyana was an experience! We slept with armed guards outside our rooms and we were eaten alive by mosquitoes!!

You were the first female president of the club and this is your second year as President, what does it mean to you to hold this position?

It’s a huge honour to be President of Clontarf CC… I never imagined that it would happen. I love the role and we had a wonderful season in 2018 which made it a real pleasure! I’m hoping that 2019 will be just as good. I’m lucky that the role didn’t prevent me from scoring… it just meant that I had to score more games for more teams! I did 82 games in 2018 and will probably equal that in 2019.

In terms of the profile of women in the club and women’s and girls’ cricket in general, how do you think things are at in Clontarf?

Clontarf, as a club, has made huge strides in raising the profile of women’s and girls’ cricket within the Club. The women had an incredible season in 2018, winning both the Senior and Minor cups. This was all the more admirable as it was the first season back in the top flight for the 1st XI. Both sides are very youthful (with the obvious exception of the evergreen Cecily McGeer!!) and I’m very optimistic that these girls will continue to play cricket for many years. Playing with your peers makes sport fun and it’s good to also have a mix of ages in the sides. Great credit must go to the committee for targeting expenditure at the women’s game and for the positive way they are trying to increase participation.

Credit must also go to Fiona Manning who did great work behind the scenes to revive the women’s game in the Club. I’m confident that employing Isobel Joyce as Director of Coaching for the whole Club will reap great rewards. In terms of the Committee, I’m glad to say that we’re gender neutral now. If you’re willing to work, there’s a place for you! We’ve come a long way from when I first came on to the Committee as the only woman and a longstanding member was heard to mutter that he “would withhold judgement” until he saw how having a woman on the Committee would work!

The club is embracing the 20×20 initiative, what specific areas of increased participation would you like to see from women and girls?

I would love to see more adult women giving the sport a try. We have great programmes in local schools bringing young talent in but I’m sure there are plenty of hockey/rugby/GAA women who would really take to the game if they gave it a try. We’ll also be encouraging cricket parents to give it a go. I’d also love to see more women getting involved in the administration side of the club – on Committee, running functions, scoring, umpiring. There are so many ways to be involved!

What are your hopes for the season for the women’s and girl’s teams? I would love 2019 to build on the progress of 2018. Trophies are always an added bonus but seeing our numbers increase and to have more women and girls playing and enjoying the game is my greatest hope.

What’s your thoughts on the Hundred Blast competition?

I think it’s a great initiative and it will encourage more players to stay in the game. I’m sure it will be highly competitive and very enjoyable. I’m delighted to see how many of our girls are involved and that Una Raymond-Hoey will be coaching one of the teams.

Finally, congratulations on being elected President elect of Cricket Leinster, you must be very honoured that you’ll be the first ever female President when your term commences in 2020

It was both a great shock and a huge honour to be asked. I’m conscious that I was the first female President in Clontarf and will now be the first female Cricket Leinster President. However, I believe that these roles need to be shown to be gender neutral.

Now that the glass ceilings have been broken I believe that gender is no longer a stumbling block on the path to these honours. Aideen Rice did a fantastic job as President of Cricket Ireland! I look forward to many more Clontarf members, both male and female, getting the chance to take on these positions in the future.