- Born 29 March 1940, Holywood, Co Down
- Died 7 June 2002 Bangor, Co Down
- Educated Campbell College, Belfast
- Occupation Sales Representative
- Debut 5 September 1964 v MCC at Castle Avenue, Dublin
- Cap Number 500
- Style Right hand bat, slow left arm
- Teams Holywood, Bangor
Conn McCall was a sound opening batsman, who was a prolific scorer at club level. He also showed his class in representative cricket, without quite achieving the consistency that his ability warranted. He was born into a family which has a long connection with cricket, particularly with the Holywood club. Amongst the best known of them have been his cousin Jim, a highly respected umpire, and Des, his second cousin, with a high reputation as both player and administrator. Conn's son Mark, as is detailed below, won fame on the rugby pitch, besides carrying on the family cricket tradition.
Conn first came to light as an eleven year old member of the Holywood Graham Cup team, which, against most expectations, reached the final of this high ranking youth competition in 1952, before being defeated by a more experienced Woodvale side. Conn was also a member of the Holywood 2nd XI, which won the JC Picken Cup in 1956. By this time he was a pupil at Campbell College, benefiting from the coaching of Tom McMurray and Joe Lytle, the Major, master in charge of cricket at Campbell, besides being a legend in the annals of Dublin University cricket. It was not long before Conn became an essential member of the 1st XI.
Captain of the club in 1963, remained an essential member of the Holywood side until 1968, when, by now Ireland's opening bat he moved "down the road" to Bangor. In fact he lost his place in the Irish side that season, which was, however, a blessing in disguise for the Ward Park club, as Conn, always available, proceeded to establish what were, in his time, most of Bangor's batting records. For example, in 1974, he became the first Bangor batsman recorded as having reached 400 runs in a season, having missed the target by one run the previous season. He also shared in, what was, at the time the club's only century side for any wicket, let alone the first, putting on 111 with R Magee v Waringstown in 1972. Captain of the club in 1970 and 1971, he was three times winner the batting cup in 1968, 1973 and 1974.
He had begun his, pre Guinness Cup, interprovincial career, for Ulster against Munster at The Mardyke in 1963. His fellow debutant and opening partner Wilfie Ridge of Ballymena made a pair but Conn posted a century in each innings. Also in the side was the young Dermot Monteith, who, in his foreword to Colm Murphy's" Long Shadows By De Banks", recalled that, "Wilfie was accompanied by his father and grandfather... and was tucked up in bed by 10 pm each night. I don't think Conn went to bed at all."
Three years later, Conn, now firmly established in the Irish side, began his career for Ulster Country in the Guinness Cup. In his first match v South Leinster at Wallace Park, he played a leading part in the hosts' victory. Needing 179 for victory, they emerged winners, largely due to Conn's 74, quick wickets falling on his departure. He was out to the bowling of Leinster CC medium pacer Bobby Harris caught by Ginger O'Brien, like Conn not a man who dropped catches.
Another win against the same opponents came the following season. Batting first Ulster Country reached 224-6 declared with Conn (71) and elegant stroke maker Herbie Martin (87*) adding 90 for the 4th wicket. The 29 run victory came despite a fighting 102 by Gerry Duffy on his home turf. Conn was not to reach fifty again in these matches. His next best was 48 against North West at Donemana in 1974. The hosts were put out for 106, with John Elder taking 3-14 before Conn and Jim Harrison, (39*) made sure of an 8 wicket victory.
Conn played 28 Guinness Cup matches aggregating 477 runs at 18.34, a rather disappointing return for one of his class and determination.
Selected for Ireland in 1964, he had to wait four days to make a start. The Scots match was completely washed out as was the first day of the MCC game at Castle Avenue. When the sides eventually got on the field, they quickly made up for lost time. MCC declared at 190-7, former England opener Raman Subba Row, son of a Dublin University graduate, making 61. Ireland replied with 201-6, Conn, batting "first drop", top scoring with 81, adding 74 for the second wicket with Tom McCloy. In the end, the home side, wanting 164 in two hours, fell just short with two wickets standing. Conn was stumped by former South African wicket keeper Russell Endean off tireless Worcestershire medium pacer George Chesterton for 15, having put on 50 for the second wicket with Stan Bergin, the Pembroke man forsaking his usual cautious approach.
Ireland again fell short against MCC at Lord's the following season. Needing 182, they finished on 143-7 in a match of three declarations. Conn, out for 12 to the off spin of f Pakistan batsman Saeed Ahmed in the first innings, topscored with 65 in the second, before being caught by former Irish batsman Mike Eagar off medium pacer James Melville, who played a handful of matches for Kent. The next highest Irish score was Duffy's 23.
That summer Ireland entertained New Zealand at Ormeau. Conn, in company with most of his colleagues other than Donald Pratt, and, to a lesser extent Bergin, Ray Hunter and Dougie Goodwin, failed with the bat, but, coming on when the visitors needed one to win, bowled his only ball for Ireland. The press and Wisden credited this ball to Scott Huey, the two were not dissimilar in appearance, and it was to be many years before records were changed to give the Holywood man a first class bowling career.
In September almost the full Hampshire side came to Castle Avenue, and the first day having been lost, Ireland, after three declarations, were left needing 164, again, in 135 minutes, but finished on 126-7. Conn, whose first innings 22 had been terminated by left armer Alan Wassell, "defended well" (Derek Scott Wisden 1966) and topscored with 65*. His innings saved Ireland from defeat as they tumbled to 30-5, in face of typically destructive bowling from high class medium pacer Derek Shackleton, who finished with figures of 13 - 8 - 13 - 3. "Shack" took 144 first class wickets that season, and a staggering 2857 in a 21 year career. Batting at 7, Ray Hunter helped Conn add 49 for the 6th and Dougie Goodwin also stood firm while 47 were put on for the seventh wicket. Towards the end, with the pressure off, Conn went for his strokes, being severe on slow left armer Geoff Keith. His innings was, in fact, the second highest score of the match, only being surpassed by brilliant West Indian exile Roy Marshall who made a superb 98 for the County.
Conn also topscored in the second innings of the India match at the same venue two years later. A two day affair, this was again a game of three declarations, which the visitors won by 5 wickets. Conn's 40 enabled Ireland to set India a target and led to a good finish. Two of India's famous spinners claimed his wicket in this match, Chandrasekar getting him in the first innings and Bishen Bedi in the second. On both occasions he was caught behind by BK Kunderan, a fine gloveman and batsman.
Later that summer against MCC at Lord's, he made a good 40 in his second knock, before being stumped off the leg spin of Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) diplomat Gamini Goonesna, having been out for 2 in the first innings to fast medium bowler Jack Bailey, chief destroyer of Irish batting at the end of the decade. On this occasion Bailey, later Secretary of MCC, shared the wickets with Goonesna as Ireland crashed to an innings defeat. Goonesena was unlucky that his country did not achieve Test status during his career. He was a very good all rounder, who played as a professional for Nottinghamshire before going to Cambridge, whom, scoring 211, he captained to an innings victory over Oxford, captained by Bailey, in 1957.
Thereafter Conn faded as an International batsman. In his last season, 1968, he played only two matches managing just 13 runs with a highest of 11 in the second inning against Scotland. His biggest disappointment must have been a double failure, 1 and 0, against the Australians, though he was removed by the great "Garth" McKenzie in the second innings. He did not play for Ireland again after the Scots match, but, as we have seen, remained a formidable batsman at club level, with some of his best years for Bangor still to come.
Conn was to become a leading administrator, being Northern Cricket Union Executive Committee Chairman in 1984-85, an Irish Selector 1981-1986 and, a well deserved accolade, President of the Irish Cricket Union in 1992.
Away from the cricket field, Conn was a good rugby full back, in the days when No 15s were not expected to double as wing three quarters famed for his long, raking touch finders, he was also a highly reputed goal kicker. He was, of course, later to have the pleasure of seeing his son Mark gain 13 caps in the centre for Ireland between 1991 and 1998.
His obituary is in Wisden 2003.
Edward Liddle, November 2008