Jim Bennett, November 2020
The Establishment of The Fingal League, 1926-1930
It took some time after the War of Independence and the Civil War for cricket clubs to be re-formed in Fingal because emotions were still very raw regarding the playing of this most English of games. In July 1925, Skerries Cricket Club was re-organised, and Knockbrack CC also re-commenced its cricketing activities in 1925. In 1926, there were cricket teams in Balbriggan, Ring Commons, Knightstown, Skerries and Knockbrack, but fixtures for the most part were still being arranged as challenges as distinct from there being any official structures in place. There are conflicting accounts regarding when the Fingal League was actually established.
At the Fingal Cricket League's First Annual Dance in 1931, Mr JT Ennis gave a brief account of the history of the League and he stated that it started in Ring Commons in 1926 with 2 clubs. Skerries was definitely one of the clubs because it was reported in 1928 that Skerries had won the League three years in a row so this suggests that there was some form of competitive structure in place in 1926. A report in the Drogheda Independent of 23 October 1926 refers to an imminent meeting of North County Dublin Cricket Clubs with a view to forming a league. It also indicated that the promoters of the concept were "confident of having the league in full working order before the opening of the next season."
A committee was formed, and it met in Ring Commons Schoolhouse on 13 March to make some additions to the rules with the named officers being Adhamh Mac an Bhaird (Secretary) and John Mc Dermott (Treasurer). There is absolutely no doubt that the Fingal League was fully operational in 1927 because detailed reports of games were furnished to the Drogheda Independent. The teams which competed in the Fingal League in 1927 were Skerries, Knockbrack, Macraidh (Knockbrack 11), Ballymadun, Knightstown, Black Hills and Ring Commons. The first fixtures were played on Sunday, 15 May 1927 and the final game was played on 18 September 1927.
The Secretary of Skerries Cricket Club, James Duff, submitted a very detailed account of this game to the Drogheda Independent. Given that "history is written by the victors" and allowing for elements of hyperbole in Mr Duff's report, it provides the reader with an example of the manner in which sporting occasions were reported during a bygone age. We are told that there were over 1,000 spectators at the final in Skerries. A cocoanut matting provided "a perfect pitch", Knockbrack had "numerous followers", and among the attendance were "those whose chances had been vanquished by the contestants." Knockbrack batted first and J. Ennis who played with a "delightful straight bat" had a "splendid innings" of 33 which included 13 boundaries. "The applause from the field emphasised the appreciation of the spectators of his excellent batting skill." The main contributor to the Skerries' response was D. Moran "who by drives, cuts and slips made the handsome and useful score of 61 runs." Crawford made 18 runs, and Skerries won on a score of 125 runs to 63 for Knockbrack. The final commendation from Mr Duff was for the "two independent umpires whose tact and appreciation carried the appreciation of both sides." The prize for winning the league was a cheque for the purchase of a cricket set.
Based on comments from the Secretary of Skerries Cricket Club and the Secretary of the Fingal League, it is obvious that there were teething problems during this year. The League Secretary's report on the final game is very grudging regarding Skerries' victory, and 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 their teams but Fingallians.
At a meeting of Skerries Cricket Club on 26 September 1927, a motion was adopted thanking Adam Ward, League Secretary "for his very efficient and satisfactory services... and the able manner in which he had handled many difficult problems, but the club also put on record its commendation for all the clubs who had taken part in the League on "the splendid sporting spirit which dominated throughout the season".
The President, JT Ennis, a new Secretary (John Purfield) and a new Treasurer (JW Rooney) were elected at the AGM on 18 March 1928. The number of teams had increased to 10, with the three new teams Barnageeragh, Baldwinstown and Balrothery joining the seven teams which had played in 1927. It was now necessary to create 2 divisions, and there was a play-off between the two teams which finished top of their sections. The final was played at Michael White's field in Ring Commons on 2 September 1928 between Skerries and Barnageeragh. The scores were Skerries 29, Barnageeragh 21.
In 1929, the number of teams had increased to 15. There were no defections from the previous year and the new teams were Balbriggan, Naul Hill, Skerries B, Balcunnin and Curkeen. Again, the league was divided into two sections, and by the end of the season, most of the teams in Division A had played 12 games, and the teams in Division B had played 14 games. Skerries' reign as champions was ended when they lost the semi-final to Knockbrack, and the report on this game contains so many contradictions and exaggerations that it is worthwhile to quote elements of it so that readers may form their own conclusions. The game was played at Balbriggan on a crease that that was laid 24 years ago by the late Terence O'Neill and Patrick Cumiskey and was reckoned to be "one of the finest in Ireland and "still in perfect order."
The correspondent then waxes eloquently on the quality of the cricket. He deemed the game to have been "the finest exhibition of cricket ever witnessed in Fingal, with the game being "up to test standard, with the fielders and bowlers winning the day." After these comments, it is astonishing to read the Knockbrack only scored 14 runs, with Ennis (6) being the only one to make anything worthwhile. There has always been a tradition of Fingal sides being better bowlers and fielders than batters, but a score of 14 would appear in most circumstances to render the result a foregone conclusion. Not in Fingal. Skerries were dismissed for 13 runs, and Knockbrack went on to beat Baldwinstown in the final on a score of 24 runs to 16.
During this incident-packed season, there were two other developments which are worthy of mention. The Knockbrack Club indicated its intention to sponsor the purchase of a cup which would be presented to the winners of the Fingal League, and it was anticipated that Knockbrack's name would be inscribed on the cup when it was placed on exhibition, but the cup was not bought until early in 1930 so Knockbrack's name was not inscribed on Cup as the first winners. In addition to Fingal League games, challenge matches were still being organised. Baldwinstown were due to play Ballymadun on 6 October for #5 aside and to avoid any allegations of bias, neutral umpires were appointed.
A Period of Growth, 1930-1940
At the AGM in 1930, there was a wave of optimism with representatives of 25 clubs present which if it had translated into teams entered in the Fingal League would have constituted an increase of 10 teams in comparison with the 1929 season. The officers, President (JT Ennis), Secretary (JA Purfield), Treasurer (W. Rooney), were re-elected, and PJ Daly was elected Vice-President, but by the commencement of the season, only 19 teams had entered the League. The new teams were Portrane Psychiatric Hospital, the British Legion, Man-O-War and Oldtown.
There were two indications during this season of clubs' consciousness of public opinion. A game between Balbriggan and Knockbrack did not commence until a procession in the Catholic Church was over, and Skerries gave a walkover to Baldwinstown because the Baldwinstown players arrived in an I.O.C. bus at a time when the I.O.C drivers were on strike. The Skerries captain would not allow his players to take the field against "strike-breakers". Back to cricketing matters, Balcunnin and Knockbrack 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, but the marker's decision was final, and the replay was fixed for the following Sunday.
The replay was also played at Balbriggan, and in typical Fingal fashion, the bowlers were on top. Knockbrack batted first and lost the first 4 wickets for 7 runs. The final score for Knockbrack was 23 runs, with Johnny Murphy taking 6 wickets and Simon Hoare taking 4 wickets. 9 Balcunnin wickets fell for 14 runs, but the last pair, Tommy Power and John Hoare, brought the score to 22 when Jem Murphy took a miraculous one-handed catch off his own bowling to leave Knockbrack 11 the winners by one run. Knockbrack 11 had the honour of being the first team to have its name inscribed on the Fingal Challenge Cup.
At the AGM in March 1931, there were 25 clubs represented, and the existing officers were re-elected. The playing regulations were amended, and a decision was taken to play two innings per side in the semi-finals and finals. Ring Commons CC also convened its AGM in March, but the meeting was abandoned because it was decided to have cricket practice due to the day being so fine. When the fixtures for the season were announced, 17 teams had entered for the league. The new teams were Baldwinstown 11 and Rush, with the Black Hills, the British Legion and Balcunnin dropping out of the League. Balcunnin however competed in the competition which was played later in the season. Rush also entered the Leinster League, and two years later under the captaincy of Simon Hoare won the Leinster Junior Cup. Ballymadun and Skerries contested the Fingal League Final, and this resulted in a very easy win for Skerries.
The Management Committee then decided to organise a "Fingal Cricket Championship" which would be played as a knock-out tournament during the month of September. The final was played at Balbriggan on 27 September between Portrane and Baldwinstown. Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a definitive answer regarding the name of the winning team because two separate reports in the Drogheda Independent give conflicting accounts. In the first article, it is reported that Mr JT Ennis presented Portrane with the championship medals, and Baldwinstown and Knockbrack also received medals as winners of their respective grades. The following week it is reported that at the same function, championship medals were presented to Mr G. Reynolds, Baldwinstown CC. Finally in the Garristown Notes in the Drogheda Independent, it is reported that Baldwinstown won the championship outright so it appears that Baldwinstown were the first winners of the Fingal Championship unless some person can produce evidence to contradict this assertion.
For the 1932 season, PJ Daly replaced Mr JT Ennis as President, the other officers remained in place, and Balbriggan CC proposed the formation of an Umpires' Association. There was general approval for this proposal and the issue was to be addressed more fully at a special delegate meeting on 24 April. This meeting was held, and the sixteen teams for the new season were arranged in Divisions A, B and C, but there was no reference to the formation of an Umpires' Association. Balcunnin re-entered the league, and a very late entry was received from Black Hills CC. This application was granted even though the first round of matches had been played.
It was obvious from early in the season that Balcunnin CC was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and the heading, "Bowling Feats at Balcunnin" in the Drogheda Independent of 23 July 1932 was a sign of things to come. The report referred to "one of the most marvellous bowling feats ever accomplished in the history of Fingal Cricket League". Balcunnin batted first and scored a total of 13 runs. There is then an unfortunate typographical error because the report states that it looked as if Balcunnin would have an easy victory. Even by Fingal standards, a score of 13 in the first innings should not have made any team favourites to win. By a process of elimination and by checking the teams which played in that division, the report should have stated Balbriggan. The Balbriggan reply foundered very quickly because "Murphy and Hoare found form, and it was amazing to see wicket after wicket fall in quick succession and final to see the visitors dismissed with the incredibly low score of three runs."
The 1932 Fingal League Final was played between Balcunnin and Portrane on 11 September. Portrane was ahead after the first innings had been completed (48 runs to 36), but Balcunnin scored 80 in the second innings (S. Hoare, 23, B. Monks 25*), and Portrane only scored 47 in reply. This was Balcunnin's first time to win the Fingal Cup, and in the words of the Drogheda Independent, Balcunnin "played cricket in style and ran out easy winners." For the 1933 season, there were 17 teams affiliated, with Garristown entering a team for the first time. The final between Balcunnin and Ring Commons was played at Balbriggan, and Balcunnin won by an innings.
In the 1934 season, the number of affiliated teams had fallen to 13 with Curkeen, Knightstown, Skerries, Balcunnin and Baldwinstwon 11 opting out, and a second team from the Naul joining up. It was decided to regionalise the League into two sections, East and West Fingal, with the winner of each section playing a deciding game for the Fingal Challenge Cup. Oldtown and Portrane contested the final, with Portrane winning by two wickets.
In 1935, there were 10 teams affiliated, and while the teams fluctuated from one season to the next, the league structure enabled teams to re-join if their circumstances changed whereas in the era of challenge matches, it was very difficult for a team to re-establish itself once it had opted out. The Naul won the Fingal Challenge Cup for the first time by beating The Hills in the final. The Naul scored 33 runs in the first innings, and in reply, The Hills scored 27. In the second innings, The Naul scored 47, and with 15 minutes left to play, the Hills lost 6 wickets for 8 runs. A difficulty involved in the regionalisation of a competition is that the strong teams may be in the same section, and this may account for the challenge game which was played on the following Sunday between the Naul and Balrothery. The opening sentence of the report on the Drogheda Independent asserted that any doubts that existed regarding the superiority of Naul in Fingal cricket were "set at rest" when Naul defeated Balrothery on a score of 81 to 51 runs. The chief contributors to the Naul's total were Ennis (39*), Mangan (15) and Corbally (13) while Mooney scored 19 runs for Balrothery.
In 1936, there were still 10 teams affiliated, but there were significant changes in the membership of the Fingal League. Garristown, Man-O-War, Balrothery and Balbriggan did not affiliate, but Portrane and Naul Hill had re-entered, and the new teams were Blanchardstown and Clonsilla. Rush did not enter the Fingal League for a number of seasons, because it was very involved in the Leinster League, but Portrane which also had joined the Leinster League played both Fingal League and Leinster League cricket. The final of the Fingal Cricket League was between the Black Hills and Balrothery, and Black Hills won a low-scoring game (38 runs to 16 runs), with Hoare taking 6 wickets for 9 runs, and J. Murphy taking 4 wickets for 3 runs.
Information on the 1937 season is in scarce supply. The most noteworthy elements were the continuation of Portrane in the Leinster League and the Fingal League despite the loss of a number of prominent players. Skerries made a return to Fingal League cricket and GL Mc Gowan, Secretary of the Fingal League, was elected as a TD in the 1937 General Election. The Fingal League Championship was won by Balrothery.
The 1938 season was memorable one because it took 3 games to decide the eventual winners of the Championship. The final between Portrane and Balrothery ended in a tie, 60 runs each. The replay on the following Sunday also ended in a tie, 57 runs each. In the third game which was played in Skerries because the Balbriggan ground was unavailable, Portrane scored 47, and Balrothery scored 34 runs.
Balrothery and Portrane also contested the 1939 final. The game was nearly as exciting as the previous year's encounters, with Balrothery winning by 4 runs. Balrothery's victory owed a great deal to two people, C. Mooney and C. Russell, who were to become legendary figures in Fingal cricket. Russell took 8 wickets for 19 runs, and Mooney contributed by capturing the all-important first wicket. In quintessential Fingal fashion, the bowling was backed up by superb fielding, and Russell was again to the fore. His fielding was described "as a treat to watch and the manner in which he stopped and gathered fast travelling balls had an inspiring effect on all members of his side." Portrane's tale of woe continued when the following Saturday, they were well-beaten by Rush in the final of the Leinster League Junior Cup. The Rush correspondent to the Drogheda Independent deemed it appropriate to assert that this proved that "Rush was the best cricket team in Fingal." By the end of this season, Rush had completed the Leinster League and Junior Cup double for the second successive season.Ups and Downs, 1940-1960
At the AGM in 1940, the main officers were re-elected, and 10 teams were represented at the meeting. The policy of dividing the league into two divisions continued because this facilitated the playing of a final. Balrothery maintained its dominance of Fingal cricket by beating Black Hills in the final by 10 runs, the final score being 76 runs to 66 runs. In 1941, the same two teams contested the final, but on this occasion the result was reversed. This game was referred to as being "the most interesting Fingal Cricket League Final" for some years. There was a large crowd present, and the Black Hills' victory was attributed to "excellent field and bowling." Mr M. P. Gosson was an "outstanding captain", and Dick Byrne "distinguished himself with bat and ball." Balrothery was beaten by Rush in the Championship Final on a score of 79 to 43. The other noteworthy event in this season was the withdrawal of Portrane from the League due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
The Fingal League structures regarding fixture-making facilitated the return of Naul Hill to cricket after a lapse of several years. The teams represented at the AGM in 1942 were Balrothery, Rush, Black Hills, Tubbergregan, Oldtown, Naul Hill, Ring Commons, Knockbrack, Baldwinstown, Walshestown, Ballymadun, Portrane and Balbriggan. Clonard also played in the league during this season. In 1942, the league was again divided into two sections, mainly due to transport difficulties during the Emergency. Tubbergregan beat Walshestown in the League final on a score of 69 to 29. For the 1943, there were ten teams entered for the Championship, but teams had difficulties in fulfilling fixtures due it is assumed to transport issues. For example, on 16 May 1943, Oldtown and Portrane failed to travel to Ring Commons and Black Hills. Despite these difficulties, the Fingal League continued to promote a knock-out cup and the championship. Portrane won the League by beating Tubbergregan in the final on a score of 48 to 11, while Balrothery won the Cup by beating Rush on a score of 35 runs to 10.
Balrothery CC was the dominant force in Fingal Cricket during the period 1944 to 1946, winning the Challenge Cup in each of those years. The 1946 Final was not played until 1947 because Tubbergregan indicated that it would not fulfil a fixture that was scheduled for so late in the season (27 October). The game should have been played a month ago, but "harvesting operations had delayed the holding of the game." Farming matters intervened again at the start of the 1947 season with the AGM having to be postponed due to the large number of members engaged in the tillage drive. At this AGM, Mr Joe Boyce stepped down as President due to ill-health, and he was succeeded by Mr PJ Daly. The 1946 final was eventually played on 29 June 1947 and resulted in a facile win for Balrothery who scored 53 runs against Tubbergregan who only scored 15 runs having "collapsed before the splendid bowling of Russell and Mooney." The 1947 Final between Walshestown and Knockbrack resulted in a first Fingal Challenge Cup win for Walshestown. Balrothery CC beat Knockbrack handsomely in 1948 in the final on a score of 133 runs to 21. Simon Hoare (40) was the main contributor to the Balrothery score.
At different times during the twenty years which are under review, the phrases, Fingal League Challenge Cup and Cup, are used to denote different competitions. From early on in the life of the Fingal League, there were two sections and at one stage, three sections. This facilitated play-offs and a final. However, in order to maintain interest, a knock-out competition was also organised, but it was only played on an intermittent basis until an actual cup was purchased in 1962. For example, there is a reference at the 1949 AGM to the 1948 Final between Balrothery and Walshestown having been postponed, and re-fixed for the first day of the new season. Walshestown won the Challenge Cup in 1949 and it was won by Balrothery the following year.
There was evidence that Leinster League competitions were taking precedence over Fingal League games because in his report on the 1951 season, the Secretary of the Fingal League, Eddie Dunne, stated that the season had been a very bad one for the League with only 4 teams competing for the Fingal Cup, and the final between Portrane and Knockbrack not being played due to unforeseen difficulties. However, it was not a very bad year for Fingal teams in Leinster because two Fingal League teams, Rush and Balrothery, had contested the Intermediate Cup. Balrothery batted first and scored 141 runs. According to the Drogheda Independent, S and P. Carty and T. Murphy "trundled in good style" for Rush. The game was continued on Monday evening, and Rush lost wickets early on and were always "uncomfortable" against the bowling of Mooney and Russell. The top scorer for Rush was Con Martin (25), and Rush's total was 71 runs.
In 1952, Eddie Dunne appealed to the old established clubs to re-affiliate with the league. In this category, he listed Skerries, Rush, Naul, Oldtown, and perhaps Malahide, and he indicated that teams from the three holiday camps, Mosney, Red Island and Mr Gents would be welcome. This appeal constituted a change of policy and a change of approach because in an earlier era, Skerries had been castigated for playing people who were not "true Fingallians". This appeal was very fruitful, and there was a perception that Balrothery's successes in Leinster and in the Irish Junior Cup the previous year had provoked a revival of interest in Fingal Cricket circles. In addition to the Fingal Championship, the cup competition was also revived, and entries were received from Balrothery, Knockbrack, Portrane, Walshestown, Malahide, Naul, Skerries and Drogheda.
The surge of optimism continued into the 1953 season, and it was hoped to have 13 teams playing in the league. The final between Walshestown and Portrane was played at Cottrellstown, and Walshestown won on a score of 18 runs to 11 runs. A new name, Cottrellstown, was added to the list of Fingal Cup winners in 1954 when Walshestown was defeated in the final. Cottrellstown played in the 1955 Final but lost to Balrothery on a score of 26 to 22 runs.
By 1956, the earlier enthusiasm had dissipated, and a special meeting was convened in late November to review the state of Fingal League cricket. There had been a big "falling-off" in the number of affiliated clubs, and cricket was deemed to be in decline in North County Dublin. Some members argued that the Fingal League should be dissolved, but the majority viewpoint was in favour of persevering. As an aside to this development, Eddie Dunne resigned as Secretary and was replaced by Thomas Mc Grane. Another meeting was to be held in February 1957 and every effort was to be made to get more clubs in Fingal to join the League.
The revival campaign was unsuccessful in the short-term, because only 5 teams affiliated for the 1957 season, and half-way through the season Cottrellstown withdrew from the League due to "a shortage of players or a lack of interest." This was a body blow for the Fingal League, and it meant that "after some 35 years in West Fingal, cricket gets a rest." There was now a pattern developing of finals being postponed, and the 1958 Final was played in June 1959, and it resulted in a win for Knockbrack. Knockbrack retained the cup in 1960 by defeating Portrane at the Ballast Pit Grounds, Skerries.
In 1961, there were only 4 teams affiliated to the League but the one positive development was that Ring Commons CC re-formed. In 1962, Balbriggan re-formed with the result that the seven teams in the Fingal League were Ring Commons, Balbriggan, Skerries, the Black Hills, Man-O-War, Balrothery and Knockbrack. Gerry Byrne was Chairman of the League and the other officers remained unchanged. It was now decided to put the second competition on a more formal footing and to purchase a cup. Balrothery CC was the first winners of this cup, and earlier in the season, had also won the Fingal Championship.
The minutes and annual reports for the 1962 to 1964 seasons were made available in 2019 by the Byrne Family, and they make fascinating reading because they provide an in-depth perspective on the work of the Fingal League Committee. For example, one of the founder member clubs was suspended for not being up to date with the Rules (sic) of Cricket, and there was a detailed discussion regarding what constituted eligibility to play Fingal League Cricket. In the end, it was decided not to amend the existing rule.
Meetings were held monthly during this period, and some of the clubs kept the officers at full stretch in dealing with objections and counter-objections. At the meeting on 20 May 1963, Balrothery objected to Knockbrack because two Knockbrack members had "deliberately marked down wrong scores". The Knockbrack response was that the scores were right, and Balrothery should have brought their own scorer. It was only through "goodness" that the Knockbrack member marked the book at all. The score books were checked and did not tally so the Committee declared the game a tie. Knockbrack was very unhappy with this outcome, and one of its members contended "that everyone was against them, especially the Chairman who wanted Knockbrack out of cricket altogether. The meeting became so heated that it had to be adjourned. The Committee re-convened on the following week and decided to reprimand the Knockbrack members for their conduct at the previous meeting. The Knockbrack delegate objected on the basis that his club hadn't been given a fair hearing. Some committee members wanted Knockbrack suspended, others wanted them reprimanded, but the very minimum requirement was that Knockbrack should apologise to the League for the conduct of its two delegates.
The officers were back in action again on 12 August 1963. A game between Knockbrack and Balrothery was not played, and Knockbrack claimed a walk-over. Games were due to start at 3.00 p.m. but definitely not later than 3.30 p.m. Knockbrack's openers were instructed by their captain to leave the field at 3.35 p.m. because the game had not started. One of the (neutral) umpires was very annoyed that no game was played because there was a big crowd present, and this kind of behaviour was giving Fingal cricket a bad name. The Committee decided not to award a walk-over to Knockbrack but insisted that the game be played.
For the members of the Committee during this season, a combination of the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job was required because another problem arose in late September. Knockbrack was due to play Balrothery and the winners to play the Black Hills in the final, but the games were not played due to 2 funerals (Mr P. Murphy and Mrs Farrell). Eventually, the final was fixed for 20 October, but the Black Hills could not field a team due to illness and the time of the year. It was decided to allow each club to hold the cup for 4 months each, and to play the game in June 1964.
The position regarding eligibility to play in Fingal cricket continued to exercise the members of the Fingal League Committee, and the rule was amended to read - " a person residing a week in one place was eligible to play in Fingal League". This rule was tested to the limit at various stages with teams importing professional cricketers from clubs outside the Fingal League to play Fingal League games.
On the cricketing front, 10 teams played in the Fingal League during the 1964 season and Knockbrack won the League and Cup double for the second year in succession. The club was in trouble again when the Hon. Secretary (Eddie Dunne) complained that while he was umpiring, he had been insulted by a Knockbrack player. There was a proposal to suspend the player, but in the end, it was decided to reprimand him. The Chairman (George McNally) ruled that there was an incident, but that it was not an insult, and in the Minutes, it is recorded that the meeting ended "in harmony."
For the next few seasons, issues regarding grounds dominated. In the 1965 season, Rush was in the difficult position of having to play all its games away due to the loss of its beautiful ground at Kenure. In his report to the AGM of Rush CC, Eddie Scanlon described 1965 as being "the most difficult in the history of the club." In 1965, Skerries CC hoped to play its games at Holmpatrick. For the 1966 season, Rush played all its home games at Balrothery, Knockbrack moved to a new ground, and Skerries secured the use of the Ballast Pit. In 1967, Rush purchased three acres of the Kenure Park Estate from the Land Commission, and commenced the very difficult task of getting a wooded area ready for cricket. Skerries CC's access to the Ballast Pit did not last, and it was back to playing in the Recreation Park. The Secretary, Mrs Hirrell, was very exercised by the fact that a public park was too dangerous to play in, especially when there were children present. She hoped "that the cricket-minded people in the town would come forward and help the club in their quest for a pitch."
Man-O-War and Knockbrack joined the Leinster League in 1963 and 1964 respectively, and Fingal League sides were very successful in Leinster cricket during this decade, winning a total of ten trophies. Irrespective of successes in Leinster, it was vitally important for Fingal League clubs to win their own competitions. Balrothery won the Fingal League and Cup double in 1965, and it won the League again in 1967. From 1966 to 1971 inclusive, Man-O-War won the Fingal Challenge Cup every year and won the Perpetual Challenge Cup (The League) in 1966, 1969 and 1970. Balbriggan CC won the Leinster Junior Cup in 1967 , and had an even more successful year in 1968 when it won the Leinster Junior League and the Fingal League for the first time by beating Balrothery in the final.
The teams playing in the Fingal League in 1969 were Knockbrack, Black Hills, Balbriggan, Rush, Balrothery, and Man-O-War. This year was a landmark year for Rush CC because it opened its new ground at Kenure Park on 20 July 1969. Members of the Black Hills CC who had been playing Leinster League cricket for Balrothery decided to enter a team in the Leinster League in 1970. Permission was obtained from the Wentges' Family to play at The Vineyard, and The Hills CC was established at a meeting in the Holmpatrick Hotel, Skerries in October 1969.
Fingal League Teams Dominant in Leinster Leagues
In 1970, there were 6 Fingal League teams, Balrothery, Man-O-War, Knockbrack, Balbriggan, Rush and The Hills, playing in Leinster League cricket, and during this decade, 36 trophies were won. The Fingal League added a B League to its list of competitions, and Gerry Byrne sponsored a cup to be competed for by youth teams in Fingal. A twenty overs competition in memory of Christy Russell was established in 1975 and in 1992, the Brian Southam Cup was played for in memory of a much-loved member of Man-O-War CC.
Successes in Leinster League competitions were no guarantee of success at Fingal League level, and in 1971 while The Hills started on its long unbeaten run in Leinster cricket when it won the Junior League and Cup, Man-O-War CC continued to be the most successful club in Fingal Competitions. In 1971, Man-O-War won the Fingal Cup for the sixth successive year by beating Balrothery on a score of 121 to 51. Man-O-War had three fathers and their sons on their team, Murphys (Tom and John Junior), Sheridans (Tom and son, Dermot), and Morgans (Tom and son, John). John Morgan (39) was top scorer for Man-O-War, with valuable contributions from Anthony Rooney (20) and Val Farrell (20).
Balrothery won the Fingal League Cup for the 23rd time by beating The Hills, and the enthusiasm for the game was demonstrated by the group of children who marched around the field chanting "2, 4, 6, 8, we will beat you out the gate." This game was Fingal cricket at its best. Balrothery bowled 78 overs while The Hills made its way cautiously to 114. The top scorers for The Hills were Hugh Cowling (26), Jimmy Byrne (19) and John Archer (17) while the best bowlers for Balrothery were Bunny Casey (4 for 36), Kit Mooney (3 for 11) and Tommy Mooney (3 for 33). Balrothery conceded 26 extras in the field. There was a successful appeal against the light after one ball, and play resumed on the Sunday. The opening partnership of Neil Carpenter (43) and John Mooney (60*) put on 100 exactly, and John Mooney was joined at the crease by his uncle, Kit who had also been a member of the Balrothery team which beat The Black Hills in the final of 1944.The winning shot was a 6 by John Mooney.
In 1972, The Hills won the Intermediate League and Cup, and the Whelan Cup, the inaugural 20 overs league. Balrothery won the Middle League by beating Malahide in the final match of the league season. Balrothery also ended Man-O-War's run of successes in the Fingal Championship in 1972 when it won the cup by a margin of 8 wickets. Man-O-War lost its first four wickets for 7 runs, and John Murphy (43*) and Dermot Sheridan (10) were the only batsmen to reach double figures. Kit Mooney took 7 wickets for 18 runs off 16 overs, with the first 8 overs being maidens.
In reply, John Mooney (43*) and Joe Russell (21) brought the score to 60, and then Kit Mooney (13*) with his nephew, John, achieved the target score. Balrothery's season was made complete with its victory in the Leinster Junior Cup when it beat Knockbrack in the final. Kit Mooney bowled brilliantly, taking 5 for 34 in 22 overs, while Tom Fanning took 5 for 50 in 18 overs. The top scorers for Balrothery were Kit Russell (22), Dick Byrne (27), Martin Moore (18) and Tom Fanning (18). Kit Russell received the "Man of the Match" award, and Thomas Bertram at 12 years of age was one of the youngest players ever to receive a Leinster Cup Medal.
In 1973, The Hills' run of successes at Leinster League Level continued when the Intermediate A League and Cup were won, the Whelan Cup was retained, and the icing on the cake was winning the Fingal Challenge Cup for the first time under its new name. The Man-O-War won the Fingal Championship Cup for the 7th time, shared the Senior 2 League with Clontarf, and Balrothery won the Senior 3 League.
At this stage, each of the Fingal League clubs which played in Leinster League cricket had reasonable security of tenure, and as a result, it was possible to spend time and effort on improving the pitches and the outfields. As the Fingal teams moved up the grades and played games against the more established clubs in Dublin, there was also pressure on the Fingal clubs to improve their ancillary facilities. Knockbrack opened a new pavilion in 1973, "a fine building" that had "ample dining space" and provided "a clear view of the playing field for indoor spectators." The Hills opened a new clubhouse in 1977 and Rush built a pavilion in 1980.
Success at Leinster League level was maintained in 1974 with Balrothery winning the Senior 3 League, and The Hills being successful in the Middle A League and the Middle Cup. In the Fingal League, The Hills won the first of its five in a row victories in the Championship, while Balbriggan and Man-O-War shared the Perpetual Challenge Cup. Every year from 1975 to 1979 inclusive, Man-O-War won the Challenge Cup and this run of victories was interrupted by The Hills in 1980. Between 1975 and 1980, Fingal League teams won 15 Leinster League trophies, with the two high points being The Hills winning the Senior 2 League in 1977 and each of The Hills' three teams winning their leagues in 1978. For good measure, The Hills also won the Irish Junior Cup in 1975 by beating Zingari in the final which was played in the Phoenix Park where The Hills CC scored 200 and in reply, Zingari was bowled out for 68.
In view of the successes at Junior League Level in Leinster and in Fingal competitions, the Executive Committee of The Hills decided that the time was opportune for an application for Senior League status, but the lack of a clearly defined pathway meant that there were lots of obstacles to be surmounted. At the end of the 1978 season, The Hills CC applied for senior status, and the application was rejected on the following grounds: the playing strength and back-up were not up to senior standard, the square was not big enough for senior cricket, and the ancillary facilities at The Vineyard were deemed to be inadequate.
By 1980, criticism of the "closed-shop" mentality in Leinster cricket was building up, and junior clubs argued that there had to be some incentive for them to improve their playing standards and their playing facilities, although interestingly, it was accepted as "totally unrealistic" (Sean Pender) to have automatic promotion and relegation. CYM and The Hills applied for senior status in October 1980, but due to the over-crowded nature of the existing fixture list, both applications for full senior membership were rejected initially.
As a compromise and on a trial basis for one year, it was decided to invite The Hills to play in the John Player Cup in 1981 (The Leinster Senior Cup), but this was a qualified invitation and The Hills would be obliged to play at their opponents' grounds. The junior clubs hoped that the participation of The Hills and CYM in Senior Cricket would be the prelude to the launching of a system of promotion and relegation, because there was a perception that it would not be possible to accommodate 12 Senior Clubs in Leinster Cricket, but for some of the existing senior clubs, this would have resembled turkeys voting for Christmas. In October 1981, another application for senior status from The Hills was rejected, but in his annual report for the 1981 season, John Dawson's advice to The Hills was to "keep trying". In response to the "keep trying" exhortation, The Hills beat Balrothery comprehensively in the Senior 2 Final on 7 August 1982
Given that performances on the field were not deemed to be enough to merit senior status, The Hills had also been very diligent in addressing perceived shortcomings in facilities. Another span was added to the clubhouse which had been erected in 1977. Nottingham Turf wickets (artificial) were seen as a panacea for improving batting techniques, and for combatting the vicissitudes of Irish weather, and in 1982, The Hills was the second club in Ireland to lay an artificial wicket. During 1982, an intensive lobbying campaign was mounted for the support of senior clubs, sectional interests, and the Executive Committee of the LCU. Therefore, by the end of the 1982 season, it seemed that all the auguries were in favour of The Hills achieving the Holy Grail of senior status, and thus it came to pass on 17 September 1982, The Hills CC became the first Fingal League club to be admitted to the Leinster Senior League.
1983-1995, Other Fingal League Clubs attain Senior Status
At Fingal League level, Man-O-War continued to dominate during the early years of the 1980s by winning the Fingal Championship on 5 successive occasions. The Championship final between Man-O-War and Balrothery which was played at Rush on 29 July 1984 provided a classic example of the multi-faceted characteristics of Fingal cricket. Man-O-War batted first and after 50 overs, had managed to bring its score up to 134 for 9 wickets. Only two batsmen, Anthony Rooney (30) and Liam Rooney (27) achieved double figures, and in a wonderful display of endurance, Joey Mooney bowled 25 overs, and took 6 wickets for 46 runs. In reply, Noel Harper scored a steady 18 runs, but wickets were falling like ninepins at the other end, all thanks to the brilliant bowling of Joe Murphy. In an amazing spell, he bowled 12.3 overs, of which 7 were maidens, and took 9 wickets for 16 runs. Joey Mooney was the only person not bowled by him because he was run out. Balrothery's final total was 51, and while at different times, the Man of the Match adjudications at Fingal games caused mild bewilderment, there was no argument on this occasion that Joe Murphy was a very deserving winner of the award.
In Leinster, Fingal League teams won 28 competitions during the 1980s and 33 competitions in the 1990s, so it was undeniable that Fingal cricket was on the crest of a wave. Man-O-War won the Senior 2 League in 1982, but an application for Senior Status was rejected by the Senior Branch. Michael Sharp, Secretary of the Junior Branch, suggested that there was an inherent defect in a system when clubs did not know what was required to attain Senior status, nor were clubs informed the basis on which an application was turned down. It was agreed at the Junior Branch AGM that answers on this issue would be sought from the parent body.
After the Fingal League Final in 1985, Man-O-War and Balrothery amalgamated to form North County Cricket Club with the intention of seeking senior status. Knockbrack and Ring Commons amalgamated in 1987 to form KBRC, but this amalgamation although very successful in terms of trophies, only lasted for 2 seasons. North County's initial application to play Senior cricket was refused, but it was indicated to the club that if it was successful in the Senior 2 League in the following season, the application would be considered favourably. North County was eventually granted senior status for the 1990 season. Balrothery and Man-O-War retained their separate identities for Fingal Cricket, and maintained 2 grounds, one at The Nevitt and the other at the Matt, Balrothery. Right through the 1990s and until 2005, the names, Man-O-War and Balrothery continued to appear in the Archives of the Fingal League although youth teams were referred to as North County from 1995 onwards.
1989 was a pivotal year in the history of The Hills CC. In quintessential Fingal fashion, The Hills defended a low score (138) by bowling Carlisle out for 115. The Leinster Senior League and Cup double was completed on the following day when The Hills drew with Clontarf at The Vineyard. The other Fingal League Clubs were also enjoying success in Leinster in 1989, and an all-Fingal League clash in the Senior 2 Final resulted in North County beating Balbriggan in another low-scoring game, 99 runs to 75. Another Fingal League side, Rush, led by Alf Masood, won the Senior 2 League and Cup double in 1990.
At the start of the 1990s with 10 teams affiliated, the Fingal League competitions continued to be well-supported by the clubs and were fiercely contested. As an indication of changing times in 1991, Man-O-War had acquired the services of Gary Wood, the Malahide Professional, but on this occasion, the power was with Rush, and with Brendan Wilde (42) starring, there was great jubilation as Rush won the Cup for the first time after 30 years of trying. Rush won the Fingal League Championship the following week, and retained the Championship in 1992. With their successes in Leinster and in Fingal, Rush's case for Senior status was undeniable, but their quest was not successful until 1995. During this decade, honours in the Fingal League competitions were evenly divided. The Hills won the Fingal League and Cup on 4 occasions, Man-O-War won the League twice, and the Cup once, Rush won League and Cup twice, Man-O-War/Balrothery won the League and Cup twice, and Balbriggan won the Cup on one occasion.
Developments off the field were keeping pace with successes on the field. Balbriggan built a new pavilion in 1990 and the Hills opened its new pavilion on 6 August 1995. In an earlier era, there had been criticism of the facilities and the pitches, but in 1996, The Hills had the honour of being the first Fingal League team to host a Leinster Senior Cup Final. The honour was enhanced by The Hills beating Pembroke in the final, thus completing a double because the Wiggins-Teape (Short-League) Cup had been won earlier in Malahide.
In the mid-1990s, the clubs in Fingal were fielding multiple teams (men and women) in the Leinster League competitions, and there was a major increase in the amount of youth cricket being played by boys and girls. There were also schools' fixtures to be accommodated, and this proliferation of fixtures caused severe pressure on the grounds. It rendered fixture-making in the Fingal League almost impossible because it was difficult to find days on which all teams were free, or grounds were available. Fingal League teams had become much more cosmopolitan in composition, and while the players were committed to their teams, there was not the emotional attachment of earlier generations to the Fingal League. Allied to this, employment patterns had also changed and with more people working away from Fingal, it was difficult to schedule games during the week.
Mrs Maureen Byrne, in writing to the Fingal League to thank the officers for their kindness and sympathy after the death of her husband, Gerry in 1993, expressed the wish "that the Fingal League would always continue and prosper", but by 2001, it was obvious that the Fingal League in its existing format had run its course and needed to keep pace with developments in cricket. At that stage, the number of teams affiliated to the Fingal League had fallen to seven- Rush, Balbriggan, The Hills, North County, Knockbrack, Ring Commons and Portrane.
The Fingal League Committee produced a paper to address the loss of interest in its competitions. Among the proposals were that the Senior 1 teams (The Hills, North County and Rush) would play in the Fingal Championship only, and not play in the Cup. Other proposals included playing the competitions as a 20 overs League, with all games being played on the same day. It also recommended banning all "professional" players from the League. Sadly, at the end of the 2003 season, Knockbrack, the oldest Fingal League cricket club, and the most loyal of all clubs to the Fingal League, left cricket due to its ground becoming unavailable for the new season.
Fingal at the Centre of Irish Cricket
The pace of development continued unabated in Fingal. North County moved to its new ground at The Inch in 2001 and opened its magnificent Centre of Excellence in 2003. Balbriggan has completed tremendous work at its ground. Ring Commons came back into cricket in 2011 and its facilities which have been used for youth representative games are wonderful. Fingal League grounds have won the awards for best grounds since the introduction of the award scheme in 2014, and the quest for improvement continues at all these clubs. Fingal League clubs have come a long way since The Hills' first dressing room was a wooden crate bought from Buckleys of Shanowen Road for #19.
It is undeniable that North County Cricket Club was the best club in Ireland over a 10- year period. The Irish Cup was won on 5 occasions, the Senior 1 League was won 4 times, the 45 Overs Competition was won three times, and the Senior Cup was won once. In a great Fingal occasion, The Hills and North County contested the 2006 Senior Cup Final that The Hills won. North County obtained revenge for that defeat in 2007 by beating The Hills in the final of the Bob Kerr Irish Cup. The Hills' quest for the Irish Cup was successful in 2012 and The Hills won the cup again in 2014.
For many years, it had been a bone of contention with Fingal League clubs that its best players were not receiving International recognition despite winning individual awards at Leinster League level on numerous occasions. During the mid- 1990s, this glaring omission was rectified at last with Declan Moore, Matt Dwyer, Paul Mooney, Barry Archer and Conor Armstrong being capped for Ireland. Later in 2007, there were 3 players (John and Paul Mooney, Andre Botha) from North County on the World Cup Panel which represented Ireland with such distinction in the West Indies. Matt Dwyer was Assistant Coach to the team and there was a very sizeable contingent from Fingal cheering on the team. This constituted irrefutable evidence of the influential place which the region occupied in Irish cricket.
What of the Fingal League?
After the 2001 survey, it was decided to play as many of the games as possible in T20 format and on a blitz basis. This pattern was maintained until 2012 when fixtures were made for the season on 7 February. Present at that meeting were Seamus. Clinton (President), Thomas McGrane (Secretary/Treasurer), Albert Harper, Joe Murphy, Gerry Monks and Johnny White. The last meeting of Fingal Cricket League was held on 18 July 2012, and Thomas McGrane indicated that he would be stepping down at the end of the season. Unfortunately, Thomas became ill, and the fixtures for 2012 were not played.
Several very important anniversaries were celebrated in 2019 - the 50th anniversary of the establishment of The Hills CC, the 50th anniversary of Rush opening its ground at Kenure, the 100th anniversary of the Leinster League and the 25th anniversary of Joe Clinton reading his paper, Cricket in Fingal to the Skerries Historical Society. In 2019 also, there was formal recognition of the importance of Fingal to Irish Cricket with the election of David O'Connor, a proud Fingallian, to the role of President of Cricket Ireland. The Fingal League was of its time. It preserved the much-loved game, it nurtured and developed it and to all who were involved in Fingal League cricket over practically 90 years, everyone owes a debt of gratitude for the contribution with it made to the sporting, cultural and social history of Fingal, Leinster and Ireland.