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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Aubrey James Finlay
  • Born 2 May 1938 Sion Mills, Co Tyrone
  • Died 4 April 2016, Strabane
  • Educated Sion Mills Public Elementary School; Strabane Technical College
  • Occupation Interior Decorator
  • Debut 10 July 1957 v West Indies at Ormeau
  • Cap Number 480
  • Style Right-hand bat, right arm medium pace.
  • Teams Sion Mills, Strabane

Aubrey Finlay, a very good batsman who started out as an opener, but later found a niche in the upper middle order, was a dominant force in North West Cricket for many years. His name will always be linked with Sion Mills, but he also played, for over ten years, with Strabane, reserving some of his best performances for his old team-mates. He was a more than useful change bowler, and, latterly took up umpiring, albeit on a part time basis. Here according to Clarence Hiles, he was one of those who helped raise the standard of this key part of the game in the North West, where it had not always been what it should have.

He appeared in Sion XIs from the early 1950s, first coming to real prominence in the NWCU Cup Final of 1955. In a low scoring match with Eglinton, bowlers, or more accurately the two great left armers John Flood and Scott Huey, dominated. Sion emerged victorious by 37 runs. Opening the batting, Aubrey made a first innings 28, which proved to be the top score of the game, and was hailed as an innings of remarkable maturity for a 17 year old. It was also, clearly, a crucial one. The following year he hit his first senior hundred with a "great innings" against Strabane in the Faughan Valley Cup, but it was 1957 that marked his real breakthrough.

On 8 June, he played, for the first time in the annual NWCU v NCU match, a preliminary to selecting the team for the North v South Irish Trial. Though Larry Warke hit a typically belligerent 71 for NCU, it was Aubrey who took the honours. His chanceless 113 contained one 6 and thirteen 4s and put him into the Irish side for the season. The summer included one other memorable knock, seen by some as his best ever. This was in the NWCU Cup Final v Strabane, which Sion won by an innings, having run up an impressive 320. This was largely due to Aubrey, ably assisted by fellow teenager Brendan Donaghey (62). They put on 180 for the second wicket; Brendan's share would suggest that he was unusually subdued! Aubrey's innings was worth 132, the adjectives outstanding, magnificent and classic have all been applied to it.

Thereafter he became the man to get out in the Sion line up. Other hundreds included a "fine innings" of 104 v Strabane in the League in 1960 out of 186. He also took 4/41 to complete a highly regarded all round performance. Eight years later he had admirers and journalists alike reaching for the superlatives with a century which set up a 121 run win over Ardmore. There were, of course many fine innings that did not reach three figures. Pride of place might go to two played in Sion's NCU Cup campaigns. In 1964, in the semi final v Waringstown, he struck a "sparkling" 95 to give Sion a 5 wicket win. They lost a hard fought Final with Instonians, despite a first innings hundred from Tommy Harper. The following year Aubrey was again prominent with 89, unluckily run out, in a 7 wicket win over Armagh. Sion again reached the Final, but "the other villagers" had the upper hand this time, despite a second innings 51 from Aubrey. Ardmore also felt the full force of his bat in a League match in 1964. They lost by 7 wickets as Sion successfully chased 173, Aubrey's share being 93*, again attracting superlatives.

His turn of decade move to Strabane saw no fall off in his play, Sion feeling this on two particular occasions. In the 1971 Cup Final, Sion emerged victorious by 71 runs, but not before their old colleague ad given them a score. Tommy Harper was batting brilliantly in the villagers second innings, almost the only batsman to look comfortable thus far. He had reached 75, the match almost put out of Strabane's reach, when Aubrey caught him brilliantly in the gulley. The eventual target was too much for Strabane, but Aubrey with 51, made their opponents work hard for the silverware. Then in the League in 1976 his 54* saw Strabane make light of a none too easy task and secure an 8 wicket win.

Though he did not play for Ireland after 1965, Aubrey was a regular in the Guinness Cup for 15 years. He scored 825 runs at 24.26 with a highest score of 80, the best of his four 50s. Strangely his last two innings of note were both made in a losing cause. In 1978 his 74 v South Leinster at Sydney Parade could not stave off defeat, while more surprisingly, when in his final season of 1981, he was the only batsman to perform against perennial whipping boys, Munster. His 42 could not avert a rare, 7 wicket, win for the underdogs.

Aubrey's Irish career must, however, be counted as a disappointment, after a promising start. He began, just two months past his nineteenth birthday, against the West Indies at Ormeau. This was not a great West Indian side but they had come straight from Trent Bridge where remarkable batting by Frank Worrell and "Collie" Smith had allowed them to escape the Third Test with a draw. They lost the series three nil, the English attack, and the lack of preparation of some of the wickets, being too much for them. Their bowlers at Ormeau included Wes Hall and Garry Sobers, both still developing into the great players they became, and the slow left arm Alf Valentine, destroyer of England seven years earlier, but no longer a threat to Test class batsmen. Against Ireland, however, he took 6/38, with only the two debutants, Oxford Blue Mike Eagar, fresh from a disastrous University Match, who made 41, and Aubrey able to take him on. Aubrey came in at 79/5 and hit his first ball, from Valentine, to the boundary. Two more fours and a three followed off the left armer, and, while wickets tumbled at the other end, the teenager showed every sign of confidence. He scored 29* out of 42 while he was at the wicket, but rain denied him a second innings. Like most of his team-mates he failed in College Park, as Ireland were hustled out by Sobers and the occasional leg spin of opening bat Nyron Asgarli, who had earned the gratitude of at least one disappointed schoolboy at Ormeau, by standing in the rain, signing innumerable autographs, and answering all manner of questions.

Aubrey also did well against Scotland in College Park later in the summer. In a match famous for the remarkable bowling of Frank Fee (9/26 in the first innings) and the wicket keeping of the Scottish gloveman JT Brown (7 dismissals in Ireland's second innings), Aubrey batted at No 3 and made a first innings 24. It was the second highest innings of the match and was a calm display against a turning ball on an over helpful wicket. After failing in the MCC match at Lord's, he wound up his debut season at Rathmines with a stylish 49 against the Free Foresters. He was dismissed by JHG Deighton, an opening bowler who had success for Lancashire, and was the only bowler of class in the visitors' team. No one would have foretold at the time that this would be Aubrey's highest score for Ireland. As it was he seemed to have made a most promising start.

This promise was shown again the following year. The New Zealanders came to Ireland in July for a 2 day match at Ormeau and a single innings match at College Park. They might well have won at Ormeau had it not been for a stalwart 34* from Aubrey, who, in the second innings was the only batsman, besides the former Cambridge Blue Robin O'Brien (52), to shape confidently after Tom McCloy had gone for 20. Aubrey also shaped well against Scotland in a rain affected draw at Ayr. Ireland declared on 136-7 after many interruptions, Aubrey's 30 being second top score to Stan Bergin's 55. However he then, in Derek Scott's words, "finished with a sequence of low scores." Unfortunately, the Foxrock guru's words proved to be prophetic as well as descriptive. Aubrey's remaining 10 matches for Ireland were to bring him only a further 193 runs with a highest score of 24 v MCC in College Park in 1961. On only one other occasion, against Leicestershire in 1961, did he reach 20? His last match was against Hampshire at Castle Avenue in 1965, when, in a match in which both sides sought quick runs after a blank first day, he made 0 and 5. The last bowler to claim his wicket in an Irish match was the great medium pacer Derek Shackleton. He may have been some consolation to fall victim to one of the giants of the County gems. "Shack's" career figures in first class cricket were 2867 wickets at 18.65.

Aubrey's failure to reproduce his club form for Ireland, apart from the early glimpses described above, remains a mystery. Unlike some others, he did not lack opportunity and was given a good run in the side at the outset. It is hardly true to say that he lacked the ability to succeed .No one who saw him bat for any length of time would agree with that. Perhaps the answer lies in lack of preparation to face class opposition, a problem he shared with many of his contemporaries. It was difficult for a weekend cricketer to go straight into a two or three day match, often against Test or county opposition. Had the time, facilities and coaching available to modern Irish players been there in his time, his career would very probably have followed a very different path. As it is, the present writer recalls with pleasure having seen him bat, many others must have been equally fortunate.