After a season the like of which we have not experienced Schools Cricket has somehow managed to get to the end of term with most of its business transacted. For the Schools' Committee it was truly 'that there season' with a whole raft of competitions formerly run by the MUCG to be administered. That the vast majority of them have been completed is a tribute to the patience of Richard Johnson (the Committee Chairman, left) and the many Competitionsā co-ordinators, in addition to the hard pressed Masters in charge at the various Schools.
The jewel in the Schoolsā cricket crown, the Senior Cup was resolved at Moylena, the ground of Muckamore CLTC near Antrim, something of a spiritual home for the Competition. The Trophy awarded to the winners was presented by the Muckamore Club several years ago in memory of Ferguson Grainger, and for many seasons the Final was staged there. For the last 2 years it was held at Ormeau, the now defunct (destroyed some might say) headquarters of the Club formerly known as NICC, and now 'trading' under the Belfast Harlequins banner. It is the expressed wish of the Schools' Committee that future Finals may be located at the 'International' ground at Stormont - we shall see.
Such was the influence of the weather that a decision was taken at the 9 June Committee meeting that the final be put back for a week, and the Host Club were generously able to accede to this request. Nonetheless as recently as Tuesday 18 June BRA and Strabane GS were endeavouring to complete their quarter final. This contest was not without its controversies, though the determining factor may well have been the failure of William Porterfield to line out for Strabane. Since his school were the 2000 winners, and the 2001 beaten finalists it did seem strange that they allowed themselves to go into the field without a young man who is clearly one of Irelandās all time Schoolboy performers.
By the time this contest was resolved Wallace HS (200 runners-up) had overcome Foyle & LC by the narrow margin of 10 runs and were now awaiting the winners of BRA v RBAI Typically this game was ravished by the weather; on Saturday (22nd) it got underway, one innings was completed but a burst of torrential rain put an end to proceedings. Monday was altogether more cheerful, though there was still one sharp shower but Instās score of 200 proved too much for the dogged BRA side who had surprised many pundits by their perseverance in getting so far.
And so to Moylena; paradoxically the final was played on a bright sunny day and the backdrop of the trees ensured that it felt quite warm. Inst. decided to bat first but clearly found the adjustment from the artificial strip used at Osborne to a typical grafters track with a slow outfield difficult to achieve. A partnership between Mark Gleghorne (local knowledge?) and Richard Johnson (jnr) seemed to offer them some hope but in the end the innings petered out and they did well to reach 3 figures. The Wallace reply was led by Timothy Cockram, an Ulster Schools' player in 2000, but whose cricket has had to take back-stage to his hockey exploits. He played the opening bowlers with aplomb, though he looked a little more ill-at-ease against Jamie Latimer and Simon Wells.
However when he fell his captain David Simpson steered his side comfortably to victory with almost half the available overs to spare. As with so many finals one was left with the impression that it had not been a great game of cricket, but few would argue that it was anything other than 2 of the best Schools sides of this year that were in it. On the day Wallace were very worthy winners; they seem to have the ability to perform when under pressure; I witnessed this when they got the better of Bangor GS in a tight first round contest. They won a semi-final at Springtown which is always a yardstick and clearly kept their nerve in the final. All of which is a tribute to the boys themselves, their captain and their coach Neil Hinds who can contemplate all this while on his way to Australia with his school Rugby team - somebody has to do it!
Another who is heading for the Southern Hemisphere is Tournament Co-ordinator Richard Clingan. He has been under-taking this task now for several years, but never can it have been so taxing. That the Competition was completed is testimony to his work, and how he managed to put the programme together at such short notice is a mystery. Both Neil and he deserve their break; for the Chairman and Secretary/Coach attention now switches to the Inter-pro and Ulster and Irish Schools' Tour; more anon.