“How could any man be expected to play cricket in such beautiful surroundings” WG Grace, June 1903

Cork County Cricket Club turns 150 this season. 1874 in Cork and you are walking down the Mardyke. It's the mid Victorian era and you happen upon a group of men playing cricket.

It is an easy image to conjure up but actually the surprise is that that image had been taking place on the same site since 1849, which was when Cork Cricket Club was founded. County was founded to replace that entity so as the club would serve not just the city but the county of Cork. This is not going to be a history lesson but The Mardyke is a place where you can imagine cricket has always been played and hopefully always will.

My first game in the Mardyke was in 1978. An under 15 interpro for North Leinster. I had to get a scorecard from the Cork Examiner archive as I have only a small memory of the game. Turns out we got walloped. But there was no shame in that, Munster won the tournament that year.

Peter Dineen was the main run scorer but he had some able assistants in Derek Ryan (whose Dad was a very fine interpro umpire), Johnny Wolfe (who took himself off to New Zealand for a winter and never came back) and Peter Good (whose beloved Cork Con won the All Ireland cup last week).

While that might have been my first game at the Mardyke it was hardly my first visit. My family holidayed in Youghal every summer, where we met Derek Ryan and his family on occasions and played cricket on the beach.

One day was set aside each holiday to head into the city to meet my uncle and his family. My uncle Edwin (better known as Eddie to Corkonians) had come to Cork in the early 60s when transferred by Brooks Thomas and on arrival became involved with Cork County. Sometimes our annual visit became a trip to the cricket ground. Eddie became involved in County soon after landing in  Cork and fulfilled many roles in the club, in administration as well as umpiring while also serving on the ICU committee and as a national selector.

Various members of the Vincent, Poynter and Erskine families with Beryl Vincent (wife of Eddie and Nigel and Alison Vincent)

In that initial game, I was a number 10 batting wicket keeper and when I checked the dates I discovered that the game took place the week after an international game. Perhaps we played on the international wicket as i remember having great fun keeping to a very fast spell by Peter O’Reilly, the first time i had kept to someone that fast. But the innings of the other Peter meant it was an unsuccessful trip. That Munster under 15 side won the interprovincial series that year, an indication of the quality of the side.

Clontarf CC have had a long relationship with Cork County. Back at the turn of the 20th century, the Oulton family were the patrons of Clontarf. They had “a place” in Kerry and each year there was a tour down there as the season came to a close. Taking the long route, the party would call into the Mardyke before heading home.

In another nice link, Sam Crawford who was the club's first international player made his debut at the Mardyke when the Gentlemen of Ireland took on the London County XI. A game famous for the appearance of the cricketing superstar W.G. Grace.  He did not have a successful time in the game and the quote at the beginning of this article is his reasoning behind his relative failures.

A further Clontarf connection was with Cyril O’Donnell, a former Captain and long time administrator at County. Cyril’s brother Allen is one of the men credited with establishing Clontarf into the facility it is now.  In later years, Cyril’s son Brian became one of the finest bowlers to come out of Cork with an outstanding Guinness Cup record to his credit.

In the times before the Irish Cricket Union introduced island wide competitions, opportunities for Leinster based players, aside from the odd tour game, to play in the Mardyke and against Cork County players were limited to those who played interprovincials.

I asked Enda McDermott for his recollections having played at Cork County in 1964 for the first time.  His response contained a genuine warmth for the club and the players that he namechecked indicate the quality for cricketers that have come through the club.

Many of these names were still involved in the club and some of whom had sons involved when my own interprovincial travels began in the 80s, showing the continuity that a strong club can call upon. Names such as Tom and Jim Kiernan (yes the rugby international legend Tom Kiernan) Ollie Barriscale, Ian (Ikey) Devine, Pat Dineen, Danny Duggan, Jim Fitzgerald, Barclay Wilson, Dermot and Noel Giltenan, Ian Lewis (father of Alan who began his career in Cork and is still regarded as one of the finest and most elegant batsmen of his generation), Trevor and John West, Noel Cantwell who was lost to a professional football career but not before winning an Irish Cap.

Through the years, Leo Durity, Brian O’Donnell, Trevor Endersen also deserve recognition and Enda also notes overseas players who made an impact Denis Leng, Wally Booten and John Wills who had a long and successful career as a player and coach in the Leinster region, subsequently.  

And of course arguably the best of them all, Jack Short who served Leinster CC so well when he transferred to Dublin.  It is quite an indication of the quality of players produced by the club.  Pat Dineen deserves to be singled out of this group of players not just for his longevity for the club but also for his international career with the Irish team.

For Enda and myself, apart from an occasional tour game, our exposure to these players and the physical club was via the ICU interprovincial series.  An interprovincial weekend usually meant a double weekend and sometimes a triple. Frankly, they were hard work but I suppose that was the point of the exercise.  

Travel was slower so an overnight stay was the norm when visiting Cork. In youth games that meant staying in one of the guest houses that backed onto the ground.  With a bit more funding, the accommodation was upgraded to the nearby Jurys Hotel for the senior interpros.  On arrival, there would usually be a visit to the clubhouse (just to see if anyone was there of course).  Often we remember clubs and grounds at which we might have had success.  The Mardyke was slightly different in that it was always a pleasure to play there.  A beautiful setting, a lovely old fashioned pavilion in which one could sense the history and good, familiar people.  The sun always seemed to shine though I guess that in this country that is unlikely to have been a fact.  

Personally I had good days and bad days. One weekend was a horror. Saturday saw us play a cup match against Railway in which I was out in the first over without scoring, a victim of a double hopper from Alan Corcoran.  It was my turn to drive to Cork afterwards and after collecting the passengers around the city, we set off in my usually trusty Renaut 5.  About half way there, just as we came into Durrow the exhaust fell off the car.  We ended up staying the night in the Castle Arms Hotel (who found a mechanic to repair the car the following day) and we organised for a car to pick us up the following morning while the car was in for repair.  

In Cork, we lost the toss and fielded the guts of 100 overs, Peter Dineen as usual made a load of runs and in response I added another duck to my weekend haul. The game was drawn and so back on the road to Durrow to pick up my car from where I had to drive back to Youghal where Fiona was staying with a friend, the Munster and Irish hockey legend Bernie Heffernan.  

That visit to the Mardyke was not such a good memory.  But it is the only blot on the copybook.  A new generation of cricketers had taken up the mantle by this stage, though they were still led by a Dineen, Peter this time.  County seems to have specialised in left handed batters, John West, Pat and Peter Dineen and the new kid on the block Ted Williamson. Bowlers such as Ray Wong and John Power tested the opposition batters while behind the stumps Peter Coleman was a very fine wicketkeeper.    

Without the depth of competition available locally, a number of players opted to come and play in Dublin.  Peter Dineen came in 1984 and was a fine performer for Leinster for 4 seasons. His Dad had turned out a couple of times for Phoenix in the 60s likely at the behest of John West. Others who came up to play were Mark Barriscale, a good all rounder, John Power whose left armers were always hard to read and Ted Williamson who stayed longest playing for Old Belvedere, Phoenix, Pembroke and Terenure.  

While this benefitted those who came, it was not a benefit to the club nor the province.  The decision to apply to play in the Leinster League was a brave one and placed a huge commitment on the players who were also playing in the Munster League. Even more so as in the initial years all the games were played in Dublin.  Eventually, it was recognised that this was placing much too great a toll on the players so now Cork County play as any other club would, home and away.   The club is to be congratulated on the commitment and enthusiasm for the game, they must know the motorway like the back of their hands.

Irish Senior Cup game between Clontarf and Cork County 2014 in Castle Avenue

My own visits since I stopped playing interpros have been limited to spectating my sons at varying age groups, from Leinster under 13s to the Bolts as well as Irish under age teams. 

However despite the passing years, walking through the Beamish gates still gives the same thrill, looking up at the magisterial UCC Department of Music (one day I must look down on the club from there), checking to see if there was a tennis tournament on next door, it could get rowdy at times and making sure that the picture of WG Grace was still hanging on the wall. There will always be someone to give you a warm welcome as you settle down to watch the game at the best appointed ground in the country.  It is the simple pleasures.

So happy birthday to County, no doubt they will celebrate it well.  The club have always had a very good relationship with the MCC, who are sending a team over to play in the Mardyke on the 6th June.  If you have never been to the ground this year would be an ideal time to visit, you won't be disappointed.  If you already have been, you will know what I mean and wouldn't it be nice to visit again this year of all years?

Happy birthday County.