A CRICKETING DYNASTY: the Four Gillespie Brothers Help Strabane Win Cricket's All Ireland Cup.
It's not often in the intense, competitive, demanding arena of high-level senior sport that four brothers get to figure on an All Ireland winning team.
North West of Ireland cricket has seen such an exploit.
A little piece of local sporting history was made on 15 August 1998 at Beechgrove, the home of Brigade, when not alone did Strabane win cricket's Royal Liver Assurance Irish Senior Cup for the first time but four brothers made a huge contribution to the victory.
Underpinning the Tyrone club success were the talented Gillespies. Family ties tend to be strong when it comes to North West Union cricket. So it's not surprising to find that in the 1995 North West senior final 6 McDaids played for Crindle - one set of 3 brothers and one set of 2 and an uncle.
It would be difficult to upstage the Harrisons of Waringstown. All six brothers played in not one but two NCU Cup winning teams, in 1978 and 1979. Jim was captain against Woodvale in '78 and Roy in '79 and Derek, Ian, Barry and Garfield also played in both finals.
However, Strabane's feat is remarkable. Four years earlier they'd lost to Limavady in their first appearance in the prestigious All Ireland decider. The Roesiders edged oout the Strabane men in a closely fought contest. The winning margin was 4 wickets.
It was hardly surprising that the Gillespie brothers should be so proficient at the game. They were brought up in a cricket environment - all four going on to play inter-pro cricket just as their father Paddy had done.
Gillespie senior was an opening bat for Strabane and early in his career occasionally opened the bowling as well. Paddy Gillespie was no mean performer: among his career highlights was the steady role he played in Strabane's double winning season in the summer of 1966 when the Tyrone town edged out nearby village Donemana in the race for the league title and then proved too strong for Ardmore in the North West Senior Cup final.
That cup win of 1966 turned on an impressive second innings score of 329 that put Strabane in the driving seat. The key men in that match defining innings that moved the game beyond Ardmore were Brendan Donaghy, a brilliant century (118), and Paddy Gillespie who weighed in with a priceless half century (56).
Paddy Gillespie says a lot of the success his sons have had is down to coaching. "We brought Joe Caprani and Noel Mahony - both of whom played for Ireland - to coach here at Strabane - always in the month of July in the late 70's, " explained Paddy.
"Then Bobby Rao arrived in the 1980's and he put the finishing touches to many of the players here."
Mark Gillespie, in his first season of captaincy, was named man of the match by the adjudicator, Australian international umpire Darrell Hair. And the Strabane skipper had no real rivals for the award: he top scored with 47 and his leg spin - 5 for 33 in 9.4 overs - unhinged the Ballymena batters.
It takes a complete team effort to win any tournament - in team sport it's well nigh impossible to perform outstanding feats without the help of colleagues - but the overwhelming influence of the Gillespie brothers was clearly evident in the total the Tyrone town set their NCU rivals. Strabane compiled 189 for 4 off the 50 overs with opener John Gillespie contributing 37, Peter scored 34, Michael was run out for 35 and the captain Mark carried his bat for 47. The Gillespie contribution - 153 runs.
Peter had three years earlier (1995) broken into the Ireland team - as an opening bowler. Injury forced him to reinvent himself as a middle order batsman and he proceeded to a glittering career for his country by winning 124 caps - the second most capped Irish player of all time.
When in June 2007 he called a halt to his Ireland service the statistics showed he'd scored 2774 runs at an average of 27.41 - hitting 19 fifties and one hundred. And what a memorable century it was - the quickest on record - it came off 47 balls against the MCC at Bangor in 2007.
Indifferent weather on the Friday of the All Ireland Senior Cup final meant the battle for Ireland's most sought after cricket prize spilled over into the Saturday. When play resumed Ballymena were chasing an overnight score of 189. They immediately suffered an early blow at the hands of a man defying the march of time - Terence Patton, trapping Simon Carruthers, in front on the back foot as he attempted to pull a ball that did not rise as anticipated.
Patton senior- at 51 years of age - proving that length of service need not be a barrier even at the very top level. Just when it looked like Ballymena had steadied the ship they lost another wicket. The score had moved to 43 when opener Jimmy Ireland pulled a short ball from Gerard Porter to the square leg boundary where Terence Patton junior took the catch to dismiss the opener for 16. David Kennedy, the most prolific run scorer in the 1998 Irish season, then joined his brother Robert at the wicket and when they pushed the score onto 90 with 20 overs remaining it was anyone's game.
Mark Gillepie recalled that a key element in the victory was the way Gerard Porter and Stephen McCay curtailed Ballymena's run chase. "We stuck to our way of bowling. We never changed. They tied the two Kennedy's down and that was a crucial period," he recalled.
However, Peter Gillespie dramatically altered the nail biting war of attrition when he trapped David Kennedy leg before for 28 and twelve balls later the contest had swung even more decisively in favour of the Strabane. The other Kennedy, Robert, was stumped by Paul McNamee off the ageless Terence Patton, senior, when he'd compiled 37 off 93 balls (the highest Ballymena score of the innings. And the section One NCU leaders were really on the rack as Carl Williams and Michael Glass both went cheaply unable to deal with Mark Gillespie's leg spin.
There were one or two defiant blows still to come from the NCU club: Alastair McKee crashed sixes in successive overs off Mark Gillespie but the Tyrone skipper had the last laugh when with the 4th ball of the 49th over he trapped McKee, leg before, and with his next ball took a return catch from Neville Neill to clinch a memorable victory for Strabane. And what's more there were seven wickets for the talented Gillespie's.
Paddy Gillespie says he always believed his sons would be good cricketers but he never believed they would achieve as much as they did. The input from the Gillespie brothers underlined how to a great extent North West Union cricket is family orientated.
Of course another well known Strabane cricketing family were also heavily involved in the victory: the Pattons, Terence senior and Terence junior whose brother Ciaran made an appearance as substitute replacing the injured Charlie McCrum.
Paddy Gillespie though was quick to explain that cricket is a team game - all eleven players being crucially important. "What I remember most about the All Ireland final is that it was a real team effort," he said.
"The boys fielded brilliantly." The great New South Wales cricketer, Steve Waugh, who captained Australia 57 times with an astounding record of 41 victories and only 9 defeats spoke to both teams on the opening day.
"He remarked on the team spirit in our dressing room," Paddy recalled proudly.
The captain Mark Gillespie said the nine or ten minutes Steve Waugh spent in the dressing room on the Friday was quite inspirational. "We had a marvellous discussion with him - he lifted everybody." He talked about aspects of the game like the importance of being together as a team. He said he sensed in our dressing room - that we were a close-knit unit and that was true."
"Although we lost Charlie McCrum during the game with a pulled muscle the main factor I think in our success is that we walked out onto the field and every man knew exactly what he had to do." It was truly a family day but it was also a monumental achievement for the Strabane club.
"It meant everything to the team," Mark Gillespie said. "Grown men were emotional and most of all we felt that on that particular day we came of age."