2001 The End

When the end came, it came quickly. Not planned, not even considered in advance. It had been my plan to play the 2001 season and probably on after that as well. The previous September we had moved back from Lusk to Raheny, the next village up from Castle Avenue. Andrew was a settled and happy child albeit one who resisted sleeping an entire night and Fiona, herself a sportswoman, understood that sport was an integral part of my makeup. That being said, I was now quite prepared to take a family holiday in the cricket season so there were some limits to my availability. But returning captain Ronan O’Reilly was happy to accept this and I was installed as the experienced oldie for the summer.  There had been a fairly major change in personnel when Andre Botha announced he was moving to North County, where he would give the same good service that we had been happy to receive for the previous number of years. In his place as pro came Aussie Matthew Love, an all rounder. Unfortunately, he suffered a back injury which restricted his bowling but happily he was well able to bat. Thinus Fourie returned as did the other Aussie traveller Marc Jones. Ali McIntosh headed back to Scotland but there was still plenty of local talent around. 

I started the season well, certainly better than the previous couple of years yet all changed at the end of June. An away game to YMCA (purely coincidental I should say), I left our new home with a napping child and a wife enjoying a cup of coffee in the sunny garden. Yet as I left the house to head to Claremont Road, I was struck with the absolute certainty that Claremont Road or indeed any cricket ground was the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to stay at home with my family.  

Now as it turned out the game in YM was pretty forgettable, we lost on a wicket that is best left without comment, but that was irrelevant, already it was decided. When I arrived home that night, I announced to Fiona that that was it, I was done. She gave me a look and told me to sleep on it, see what I thought of it in the morning. I could see that she didn't quite believe me and wanted me to be sure that I wasn't making a choice that I would later regret.

The next morning came and if anything I was more certain. So I took myself down and knocked on Redser O’Reilly’s door and told him of my decision. In fairness he was a lot more understanding than he had any right to be but, there is always a but. Could I play the following weekend? There were availability issues. I agreed after all, it would be a nicer end to finish in Castle Avenue and against the same team against whom I had played my first game, Phoenix.  

While we had lost that first senior game we won this one, largely thanks to a Thinus 100 but I got a few which was also a more satisfying finish than the previous weekend. Ronan, as we agreed, did not tell of my plans so I walked off the field at the end of play with the minimum of fuss, packed my bag and went home for the final time. 

No regrets. What is the point of regrets? Sure, I still wish that I hadn't played a late cut at a ball too close in the 1989 cup final but I always knew that it was very possible that the next ball could do for me either with (another) stupid shot or a good ball from Gus Dunlop. That's the game, a game of risk and reward. There had been plenty of risks taken and enough reward to justify those risks. 

Over 19 years, it is inevitable that there will be good days and bad days. The beauty of time is that the memory erases most of the bad days. It's taken over a year to review those 19 years and one of the things that has surprised me is the ups and downs experienced, the downs now largely forgotten. Time has smoothed the peaks and troughs. Our memory tends to focus on the good times and those periods of extreme frustrations have conveniently been filed away under “do not reopen”. Memories of hiding in the corner of a changing room, the game only 5 minutes old and my part already completed. Or heading to the furthest corner of the ground to avoid conversation. It happens all too often and yet we still wonder why cricket is not the game for everyone.

In due course, I came back and played, mainly 3rds, occasionally 2nds but it wasn't the same. The days felt longer, the body sorer, the results never quite balancing with the aches and pains, which lasted longer and longer. I stayed involved through the youth section which I took over when the late Brian O’Sullivan stood down having done an outstanding job for so many years. I loved those days in youth cricket, there is great joy in seeing a game come to life in the eyes of a young player. There is, as well, the old cliche of playing on the same team as your children, while it was undoubtedly lovely to play with Andrew in club cricket and with David on a trip to Mount Juliet for the Leprechauns, I couldn't help but feel that I was the imposter, it was their game now, not mine. My time was done, I simply stopped. There have been a couple of Leps games in recent years, but I am finding excuses very easy to find now in turning down Dick Forrest's approaches. 

It has been nice to remember teammates and opponents, some no longer with us, in the past 12 months, funny incidents, funny characters. The team that I began with morphed into something completely different by the time I stopped, unsurprisingly, as it was already an aging team in 1984.  Of course, I changed from being the kid to being the old man during that time, as well. The nature of Senior Cricket changed over the period.

When Collie Daly left Clontarf to join Phoenix, there was genuine shock that a local lad would leave his local club. Players moved, they always had, but it was still a talking point then. The 1991 Clontarf Cup winning team had one player in the match day 12 who had not come through the Clontarf system, and that one was Michael Rea who had relocated from Bangor to Dublin for university and career reasons.

I struggle to understand the increasing professionalisation of weekend amateur cricket. The stakes are no higher, why would a player wish to be paid, in cash or in kind, by their club, money that comes from the membership fees of teammates or money that could be used to develop the youth sections? Players are signed in a parody of Premier League football.  It feels that local cricket is less about the team or the club and more about the player. Of course that same finger can be pointed at me, after all, I walked off not even halfway through the season.  However, I hope that 18 years of service gave me some sort of credit in the bank. 

But I don't wish to finish on a downer, I have had my 19 years and I loved it, even the bits I hated and there were, inevitably, a few. I couldn't have wished for better teammates or indeed opponents. It has genuinely surprised me that the teams in which I played were as successful as they were. Cup wins tend to linger in the mind but there were league wins that I had completely forgotten about. The Clontarf obsession with the cup clearly had an impact on me, even if I resisted it.

In compiling these memories, it would be lovely to say that I remembered it all. Sadly not true, it took lots of different sources to pull out the memories. Before the internet was even thought about, Ger Siggins produced The Irish Cricket magazine, James Fitzgerald's Irish Cricket review followed that. They contain a huge amount of information.  

John Elder started the incredible resource of Irish Cricket Annual which is still great reading and essential in this process. Cricket Leinster’s “100 not out” is another great bit of work from Ger and The Irish Times archive pieced together week on week a huge amount of detail.

The period 1983 to 2001 saw Sean Pender, Tom Devlin, Peter O'Reilly and Karl Johnston provide a service to local cricket that we can only dream about nowadays.  More locally, Clontarf produced a programme starting in the early 1980s through to the 2010s under the guidance of many but including another who has passed on, Fergal Tobin, rereading them was a joy.

When my memory fails, I usually send a WhatsApp to Peter Prendergast and/or Alan McClean, it often becomes a long tailed conversation, as memories are traded, stories rehashed, opinions thrown out for discussion. They were there for most of the 19 years and thank God for that, sometimes you get lucky.  

We all think that our era was the best, it couldn't be any other way. I am no different, but I feel fortunate to have played when I played and those that I played with and against, it was great, thank you all.