- Born 2 September 1942 Galway
- Educated Christian Brothers' School, Westland Row, Dublin
- Occupation Inspector Inland Revenue
- Debut 20 July 1966 v Middlesex at Ormeau
- Cap Number 505
- Style Right hand bat, wicket keeper.
- Teams Railway Union
Brendan "Ginger" O'Brien was a stylish and free scoring right hand batsman, always in the upper order, often as an opener. A brilliant all round sportsman, also excelling at football and hockey, he loved to dominate the bowling. Though somewhat small in stature, his best shot was the straight drive, sending the ball scudding past the bowler, too fine for mid off or mid on to touch. He also had a trademark flick off his legs whipping the ball all along the ground through mid wicket. His scoring feats for Railway Union, and, too only a slightly lesser extent South Leinster, bordered on the phenomenal. He was also a first rate slip fieldsman and a very capable reserve wicket keeper. His comparative lack of success for Ireland, though he still scored good runs against quality opposition and did better than several contemporaries, has led some to suggest he was an under achiever. That view is discussed below.
He began for Railway Union as a schoolboy in 1959, soon establishing himself in the side, along with another precocious talent, his friend the late Joey O'Meara. Under Derek Scott's captaincy, they helped Railway win the League in 1960 and narrowly fail to do so the following year. In all Ginger played for the Club in six decades, finishing in 2001. He was captain on seven occasions, the first in 1967 and the last in 1995. Even this, though paled beside the achievement of his long term team-mate, Cheshire born academic Graeme Guthrie, who led the side for eight seasons between 1966 and 1997. As Graeme had also captained Dublin University in 1963, he set a record that even "Ginger" -or Father Time - would have been hard pressed to emulate. "Ginger's" batting record for Railway Union is worth setting out in full:
Matches 705 Innings 686 Not out 75 Highest score 117* Runs 21765 Average 35.62.
He hit 5 centuries and no fewer than 145 fifties. Only the late David Pigot, who had an even longer career, though he played fewer matches, comes anywhere in comparison in terms of runs scored, and, even the GOM of "The Park" trailed by almost 7000 runs! We may examine two matches from "Ginger's" long career which reveal not only his batting ability, though neither are among high scoring games, but also his cricket brain. In his first year of captaincy, 1967, Railway reached the Leinster Cup Final, not overs or time limited then, against Phoenix on the latter's ground. Railway amassed 310, Ginger getting 20 odd, Joey O'Meara one of those making a half century, then reduced Phoenix to 80/5. Enter left handed all rounder Adrian Naughten, a former Dublin University and Phoenix man, now a British Army officer, flown in for the match. Adrian, a fine bowler but more of a hitter than a batsman smashed his way to 84 and suddenly Phoenix were 180-5, all things being possible. Ginger, by inspired captaincy, suddenly had O'Meara change ends. The hosts were all out for 183, Joey finishing with 6-74.
Almost three decades later, Railway travelled for a game at The Hills, knowing that it was a "must win" contest if they were to gain promotion to Section A of the 55 over Belvedere Bond League. Their hosts, on the other hand, had only to draw. Keeping wickets in tact was as important as scoring runs. Thus Railway batted out their overs to score 146-5, with their 51 year old captain, according to Peter O'Reilly's report, "their role model. His 41 formed the backbone of their innings." The Hills, on the other hand panicked against a keen and skilfully directed attack and Railway returned across the River, victorious. That season Ginger totalled 474 runs at 29.62. Interestingly, this was 36 more than the aggregate that had brought him the Marchant Cup twenty one years earlier, though then his average had just shaded 44.
In 1966, the Interprovincial Tournament was at last, set on a proper footing and introduced as the Guinness Cup, with the old, unsatisfactory North v South Trial abolished. Ginger" did play one memorable innings in that long abandoned series. This was at Castle Avenue in 1963, in a match which had already featured three spectacular collapses before the hosts were set 139 to win. They began badly, losing 3 wickets for 34 before Donald Pratt joined "Ginger" who had com e in at the fall of the first wicket and was defending well. Together they added an unbroken 105 to see their side home. "Ginger" finishing on 62 for which he had batted 160 minutes, hitting 4 fours. More surprisingly Pratt controlled his natural instincts to bat 144 minutes for 40." Ginger was in the new competition from the start.
Between its inception and 1988, he played in 103 out of a possible 106 matches and scored 2380 runs at 28.33. He was the first to 2000 runs, overtaking his long time Irish team-mate Ivan Anderson in the home strait and also held the record number of catches in the competition. He hit one century and twelve fifties.
That century, 138*, was made in 1978, the first year in which South Leinster won the Cup, against the formidable Ulster Town attack at Rathmines in 1978, and set up an emphatic 74 run victory. He also contributed a "dashing" 45 to help his side defeat North West by 73 runs. In some views, however, his main contribution to the team's success was his captaincy, which the ICU Yearbook described as "dynamic." Ginger, himself, praised the work of Ian Lewis, his predecessor as captain. South Leinster won the title again in 1984, this time under Jack Short's leadership. Short, Mark Cohen and Ginger were the only survivors of the 1978 team. These three and a young Alan Lewis dominated the tournament with their batting, South LeinsterL were the only side to total over 1000 runs in all matches. Ginger was at his best in two tight finishes. In May he top scored with 63 in an 11 run win over North West at Kimmage, alas now one of Dublin's vanished grounds, and a month later made 48, supporting Jack Short, as the local derby with North Leinster ended in a tie.
He began for Ireland against Middlesex in 1966 and played his last match in 1981, when, like several others over the years, he was no longer able to balance work and international cricket. He had in his closing years, used up his annual holidays and also taken unpaid leave to play. Supportive as his family had always been, this was proving to be rather too much for domestic harmony!
In 52 matches he scored 1636 runs at 21.24 with 9 fifties. This might be described as disappointing for one of his ability. Derek Scott, who at club, provincial and national level probably saw more of Ginger's innings than anyone save the man himself, said, "I was disappointed with Ginger's international career. I think he was capable of doing it at that level, but for some reason, he just didn't." Siggins and Fitzgerald wrote that his career promised more than it eventually achieved. However Ginger's record shows that he had the ability to make runs in the best company and that he did so, perhaps not as often as he would have wished, but certainly enough not to be seen as a failure. It is surely possible that his disappointments came because he was a weekend cricketer, who was, through no fault of his own, inadequately prepared for many of his matches. Given the support and opportunities that today's players enjoy, including two young men also marked out by flaming red hair, he would surely have been ranked amongst Ireland's major run scorers.
He hit nine fifties for Ireland, four of which, including his first and last, were against Wales. These scores also contained his highest innings for Ireland 72 at Swansea in 1977, at the start of a tour famed for Ireland's run chase and victory over Sussex at Pagham. His 72 was easily Ireland's best score in a drawn match. Of the other batsmen only Ivan Anderson achieved respectability.
However he also made runs against sterner opposition, including 32 in the first innings at Pagham, an important contribution as it helped Ireland to finish the first innings almost on level terms with the County, thus making later event possible. Earlier in the season he had played one of his best innings for Ireland, 51 v Australia at Rathmines. Ireland had slumped to 80-3, when he joined Jack Short. They added 112 before Ginger was caught off left arm paceman Geoff Dymock. Ireland were then able to declare. The match finished in a draw, but Ginger's innings may well have averted defeat.
The following season he again passed 50 against top class opposition. This was against Surrey in a match in which Ireland at one time looked like pulling off a sensational victory but ended up needing John Elder to bat out five balls to save the game. Ginger's first innings 52, may have been ended by the occasional bowling of future Black Cap captain Geoff Howarth, but he batted confidently against the high class leg spin of Pakistan captain Intikhab Alam and the off breaks of veteran England bowler Fred Titmus. Another noteworthy innings against top flight bowling came at Eglinton the following summer. The visitors Sri Lanka were then on the verge of Test status and, though Ivan Anderson hit a brilliant 110 in the first innings, Ireland were in some danger of defeat if they lost cheap second innings wickets. However, Ginger shared in a second wicket stand of 71 with Short, and, finishing on 45*, made the match safe for Ireland.
Away from cricket Ginger was, from his youngest days, a highly talented footballer. He played professionally at wing half for Shelbourne Rovers, was on the bench in a European Cup Tie v Athletico Madrid, though he did not get on the field, and was offered terms by Bradford City. In 1964, deciding that his football days were over, he took up hockey and played for Railway in five Irish senior cup finals, besides gaining interprovincial honours for Leinster.
Some would argue, however, that Ginger's biggest contribution to Railway Union and Irish sport, has been through the six remarkable children that he and his wife Camilla, have produced, five sons and one daughter. The three elder boys Paul, Gerard and Conor all played for Railway at first team level. Gerard captained the club three times, winning the Wiggins Teape League in 2002 and now leads the Second XI. Then came Niall and Kevin, of whom no Irish cricket enthusiast should need reminding! However their international appearances, combined with Ginger's, still pale beside those of their sister Ciara with her 150 Irish hockey caps. Camilla, incidentally, joins her husband as a Vice President of the Club.
Brendan Anthony O'Brien is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats".
Edward Liddle, May 2008