- Born 28 November 1974, Londonderry
- Educated Strabane High School
- Occupation Millworker
- Debut 29 August 1997 v Earl of Arundel's XI at Arundel Castle
- Cap Number 610
- Style Right hand bat, right arm fast medium pace
- Teams Donemana, Glendermott, Creevedonnell, Fox Lodge, Ardmore
Gary Neely remains, as a new season (2016) dawns what he has always been, a very good fast medium bowler. A thorn in the flesh of batsmen in the North West for more than two decades, he is also widely respected as a captain, what has been termed his " no nonsense" approach to leadership having greatly benefited the clubs he has led. He is now set to take the helm at Ardmore in his third season with the club.
He began, of course, with Donemana, having what might be called a breakthrough season in 1996 when consistent performances gained him representative honours. In the League that season, he had an outstanding match against Crindle when, to quote from Billy Platt's History of Donemana:
"G Neely raced through the Crindle batters to take 7 for 40."
The following season confirmed his status as one of the leading pacemen in the North West with outstanding matches against Glendermott and Bready. The former were knocked out of the North West Cup by 10 wickets being dismissed for 125 thanks to Gary taking 7-45 while Bready, chasing 205 in the League were defeated by 32 runs Gary having taken 6-48. However one ball bowled in 2001 was, arguably, the most important that he ever sent down for Donemana.
In the North West Cup final of that year Donemana came up against a rampant Limavady side with Decker Curry on the top of his form. However, despite Decker hitting a typically destructive 84, Donemana gained a 27 runs first innings lead and were eventually able to set a target of 238, which with Decker on song was eminently gettable. Taking the new ball Gary promptly bowled the Master Blaster for a duck, leading to a Limavady collapse for 72 all out, Gary having 4-29 and all rounder Azhar Shaffique 5-28.
Like many other North West cricketers, Gary has not spent his entire career with one club. A move to Glendermott, which was to see his first experience of captaincy, brought further fine performances with the ball, but also, and more remarkably an outstanding one with the bat. No one would describe Gary as a rabbit, but batting has never been his strongest suit. His method is forthright and has seen him promoted in overs reduced matches.
However in an Irish Senior Cup match against The Hills at the Rectory Field in 2005 he excelled himself with an innings many a player picked for his batting alone would envy. The powerful Fingal side had posted a score of 311 with Gary having failed to take a wicket at the cost of 64 runs. Then the hosts batting failed. They were staring down the barrel at 150-6 when Gary joined Stephen Montgomery in a remarkable 7th wicket partnership which added 150, before just before victory was achieved Gary was out for a devastating 82.
Three seasons with Fox Lodge from 2008 not only saw him win plaudits for his captaincy, but also produced some more fine bowling performances. Thus against Glendermott at home in the League in 2009 he came on third change to return figures of 4-0-14-5 as the visitors were bowled out for 67 in 19 overs. Fox Lodge also found runs difficult to come by but scraped home by 2 wickets, Gary on 8* having seen them over the line.
Back with Glendermott in 2010 he had an outstanding game in the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup, though his thunder was almost stolen by a remarkable innings from another former Irish fast bowler. The match was away against Phoenix who totalled 242, owing almost everything to David Langford-Smith who smashed his way to a superb 125 with 8 fours and 6 sixes. Fortunately for the visitors, Gary did not wilt under the pressure. Far from it in fact as he returned the enviable figures of 10-2-33-6. Glendermott went on to win by 5 wickets.
A move to Creevedonnell brought further success with the ball. One such match is particularly noteworthy as it saw Gary shine as an all rounder. Bonds Glen batted first and made 201 with Gary having 5-29 from his 10 overs. However Creevedonnell struggled in reply and were in some difficulty on 79/4 when Gary came in to play a captain's innings of 31 which put his team in sight of victory. A mini collapse followed his dismissal but a one wicket victory was achieved.
Ardmore beckoned for Gary in 2014. That season he took 28 wickets at 15.46 with a 5 wicket haul in a match against Brigade which despite his efforts was lost by 39 runs. Last (2015) season saw him take 33 at 14.33 including figures of 5-12 in the Bob Kerr ISC against Ballymena. As mentioned above, he captains the side this summer. They will not lack for leadership by example.
Gary's first taste of senior representative cricket came for the Ireland Development XI against the Irish Universities in 1996. He subsequently played for the North West, his performances always being useful.
His Irish debut came against the Earl of Arundel's XI on the picture postcard ground in Sussex dominated by the mighty buildings of Arundel Castle, seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, in August 1997. Gary was wicketless in this encounter, the Arundel wicket, as always, favouring the batsmen. His best performances for the national side were to come in 2002 and 2003. In the European Championships of 2002, held in the North, Ireland, thanks to rain causing some rearrangement of fixtures, had a somewhat congested programme. . If anyone was affected by this, it most certainly was not Gary. He helped Ireland to victory in a 98 runs win over Denmark at Stormont.
According to Barry Chambers in the Irish Cricket Annual the Danes, "had no answer to the pace of the rejuvenated Gary Neely." He reduced the visitors to 26-3 in his opening spell making their pursuit of Ireland's 281-7 a somewhat hopeless task. Then Italy were faced at The Green on a hard, dry wicket in cool and cloudy conditions. Ireland, captain Jason Molins, won the toss and batted but had Kyle McCallan and Derek Heasley to thank for posting a challenging score of 231-8 from their 50 overs.
Then Gary's opening spell reduced the visitors to 49-2. However there followed a recovery which saw Italy reach 156/2 before a breakthrough by Derek Heasley saw them at 181-5 with the match evenly poised. Reintroduced into the attack Gary took 3 of the last 5 wickets to fall, including two in successive balls. Denied a hat trick, he ran the batsman who had denied him out instead, throwing the bating wicket down as an unwise run was attempted. He finished with figures of 5-30 having, in Barry Chambers' words, "blasted out the lower order." Ireland won by 28 runs, Gary went on to head the bowling averages for the season with 17 wickets at 20.41. By a quirk of fate to rival that of Australian Bill Johnston on the tour of 1953, he also headed the batting, by dint of amassing 49 runs in 6 innings, 5 of which were not out. One hopes that Niall O'Brien, who averaged 47.25 appreciated the joke, but no member of that intensely competitive family has ever enjoyed coming second!
The following season, described in the ICA as "an African summer" was to see Gary achieve three wicket hauls against Test match sides Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as the ECB Amateur XI. His South African wickets at Castle Avenue came at the cost of 40 runs from 7 overs and, possibly, owed something to batsmen striking out in the closing overs as the Proteas tried to post an even more impressive score than they actually achieved but at Malahide the ECB batsmen were ill at ease against him. It was no fault of his that on a slow, low wicket Ireland went down by 52 runs in a 50 over match.
Zimbabwe came to Belfast, having been heavily defeated by England in a three match Test series. They made the cardinal error of underestimating Ireland at Stormont and left out key players. Gary and Paul Mooney cut through the upper order to leave the visitors reeling at 12-3. A recovery ensued but tight bowling by McCallan kept them in check, Gary finished with 3-40 as Ireland were left 183 to win. A famous victory resulted with a brilliant 107* from Jason Molins and 67* from Jeremy Bray seeing them home by 10 wickets.
Edward Liddle, April 2016