The Waterside Story

This article first appeared in April 2013.

It takes precious little these days to stir the old memory pot and I have to confess that Richie Kelly's recent article on the demise of City of Derry got me thinking. I have vague memories of matches at the old Duncreggan Road ground back in the day, in my case usually when someone pulled out of the Waterside first team at short notice but the link between City and my old club was to have a direct bearing for me personally in later years.

If I'm honest it is a topic I have always wanted to write about, but the fact that many clubs from that generation has a similar story to tell coupled with the knowledge that I would be unable to keep my personal attachment out of it probably prevented that happening.

Richie's article drew the line under the City of Derry story in the late 70's however the club did indeed re-launch itself briefly in the early 90's, courtesy of the fact that Waterside CC had hit the buffers around the same time. The new look City would have had enough players to compete in the North West Intermediate league but they were of varying quality.

Before they re-entered the league they asked the now defunct Waterside for a pre-season friendly and we duly obliged them. We could only round up seven players for the challenge and although none of us were anything other than ordinary, only three of our seven needed to bat. After the game Pat Armstrong their skipper and Andrew McCartney (father of new North West treasurer Peter) came in and asked each of us to join them for the season ahead.

Five of us agreed and over the next decade a real Waterside influence was to continue at Judges Road- not the first time that the clubs had pooled their resources in a fight for survival. Richie has painted the City picture much better than I ever could but the Waterside story was no less rich in its tapestry. My own passion with North West cricket had started in the mid 60's when as a child I followed my father's every step all over the region (see, there I go already!!).

The home ground was Trench Road in those days and the side contained the likes of Mickey McLaughlin, Jerome McDermott, wicket-keeper Mark McCrystal, Gerry McGaughey, Thomas Daly, Jim McCormick who opened the innings with senior, and left arm spinner and Nobel peace prize winner, John Hume.

Shortly after that came the move to the spiritual home at Corrody Road and the fresh faces soon started to arrive. The new opening partnership was himself and Terry McCloskey, one that was to prove particularly productive for the next 10 years or so. A very young Davy Watson had joined the club at that stage too and even back then his reputation as a knowledgeable groundsman preceded him. To be fair it was a case of all hands on deck at the new ground with Davy heavily involved in directing operations. Testimony to their work is the fact that the pitch at Corrody was so good that if you went up there today, all it would need after 25 years of inactivity would be a cut and a roll.

Of course Davy's main thing back then was bowling his 25 overs every Saturday, down the hill in tandem with Mickey Doherty at the other end. Those two were a superb partnership, indeed Mickey's weekly team talk was simply to implore the batsmen to get them to the "magical 70", and him and Davy would do the rest. There was quality in the side back then as there were at most clubs and as well as the bowlers and my father we had the likes of Brendan and Leo Quinn, Harry Waterstone, Dan Roddy, Dermott O'Doherty, (Karl's father), Liam Bradley, Keith Moore and Brendan Smith. That latter pair had helped the club to their greatest achievement when they led a recovery from 25 for 7 to post a winning total of 145 against a fantastic Sion Mills team in the first round of the senior cup in 1974. Buoyed by that, Waterside went on to reach the final that season although were heavily beaten by a Roy McBrine, Dougie Huey, Ken Kerrigan and Davy Caldwell inspired Donemana.

Still, it was the thrill of a lifetime for a 13-year old 12th "man" although I didn't realise at the time that 12th man duties back then included marking the book. As a 2nd year at St Columb's College, I had more pens than most which is probably how I got the job. I remember going home at the end of Friday night's play with Waterside a million runs behind but delighted that the 'oul fella had defied Donemana with a really good innings. It was a happy sleep chez Moore that night after the two previous ones were done for by the barely containable excitement.

Despite having a decent team in those days the club wasn't afraid to strengthen from outside and a few years after that we brought in a 16-year old by the name of Nigel Thompson. Heaven knows what the going rate was back then but I'm reliably informed (by Nigel) that it was enough to sort out a fortnight in Ibiza at the end of August. It was also around that time (1977) that City of Derry had started to struggle and my father along with City's Tommy McBride (now an established bookmaker) came up with the idea of trying to combine the two teams. agreed to enter a City/Waterside team in the mid-Ulster Cup that year-Mickey, Davy, Terry, Brendan Smith, Dan Roddy and senior were our reps while the only people we can recall from City were Tommy, Markie McGonigle and Sonny Nicholl (who subsequently came to play for us). The project ended with a narrow second round defeat to Brigade at Duncreggan Road but for whatever reason it was never mentioned again.

As a footnote to that, when City left the league ahead of the 1978 season, all bar Tommy McBride and a very young Paul Wallace found clubs straight away. Those two spent their free evenings practising together at Foyle College's pitch in the run up to the season but ended it on opposing sides in the senior cup final- Wallace at St Johnston and McBride at Strabane.

Also around that time Waterside had chanced upon a young Sri Lankan by the name of Ashok who had come to the North West to study. Ashok told us he was a Prince in Sri Lanka and as there was no Google back then either we had little reason to doubt him. On hindsight Ashok was no more a Sri Lankan Prince than "Rangers" is but the line certainly worked a treat when we went to the Embassy after matches on a Saturday night that summer!

Ashok was a handy enough batsman for sure but whoever told him he could bowl did him no favours. We played St Johnston in a Faughan Valley Cup game one evening and they needed 28 off the last two overs with Mickey having an over up his sleeve. The Saints wouldn't have got 5 off Mickey but as it turned out they didn't need to as skipper Syl Marshall threw the ball to our Prince for the second last and he went for 24. By that stage a new group of players had made their way into the team led by the likes of Geoff Irwin and Raymond Dunlop, the latter an exceptionally talented player who unfortunately was good at a whole host of sports which curtailed his cricketing career.

Geoff was a very useful all-rounder but he fared best as a batsman because he rarely got a chance to bowl. In his words Davy Watson was lucky that more than one bowler was needed as Mickey Doherty would happily have bowled from both ends! Other new faces included Colum Harrigan, Martin McLaughlin, Billy McFeely, Dee Murray, my brother Paul, Joe McWilliams and Charlie Kelly as the club took on real character. It certainly wasn't all fun- if you weren't in the field by 6pm on a Tuesday or Thursday night you had no chance of getting a bat- but the craic was mighty.

In those days the players all had to bring either sandwiches or cake for the tea and one particular day Charlie had forgotten to tell his long-suffering wife Grace that he needed sandwiches. The couple lived at the very bottom of Chapel Road in those days and Grace told Charlie to go on and she would make sandwiches and bring them up.

If anyone knows the route between the bottom of Chapel Road and the top of Corrody Hill you will agree the near 4-mile trip is almost vertical uphill. Grace is an awful lot fitter today than she was then and by the time she got to the ground a rain interruption had meant an early tea. As the purple faced Mrs Kelly climbed over the wooden fence, Charlie shouted to her that it was OK and that she could take the sandwiches home again.

Strangely enough she didn't seem overly enamoured with that and proceeded to march across the field before hurling the loaf in Charlie's direction. There was a stunned silence for about 5 minutes as Grace made her way home but the ice was broken at the start of the next over when Mickey Doherty started to set his field. "Drop back a bit Felix…bit more.....bit more....now over towards Grace's egg and onion". I swore Keith Moore was going to stop breathing.

For all the high points, the low was to come in 1985 when the North West, trying their utmost to bring facilities at all senior clubs into line advised Waterside that they would not be permitted to enter the old Senior A league unless they upgraded the pavilion. Worse still the pressure was now on that even to stay in Senior B improvements would have to be forthcoming. Admittedly things were primitive by today's standards as they were at a lot of other clubs however the ground was leased from a local farmer and built on a network of underground water pipes. Even if the club had the money to build a new pavilion there was no way they would have been given permission to do so, either by the farmer or the planners. The North West met again before the end of that summer and advised the club that they would have to be relegated into the junior league if a commitment could not be given. The bottom line was that the one thing to have dogged Waterside down through the years- never owning their own ground - had returned to haunt them one last time. Effectively the death warrant at one of the region's longest established cricket clubs had just been signed.

It was the most gut-wrenching sporting experience imaginable pulling the gate at Corrody closed and you couldn't have looked at senior for months after. Davy Watson, Mickey Doherty, Keith Moore, Brendan Smith and Terry McCloskey- half of the first team- joined Glendermott in the following months. Come to think of it there was a very real link between ourselves and the Rectory club going back then too, my father having been born and raised just over the long-on boundary on Cliftonville Avenue and the likes of John Watson and a very young Garth Watson and Stephen Doherty spending time with us in those days too. Apart from Goofer and wee Bob there's hardly one of them their own!!

To their credit there were some who decided to battle to keep Waterside afloat even then and after much wrangling, Derry City Council agreed to let the club play their home games at Prehen on what was simply a football pitch with a "square" cut in the middle. That first season in the junior ranks was a non-event; travelling to play at places like Ballymoney and NUU and going through the season without dropping a point. Even missing half of the first team most of the games were over by 3 o'clock on a Saturday but the momentum had been lost. The game was up insofar as North West cricket was concerned and Waterside withdrew from the league at the end of that campaign.

A last ditch meeting at Laurence McLaughlin's bar (the scene of so many big nights in the past) attracted just four people and because I was still the guy with the damned pens - I was instructed to write to the North West. I still have Jim Lindsay's reply informing me that we would be welcome back into the Union at any time in the future. I suppose part of me desperately hopes it is still needed some day.

On the midweek front the fight continued for another couple of seasons and king among the battlers was George McDaid who, even when the rest of us had given up, kept it going for another four or five years. Liam Bradley was there to the bitter end as well and it may only have been an occasional midweek league or cup match but it was the eeriest feeling ever playing for City against them during those seasons.

These were nothing games, matches for the sake of matches but I hated them because they meant playing against lads that I had been playing back lane cricket with since primary school. George McDaid was Waterside to the core (as indeed was Liam) and had looked after the boys team in the early years- often cramming the full team into his car for away matches. Ironically the two players from the seven who were invited to join City of Derry in 1991 but had politely refused were his sons.

Looking back now the Corrody days stick out like a sore thumb they were so special. On a purely personal note I had a brilliant time at City, playing 9 seasons there, 8 of them as skipper but it was never the same. Strangely enough, Geoff Irwin has always said that despite his years at Burndennett, he will die a Waterside CC man.

At last year's senior cup final Bob Rankin was reminiscing about Bready's matches at Corrody and how afterwards both teams invariably ended up in Villas until the wee hours. Cricket, like most other sports has moved on since then, but not all of those changes have been for the best. Despite the progress there is still a place in North West cricket for the Waterside's of this world and there remains a fleeting hope that the club's day may yet come around again. Whether it does or not, I am under no illusions about how huge its influence has been on one life at least.