Jim Bennett, November 2020
The initial impetus for cricket in Fingal came from the "Big Houses", and in this category would be placed Malahide, Kenure (Rush), Ardgillan, Whitestown, Westown, Gormanston and Hampton (Balbriggan). Due to the Land War in the 1880s, relations between landlords and tenants became strained, and there was not a lot of social contact among the classes. However, as a result of the Land Acts, many of the tenant farmers were enabled to buy out their holdings, and because of the emphasis on market gardening, it was possible to make a living from a relatively small holding.
The farmers who were able to give access to a field for cricket could not be without the field for the season so the only fields that could be given over were used for grazing purposes. From a cricketing perspective, it was always preferable to be given a field which had sheep grazing on it because the grass tended to be shorter. Paddy Byrne's description of his first visit to The Vineyard (home of The Hills CC) emphasised the depth of the cattle hooves. If a field was given over, a strip 22 yards by 10 feet was prepared and rolled during the week prior to a game. That was the extent of the pitch preparation and a consequence of the animals grazing on the field was that one of the first jobs on the day of a game was to clear the field of excrement.
Quality of Pitches
With the preparation of pitches not being given the time required, the ball often behaved in a very inconsistent manner after it was bowled. Grass on the outfields tended to be very long and this meant that in order to score runs, the batsmen were forced to hit the ball in the air with the obvious risk of being caught. The other consequence was that considerable time was spent looking for the ball in the long grass. With everything is favour of the bowlers, scores tended to be very low, and games did not last for long. In order to lengthen the game, the Fingal League ordained that games be played as two innings per side.
While the bowlers were adept at making the most of the favourable circumstances which obtained in many of the grounds in Fingal, it must also be stated that Fingal acquired a reputation for producing magnificent bowlers. In that category were Simon Hoare, Kit Mooney, Christy Russell and Tom Murphy of the earlier period, but it important to state that these bowlers also took many wickets on the "better" pitches in Dublin. Even with the improvements in the quality of pitches, Fingal continued to produce wonderful bowlers, and here we list Sean Moore, Tommy Mooney, Ray Kelly, Paddy Byrne, Martin Byrne, Liam Archer, Noel Harper, Matt Dwyer, Joe Murphy, Paul Mooney, Paddy Martin, John Mooney, Luke Clinton and Eddie Richardson. Their quality is borne out by the number of Fingal League cricketers who won the Oulton Cup for Senior 2 bowlers, and then the O' Grady Cup when the Fingal League clubs attained senior status.
Deriving mainly from the quality of the pitches and the quality of the bowlers, there were very few distinguished batsmen at Fingal League level. The major exception in this regard was Michael Murphy, and it is arguable that Michael played at Senior 2 for too long in terms of his development as a batsman. In modern times, with improvements in coaching methods and pitches, the balance has been redressed to a certain extent, and in the category of excellent Fingal batsmen, we can number Declan Moore, Barry Archer, Eoin Morgan, John Mooney, Conor Armstrong and Eddie Richardson.
Fielders and Wicket Keepers
In addition to having very good bowlers, Fingal League sides were also renowned for their fielding abilities. Many of the cricketers were very fine Gaelic footballers. Sean Pender referred to The Hills as being "out on their own" for the quality of their fielding. He added the comment that it was alleged that The Hills practised "their fielding by attempting to catch the low-flying Milverton swallows." Any deviations from high standards were the subject of severe castigation as was illustrated by a report in the Drogheda Independent on the occasion of Rush's win in the Leinster Minor Cup on a score of 50 to 21 runs. Bellshire's innings only lasted 40 minutes, and the score would not have reached 12 if the Rush fieldsmen had accepted "two dolly catches that were offered them." Allied to the quality of the fielding, there was a succession of very good wicketkeepers, starting with the James (The Squire) Ennis, a graduate of Trinity College, who played with the Gentlemen of Ireland, and stood up to all bowlers. Other distinguished wicketkeepers were Mick Gosson, Paddy Martin, Michael Dwyer, Dara Armstrong, Fintan McAllister and Jamie Grassi.
Umpiring in the Fingal League required a range of skills, diplomacy being the top of the list, followed by an ability to count to six. On one occasion, a very senior cricketer shared his assessment of an umpire's performance by giving a running commentary to the spectators, and his final damning verdict was that the umpire couldn't even count to 6. When an umpire complained that he had been insulted by a leading bowler, the matter was referred to Executive of Fingal League - the insult was redefined as an incident, and the minutes recorded that the meeting ended "in harmony". For many Fingal League games, each side provided an umpire, and this made for some interesting situations. There was a famous umpire who batted for his team in the first innings, and then donned the white coat because in his own words, "he would be of greater benefit to the team with the coat on." One of the most intriguing justifications for a batsman being adjudged LBW was given by an umpire who explained that he was trying to get to the 7.30 p.m. Mass at Dublin Airport.
Even scorers weren't exempt from criticism. In the 1930, Balcunnin and Knockbrack 11 contested the final, and the official score was 40 runs each but the Drogheda Independent's Correspondent, and at least another 100 people in the ground had the score at 41 to Knockbrack 11 and 40 to Balcunnin. The marker's decision was final, and the replay was fixed for the following Sunday.
There was a unique system of scoring at some games, with the obvious opportunities for plenty of discussion and debate. It was 2 runs for a ball hit into the long grass, 4 runs into the longer grass, and 6 if a ball went over the hedge without hitting a briar. Given the length of the grass, one fielder was delegated to watch the batsmen running between the wickets, and to declare the ball lost as soon as the batsmen had run 6. This was to ensure that the batsmen didn't keep running while the search for the ball continued. Martin Russell informed me that one occasion, he ran 7 runs for 1 shot.
Regulations regarding Eligibility of Players: Skerries won the Fingal League in 1927 and the League Secretary's report on the final game is very grudging regarding Skerries' victory. It can be inferred from his remarks that there were queries regarding the residential qualifications of some of the Skerries team:
The League is now finished - Skerries got first prize, Knockbrack second and Ballymadun third. Knockbrack and Ballymadun are to be congratulated as they played in a clean and sportsmanlike manner and had no one on their teams but Fingallians.
The residential issue was a perennial problem because there were many people who rented houses in Skerries and Rush for the summer. Some of these summer residents played cricket, and it was a bone of contention whether they should be allowed to play in the Fingal League. The Executive of the League addressed the matter in 1962, and the eventual ruling provided scope for lots of chicanery. A person had to reside in Fingal for a week, but allowance was made for someone who was living 3 miles over the Meath Border. Clubs were very vigilant regarding other teams using "hired guns", "people on holidays" or people who just walked into the ground having seen it from the plane or the train.
When Rush signed Alf Masood, another Fingal club imported a professional from a neighbouring club for the Fingal Cup final. Eventually, professional cricketers were barred from playing in the Fingal League, but this introduced lots of other queries, with the first one being how is a professional defined? Is it a person being paid to play cricket or is it just the person brought in for the season who is the officially designated overseas player.? The Celtic Tiger phenomenon made this regulation impossible to implement as more people came to Ireland from South East Asia, South Africa and Australia to work here, and some of these people were assisted with accommodation and/or work so that they would play with a club in Fingal.
Nicks and Caught Behind
Nicks and Caught behind were never an issue because life was too short to be lumbered with the name of not walking. If you got a nick, you put the bat under your arm immediately and if you were a bit tardy to react, there might be some vocal encouragement.
Interpretation of the LBW law will always be contentious, and this is illustrated by a report of a Fingal League game between the Black Hills and Balbriggan which took place at Black Hills on Sunday, 9 June 1929. The report was submitted by the Balbriggan correspondent, so it is necessary to allow for elements of bias in its contents. The report commenced with a reference to an "unsatisfactory termination and ebullitions of temper not usually associated with cricket." Details of the game are then outlined as follows: Victor Vernon was given out "lbw" by a ball which hit at least one foot wide of his leg stump. Worse was to follow for Balbriggan. W. Cumisky was hit "high up on the body" by a "rising ball". "Leg before" was the same umpire's decision, and this ruling was greeted with "ironical cheers and laughter from all parts of the ground." "As a result of a temporary brain wave and protests from some of the home players who were obviously ashamed of his glaring partiality, the Umpire reconsidered his decision and allowed the batsman to continue his innings." Balbriggan was dismissed for 24 runs.
Black Hills CC was in trouble from the start, but when the 6th wicket (P. Pollis) was clean bowled by Vernon, "a scene unprecedented on a cricket ground was witnessed. Many of the local players rushed to the pitch protesting that the bails had been dislodged by the wicketkeeper before the ball hit the stumps." The home team abused the Umpire, Mr John Reynolds, "one of the oldest and best-known cricketers in County Dublin, whose knowledge of the game and integrity as an umpire are very widely recognised." The home side refused to continue and pulled the stumps. The Balbriggan Correspondent expressed the hope that the Management Committee of the Fingal League would deal appropriately with the "offending club" because such conduct would have a "deleterious effect on the Fingal League and perhaps do serious injury generally to cricket in North County Dublin."
The late Billy Tolan who played cricket for 64 years, top score 49*, the possessor of two bats - a blocking bat and a hitting bat- was a scrupulously fair umpire, but he could not stand incessant appealing. In one game, the fielder at deep square leg appealed every time that the ball hit the pads, and Billy was too much of a gentleman to say anything. He got his chance in the second innings when our appealing friend came to bat. "May I have 2, please, Billy? "Will you be wanting it from here or from square leg?"
Front Foot No Ball
The front foot no ball law again featured Billy Tolan and Joe Clinton. Joe referred to Billy's query as a 20 mile question because that is the distance that was covered in the car while this matter was being debated, and this included pulling the car into the side of the road, and using the road markings to show where the front foot could land.
On wides, there were 2 schools of thought. One definition was that wides were only called if a ball hit the cow in the next field. However, Seamus Clinton mentioned that that he could not get the great Simon Hoare to aim for outside the off stump because Simon had a holy horror of being called for a wide, especially in the second innings, when the law concerning wides might be implemented very strictly.
On a glorious occasion at the Hills, on a very tight call, the batsman was given run out, and he continued to run out through the gate and half- way up the hill outside the ground. He then shouted back into the umpire "how much further past the stumps do I have to be to be in?"
Out Handling the Ball
In a game between Man-O-War and another Fingal team which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, Jody Morgan, who had been absent on the evening that the coaching session on the forward defensive push took place, told me that for once in his cricketing career, he blocked a ball. Since the ball was at his feet, he thought that the gentlemanly thing to do was to pick the ball up and throw it back to the bowler. "How is that?", enquired the bowler. "That's out" responded the umpire. That wasn't the end of the story because the wicketkeeper threw his gloves on the ground and suggested to the bowler that if he wanted to play that way, he could play in his own. The appeal was withdrawn, and Jody continued his innings.
Results of Games
The games were so competitive that no team was ever considered favourite to win a game and over the years, "surprise" results were the order of the day. For example, in one of the Hills' CC's early years in senior cricket, "the great and the good of Leinster cricket "came out to see the Hills beating Man-O-War in the final of the Fingal Championship. Tom Murphy of the Man-O-War took 6 wickets, batted for over an hour and Man-O-War beat the Senior League team. On this occasion, Tom Murphy was deservedly made Man of the Match, but just as results could never be predicted, neither could the Man of the Match award because it could be awarded to the person who took a catch on the boundary or the player who scored 2 crucial singles.
The hospitality of the Fingal Clubs is legendary. This can be illustrated by a quotation from the Freeman's Journal in 1863:
After play Mr and Mrs Hussey displayed their usual hospitality by entertaining the players and visitors to a sumptuous dejeuner. … After drinking the usual loyal and complimentary toasts, the company parted at a late hour highly pleased, after indulging in the feast of reason and the flow of soul.
This set a standard, and the Fingal Clubs have more than lived up to that over the years - the feed of potatoes, roast beef, pavlova, the scones with jam and cream. In a different era, after game festivities were very different. When the Hills won its first cup in Leinster cricket in 1971, a bus was hired to go back to Pembroke on the following Friday because the previous celebrations had been curtailed.
The contribution which families made to their clubs and to cricket in general cannot be overstated. Looking at the different clubs and apologising in advance for any families omitted.
- Balrothery: Mooneys, Russells, Farrells
- The Hills: Archers, Byrnes, Clintons, Dwyers, Hoares
- Knockbrack: Moores, Mc Nallys, Mc Granes, Lindsays - a radio programme on Knockbrack mentioned that in one game, 11 Moores played.
- Ring Commons: Whites - There was Fingal League final in which Patrick White and his five sons played.
- Balbriggan: Harpers
- Rush: Martins, Cartys
- Man-O-War: Murphys, Rooneys, Morgans
Members of these families played for the clubs, they were also very involved in the administration of the clubs, and invariably looked after the grounds. In some instances, such as in the case of the Clintons, they provided the playing field. Every one of the clubs mentioned above is still in existence in one form or other except for Knockbrack which lost its field at the end of the 2003 season. In 2019, we celebrated 100 years of cricket for the Leinster Cricket Union, 50 years for The Hills and 50 years for Rush at Kenure Park, it is important to remember with gratitude the people who initially kept cricket alive in Fingal and since that time, have enabled it to develop and prosper.