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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Tom McCloy
  • Born 31 August 1927 Lambeg, Co Antrim
  • Died 13 January 2014
  • Educated Lisburn Technical College
  • Occupation Engineer
  • Debut 13 July 1951 v South Africa at Ormeau
  • Cap Number 453
  • Style Right-hand bat, right arm off breaks
  • Teams Lisburn

Tom McCloy, one of three brothers to play senior cricket for Lisburn, is one of the enigmas of Irish Cricket. A technically correct stroke making opening batsman, he was consistency itself for Lisburn, but his performances for Ireland only very rarely showed his true class and ability.

He began for Lisburn in 1943 and was to be a regular for almost three and a half decades, bowing out after the NCU Cup Final of 1977. During this time he invariably opened the batting, forming formidable partnerships with, firstly Simpson Robinson, and later, his brother Billy. His batting was a major reason for the club winning six league titles, one of which was shared with NICC, between 1950 and 1969, as well as reaching 13 Cup Finals during his time with them, six of which were won.

On several occasions, he played a prominent role in the Final. In 1951, Lisburn faced a massive 403 to win against NICC. Many sides might have folded under the pressure, but not so the Wallace Park men. Jack Bowden, who had bowled heroically, hit an extraordinary 146*, well supported by Tom who contributed an elegant 83. Lisburn reached 342, quite enough to give the hosts a bad fright.

In 1959, he played the crucial innings in a low scoring match with Queen's University. The students were put out twice for double figure scores, but Lisburn managed only 148. This, and therefore the Cup, was mostly due to Tom who carried his bat for 89*. He also top scored in the 1962 Final with Muckamore, which Lisburn won by 114 runs, despite a typically fighting all round display from Archie McQuilken. Tom's second innings 75 enabled his team to set a task beyond even "The Wee Man's" capabilities and Jack Bowden's spin did the rest.

Tom's last Cup Final, and final match for Lisburn at senior level, was in 1977 v Downpatrick at Strangford Road. A rumbustious second innings 98 from Noel Ferguson ensured victory for the home side, despite the two prong spin attack of Dermot Monteith and Given Lyness. However Tom signed off in some style with a second knock 51, which recalled some of his most memorable days.

He was, of course often seen to advantage away from Cup Finals. Thus in 1958, he and Ray Hunter put on 205 for the first wicket against Queen's in the League at Wallace Park; while, when his side rattled up 389 in the Cup first round v Lurgan in 1965, he and Herbie Martin both made hundreds. His best year, however, was 1959, when he also did well for Ireland. He passed 1000 runs in all matches with an average of 54.80. Appropriately he reached the coveted target while batting at Lord's.

Tom was a regular in the North side against the South in the 1950s and 60s, hitting three half centuries, though the first of these 57 at Ormeau in 1952, came when the North batted on after winning the match by 9 wickets. His highest score, an undefeated 58 came at Cregagh in 1962 when the North declared 96 runs behind a South score of 220, which had included a robust 102 from Pat Dineen. The hosts enterprise was not rewarded as the South batsmen did not really rise to the challenge, Stan Bergin making a somewhat ponderous 58 and yet another draw resulted.

At Castle Avenue the following season, Tom began the match by making 52 as he and Bob Matier put on 122 for the first wicket. That was the only time the North batsmen were in control as three prong South pace attack of Alec O'Riordan, Podge Hughes and Algy Rice, a former Royal Marine now a Trinity undergraduate, caused collapses in both innings. The South went on to win by 7 wickets with "Ginger" O'Brien giving spectators an early look at his talents in representative cricket.

Yet for Ireland it was often a very different story. In 56 innings he managed only 836 runs at 14.93, a poor return indeed for one of his ability. These innings included no fewer than 22 single figure scores of which eight were ducks, four of these being "pairs". He only passed 30 on seven occasions. Derek Scott once wrote that Tom "often seemed to get out just when set." This might suggest lapses in concentration, but his club scores hardly support this. As a Saturday afternoon cricketer, he could not have been expected always to succeed against first class bowlers, but failures also came against less formidable attacks.

He began well enough against the 1951 South Africans at Ormeau, the only batsman to reach double figures in the second innings when the spin attack of Athol Rowan, off breaks, and NBF "Tufty" Mann, left arm, put Ireland out for 46 after a closely contested first innings. Tom, who had seen off the hostile if illegal pace of Cuan McCarthy in the first innings, was stumped by wicket keeper Russell Endean, later to play for MCC v Ireland, off Rowan for 17. Rowan never played again after that tour because of an old war time injury, caused by banging his knee against a tank in the Western Desert. Nor did Mann, who, tragically, died almost exactly a year after the match.

Tom's best season for Ireland was his great year of 1959. He hit two thirties v Scotland in College Park and 33 v a formidable Yorkshire attack at Ormeau. However his best innings was 73 v MCC at Lord's, during which, as has been mentioned, he passed his 1000 runs for the season. This was an attractive and well contested match, narrowly won by MCC after three declarations.

MCC included Sir Leonard Hutton, Keith Miller and George Tribe, an Australian unorthodox left arm spinner, who was a leading bowler in county cricket for many years... "McCloy," said Wisden "took the Irish honours with his attractive first innings of 73." It was somewhat ironic that having cover driven Tribe and hooked Miller to perfection, he should fall victim in both innings to the medium pace of occasional Kent all rounder SEA Kimmins, son of film director Anthony Kimmins, whose first class bowling average was 41.56!

As well as 40s v MCC and Leicestershire and MCC in 1963, Tom had two other half centuries for Ireland. In 1962, rain and slow scoring meant that the first class mach with Combined Services at Ormeau was left drawn. Of the upper order Irish batsmen, in the first innings, only Tom (53) and McQuilken shaped confidently against Tony Buss, National Serviceman and Sussex opening bowler. Wisden noted that "Ireland were indebted to McCloy and McQuilken as Buss bowled splendidly in taking six wickets."

In 1964 rain washed out the first day of the MCC match at Castle Avenue. Some enterprising cricket by both sides resulted in Ireland finishing 16 short with 8 wickets down. Tom contributed an elegant 52 in the first innings, before being caught and bowled by leg spinner and former Middlesex captain, Ian Bedford. Tom and Con McCall (81) had put on 74 for the second wicket. Bedford, who often played in these matches and was also seen in other cricket in Ireland, collapsed while batting in a club match in London two years later, dying on his way to hospital.

When he finally retired from senior cricket in 1977, Tom became active in administration at club, provincial and national level. He served as Chairman of the Ulster Country selection panel and was also an Irish selector for much of the 1980s. He was Chairman of the Northern Cricket Union Executive Committee 1980 - 81. Deservedly he was NCU President ten years later. Tom was not simply a cricketer. In his younger days he was a fine footballer, playing in the Irish League for Linfield, Distillery and Ards.

This writer has one abiding memory of Thomas McCloy. In College Park in June 1963, the West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith destroyed the Irish batting and must have damaged the confidence of the batsmen. The visitors also faltered on a wet and rough wicket and Ireland had to bat again, against Griffith, in pale evening sunshine. It was rumoured that, in the home dressing room, they were drawing lots for who should go in first, but Tom came out to face the hostile Bajan. Griffith only bowled a few overs, not quite at full pace. Suddenly, however, he dropped one short. Even a three quarter pace bouncer from that controversially positioned arm, was as fast as anything Tom was ever likely to see again. There was as sharp crack as the ball flew off the middle of his bat, towards the square leg boundary. Tom had hooked Charlie Griffith for four. He was out soon afterwards, but in that one shot, he had revealed his true class.

It was a fitting tribute to Tom when he was made an Honorary Life Member of the NCU in October 2007.