One evening out in Lusk, my doorbell rang. When I opened it John Andrews from North County was standing there.  Not a man to beat around the bush, he immediately got to the point.  

“You’re living in the area now so would you like to join North County?”
“Eh no thanks”
“Ok, thought that might be the answer so would you be interested in coaching some of our young fellas over the winter”
“Eh, ok.”

And so over the winter I coached a group of North County youngsters.  This was before the days of the fancy new North County ground and indoor school so a facility had to be found. The message came through, in due course, that the sessions would take place at the sports hall in Oberstown Detention Centre.  

You may not be familiar with this facility but it is the place where young offenders in the Dublin region are sent.  The first night was instructive, the lads all gathered outside the hall waiting for the doors to be opened.  

It was a chirpy group but as soon as the doors opened and as the previous occupants left the premises, the chirpers became rather more subdued. In fairness it was a hall like any other and served the purpose of providing an opportunity for young players to work on their game in the off season.  We did just one winter in Oberstown before moving onto Balbriggan Community Centre. It kept me occupied in the winter months before the start of another new season.

Clontarf had been relegated to Section 2 in 1997 so it was a rebuilding job for the new captain. Johnny Daly. The Dalys were one of a number of families who could legitimately consider the cricket club as part of their back garden.  

Like the Spelmans, the Forrests, the McTiernans, the Barrys and the Owens, Johnny and his brothers Collie and Bernie only had to leap over their back wall and the wide open space of the cricket ground was theirs.

Now Johnny was entrusted in getting the club back to the top league.   Things couldn't have begun better for Johnny when in the opening league fixture of the season, on the 25th of April, we beat Rush by 171 runs. Spinners Seamus Boylan (5 wickets) and Keith Spelman (4 wickets) did the damage with the ball and gave the new skipper the ideal start.  

Keith had spent January in South Africa at his second Under 19 world cup along with his clubmate Danny Gaughran and had a great tournament, the highlight being an outstanding spell of 10 overs 5 for 16 in the demolition of Papua New Guinea.  There were some decent players in the Irish side at that World Cup with  Ed Joyce, Dwyane McGerrigle and Johnny Bushe going on to play for the senior side.  It might have been a tad colder in Castle Avenue in April than their southern hemisphere jaunt.

New Clontarf captain Johnny Daly leads out his side
Results were a bit mixed in league and cup, second round exit at the hands of Merrion in the Leinster Senior Cup meant we really had to make sure the league form counted in the long run and hopefully got some more games in the Irish Senior Cup.  Well we managed to beat Sion Mills in the second round (our first) with Dessie McCann the hero with a miserly spell of 3 for 9.  

The quarters saw us pitted against North West form team Limavady albeit at home. Limavady was the home club of the legendary Decker Curry, the first player I ever saw reverse sweeping. It was a terrific game, not personally, the ever reliable Roger Kerr ended my day early on without scoring.

In fact, without the resistance of Angus Hancock (74) and an unbeaten 33 from the captain, Limavady might have been heading home before tea. Our total of 172 was not a wonderful effort but a big improvement on 36 for 5.  

Decker, of course, was the big wicket and with the score on 10, of which he had 9, he slashed at a wide ball from Brian McNiece.  Situated at point, I saw the ball the whole way, but it was travelling at pace, up went the hands and “smack” the ball hit them, hard.  Fortunately the ball stayed in the hands and we had the start that we had dreamed of.  It was nip and tuck all the way, at 124 for 8, the game was ours but Mr. Kerr had other thoughts. Batting at 10, his 20 brought his side to within 7 runs of the target before he hit the ball in the air and with only my second meaningful contribution in a long day, Clontarf were in the semi final.  

That semi saw us drawn at home to Ballymena, a game that was once again a low scoring thriller. However it was one that the visiting side won their place in the final. Ballymena scored only 167 batting first and we fancied our chances.  Top score for Ballymena was Robert Kennedy with 36, though Jimmy Irealnd won man of the match for his 35.  

I had known Jimmy since our times as opponents in the Leinster Schools and Ulster Schools days in 1982, a game that was played over 3 days, incidentally.  The reply never got going, my day ended in the first over playing on to the young speedster Adrian McCoubrey who gave an early indication to us of the talent that would take him into the professional game.  

Without a partnership of 42 for the 8th wicket between Johnny Daly and Derek Quinlan, it would have not been close but they got the score to 163.  With 3 needed off the final ball, Johnny could only manage 1 and Ballymena earned the right to take on Strabane in the final.  

Playing for Ballymena that day was Michael Glass, a fine cricketer and great servant to his club. Emphasising the local nature of the sporting world on this island, Michael’s wife Mary was a friend and former teammate of my wife, Fiona, from their days as players on the Irish Under 21 hockey side.  

It was a friendship that was later renewed as they watched their respective sons play on the same Irish under 15 side in Rugby where they won the European championships.  Indeed, Andrew and John batted together in a crucial partnership against Denmark as Andrew moved towards his 100, while the mothers watched on, rooted to the same spot, not wishing to hex the partnership by moving.

I was in IKEA (in Dublin) frantically refreshing my phone to get updates at the same time, I'm not sure which method is more tortuous, to be honest, but the agony was sated when I received the nicest text message from the team’s coach, Simon Johnston informing me of the 100 and his delight at Andrew’s knock.  Some coaches have the touch. 

Andrew Vincent celebrates his 100 for Ireland u15 with Stephen Keane (YMCA). Photo courtesy of Mary Glass

The final of the Irish Senior Cup was played in Beechgrove on Friday 14th of August.  Rain meant that only the Strabane innings was completed on that day.  The game was umpired by Darryl Hair who was spending some time in Ireland that summer.  Ballymena were unable to chase down the total on the following day, however the weekend was overshadowed by the tragedy just down the road in Omagh when 29 people were killed and 220 injured in a car bombing carried out by the Real IRA.  Perspective.

Darryl Hair at Clontarf

Back in the league, Clontarf succeeded in their aim of regaining Section A status topping the B league ahead of Phoenix for whom Jeremy Bray had, you are never going to believe this, a very productive season.  There was clearly a difference between the leagues, I suppose that was the point of the split in the first place but it was a relief to get back into the top tier at the first opportunity.

In reviewing these years from a personal point of view, I have tried to avoid including myself in the narrative, reflecting instead on my view of the overall game rather than the personal.  For the next paragraph, I am going to break that pledge temporarily.  If you want to skip this section, work away, I don't really blame you.  

Most batsmen have an innings that brings them a little glow of pride.  It might be obvious to others, sometimes less so.  I always had a love of one particular innings but there was a small problem. Simply, I had no idea of when it took place and therefore couldn't find any record of it.

Trawling through old papers looking for one particular game which may or may not have been recorded, was something I couldn't face so it just stayed there, in my head.  I was pretty sure it happened but just couldn't prove it.  I said this to the youngest one night, he was dubious but fortunately his mother who was reading the Irish Times at the time, put down the paper and declared “I know when it happened, it was the same day as the Michael Atherton and Allan Donald confrontation, ‘cause I watched THAT rather than go to the game, when I actually arrived the game was over”.  

Mystery solved, Uncle Google told me that the Atherton/Donald showdown (google it if you don’t know what this is about) took place on the 26th July 1998 at Trent Bridge and so I knew where to look for the scorecard of the less dramatic Railway and Clontarf Section B tussle in South Dublin.  

Batting first in a dark and damp Park Avenue, the home side made 142 in 49 overs before rain ended their innings.  Dare I say it was a typical Railway wicket, turgid and slow.  It was a typical Railway side as well, four O’Briens, (N.O’Brien down to bat 11, I can't imagine that went down too well), and three O’Mearas made up the bulk of the side.  

After the rain, the revised target for us was 119 and we duly reached that losing just the one wicket.  That wicket went down with the score on 65 when Paddy Lee was out for 2 and when the winning run was hit, number 3, Andre Botha was on 6.  

I think I hit the winning run and in doing so brought up my 100.  It is comfortably the quickest 100 that I ever scored but the lopsided nature of the scorecard is what tickles me.  It is not a club record, that I believe belongs to Greg Molins but I can't be sure that that information is still up to date.

Elsewhere it was a season to remember for Leinster, who did the double.  Inspired by their pro Hendy Wallace, who took wickets and scored plenty of entertaining run, along with Johnny and Joe Byrne while Merrion and Rush dropped down a league.  

Leinster beat Malahide in the Cup Final when the Byrne’s 128 run partnership for the 2nd wicket put a huge hole in the target set by Malahide of 195.  Victory by 7 wickets meant that captain Mark Jones carried the trophy back to Rathmines.