This series of articles was first published in early 2001.
College Park, in Trinity, was the home for Irish matches in Dublin until 1963, when the West Indies were played on a dodgy rain-affected wicket. Sadly the venue was dropped after that. It is the only ground that approximates to an English County Ground, in size and setting. There was always a large crowd in attendance for Internationals and I can remember the crowd being five deep all around the ground for that game in 1963, and for the game against the Australians in 1961.
Stories abound about matches at the ground. A cricket fanatic who used to score for Trinity, Leslie Webb, said that he couldn't walk down the promenade without imagining his hero, Victor Trumper, making 47 for Australia against Trinity Past and Present in 1905. He would also wistfully recall the fact that Frank Browning, of Trinity, made two half centuries in that match. Browning later became President of the IRFU and was killed during the 1916 Rising in Dublin. He was a reservist in the army out on a training march, not realising that a rebellion had begun in central Dublin, when his group were hit by sniper fire. WG Grace played there a number of times (see left) and the crowds were even bigger then. Staging Internationals there is not easy for the ICU as a University club does not have the man power and know how when it comes to staging a big match and taking a gate is problematical with so many points of access, but that is a problem that should be addressed as the game's profile would increase with the big games being staged in a highly attractive central location.
Clontarf is Dublin's major International ground and staged a game between the West Indies and Bangladesh (right) in the last World Cup. Rathmines (Leinster CC) and Malahide are the two other designated International grounds in Dublin, while in the North it is hoped that Civil Service CC at Stormont will become the regular ground used in Belfast. Waringstown and Lurgan would be the back ups. In the North West, Eglinton and Brigade are the main venues.
University cricket is greatly hampered by the exam season in May and June. Trinity and University College Cork are the only universities to play in senior leagues in the country. Indeed Queen's University Belfast are the only other college side to play in any league and that is in Division Two in the Northern Cricket Union. However the latest sad news is that Queen's have disbanded. It is to be hoped that this is a temporary measure. Other colleges put together teams for an Irish Universities Championship in June and an Irish XI plays every year in the British Universities tournament. They have won this competition on three occasions. Student cricket continues to be fun, but also intensive. A promising player in Trinity could play up to twenty five games before the end of June. This involves a huge commitment in time, both on and off the field and in the bar.
Schools cricket is much bigger in Northern Ireland where the summer term continues to the last week in June. In Dublin the schools close at the beginning of June so there is frequently a season of only six or seven weeks. In these circumstances the clubs are very important in running under age cricket. Senior schools sides in Dublin play in a league, with a cup final. These games are played on Wednesdays and are only 35 over matches. On Saturdays the better players are usually playing for their clubs. Every year Ulster Schools play a Southern Schools XI and an Irish team is chosen following that game.
Interprovincials are played at Under 13, 15 and 17 level, usually in July. Irish Under age teams have done well in recent seasons winning the European trophy at Under 19 level in 1999 and the European Under 15 Championship in 2000. The most promising eighteen year olds will then be drafted into an Irish Cricket Union Development squad, which will tour, usually in England, most summers. Apart from providing opposition of a higher quality than is available at home and experience on more reliable wickets, these tours are vital in preparing young players for important tournaments in the future. Who is a good tourist? Who has the stamina to play consistently well over a number of games, often without a rest day? Who is prone to homesickness? Who can't be trusted to discipline themselves when they are away from home? Who is good at taking responsibility for their own performance? Who has pride in pulling on an Irish sweater? Who will encourage the less experienced and younger players? Captaincy is probably more important in cricket than in any other game I know and it is on tour that captaincy skills are honed and developed. Irish players must tour more often and that demands more finance than is available at the moment.
What brings an Irishman, or woman, to be a cricketer? The answer is a bit different in Northern Ireland from the south. In the south the majority will not have started their cricket in school and will be drawn to the game through a family connection or friends. Television will have played its part in the making of many cricketers and BBC coverage which first arrived on the east coast in the 60's is hugely influential. At the present time Channel 4 and Sky coverage is watched by a surprisingly high number of Irish people, considering the game's profile. Sport and its competitive nature has a huge following in Ireland and the number of people who take an interest in cricket far outnumbers the number of people who actually play. It is, after all, a very difficult game and the process of organising yourself to play, buying gear and practising is a major effort compared to many other pursuits. The length of time it takes to play a game is another reason why more numbers do not play.