- Born 21 June 1972 Lisburn, Co Antrim
- Educated Wallace High School, Lisburn
- Occupation Professional Rugby Union Footballer, Rugby Union Development Officer, Rugby Coach
- Debut 12 June 1993 V Scotland at Eglinton
- Cap Number 587
- Style Right hand bat; right arm off break bowler
- Teams Lisburn, Bellville CC (Cape Town)
Neil Doak was an all round sportsman of exceptional talent. A supreme competitor, besides his 32 Irish caps for cricket, he represented Ulster on 76 occasions on the rugby field and was unlucky, having been on the bench against Fiji in 1995 and a member of the 2003 World Cup squad, not to have won international honours in the winter game also.
As a cricketer, he was an attractive free scoring batsman, capable of dominating most attacks and a good off spinner who was usually extremely economical. Having made his senior debut for Lisburn aged 15, he showed his talents on a wider stage for Ulster Country in the U19 Interprovincial Tournament of 1991 when he scored almost 200 runs with two half centuries at an average of 64.30. His bowling was seen to advantage at senior level, as he took 22 wickets for Lisburn at 11.05 to finish second in the NCU averages. He was selected for Ireland U 23 against the Irish Universities in College Park, and having not batted in the first innings, when his side declared on 176-6, came in at third wicket down in the second innings, needing to force the pace for a declaration. He hit a brilliant 77, adding 94 for the 5th wicket with Brian O'Rourke. Their stand allowed a declaration, but, needing 205, the Universities finished on 134-6.
The following two summers saw Neil as captain of Ireland U21, which in 1992 was a side brimming with talent including Ted Williamson, Kyle McCallan, Derek Heasley, Jason Molins and Mark Patterson. Unsurprisingly they were too strong for the Universities winning by 127 runs. Neil dominated the match. In the first innings of 168 he - batting at 4 - made 67 facing 150 balls in 167 minutes with 8 fours. He was then bowled by Jim Fitzpatrick, who had trapped him lbw to end his fine knock the previous year. Neil was dominant again in the second innings, his undefeated 53 coming in 94 minutes from 86 balls and including 8 fours. With the students needing 199 to win, he took the ball and returned figures of 8.5 - 5 - 22 - 5, to finish a remarkable all round performance. Later in the summer the U21s toured Scotland, Neil playing a prominent part in a tense draw with Scotland, in which the scores finished level with Ireland on 228-7. Neil, who had made 29* in the first innings was undefeated on 51 in the second. He faced only 30 balls, later telling The Ulster Cricketer that, "I was striking the ball well and feeling really good at that point of the season."
The following year the Universities just held the U 21s to a draw, the Ireland batting honours going to Johnny Byrne who hit a fine first innings century. Neil, however, again showed his style and form with well made 52* in the second innings. Taking 69 minutes his runs came off 58 balls with 7 fours. His declaration left the Universities wanting 181, they finished on 145-9. He then led the side on a tour the English Midlands. Only one of the matches played was a limited overs affair, against Staffordshire U21 which Ireland won by 3 wickets, with Neil making 37. This was their solitary victory, it appeared that some of the players struggled with the traditional form of the game. The longest innings of the tour was played by Neil when he made 54 in a drawn match with Midlands Club Cricket Conference. He fell to New Zealand fast left armer Shayne O'Connor, later to play 19 Tests for the Black Caps, taking 53 wickets. Neil also had an accurate and successful spell of bowling against a Birmingham League U 21 XI which Ireland were rather fortunate to draw. The hosts were dismissed for 217, with Neil's figures 7.3-3-14-3.
As mentioned above his senior career at Wallace Park had begun at the age of 15 and had really blossomed in 1991. He spent the winter of 1992 - 93 in Cape Town playing with the Bellville Club. Drafted into the 1st XI within 24 hours of stepping off the plane, he took 6 wickets to make an impressive debut. He retained his place throughout the season, though he found the standard considerably higher than he had previously experienced. He finished with just under 400 runs at just over 20 and 45 wickets at 13. He met with some batting problems as the matches were two innings affairs, played over four Saturday afternoons, and he sometimes got out in the 20s or 30s, rather than settling in for a longer innings.
The South African experience certainly benefited him. Not only did he gain a place in the Irish side the following summer, but he scored 608 runs for Lisburn at 46.76 with a highest score of 76*. This was made against RUC in the first round of the Challenge Cup, a brilliant innings which brought a 3 wicket victory. That aggregate remained a career best for competitive matches in the NCU, but he headed the averages twice, hitting 605 runs at 60.50 in 1995 and 543 at 90.50 the following summer with a highest of 108*. He helped to Lisburn to one League title and two Cup Finals, the epic tie with North Down in 1994 - when his first innings dismissal of danger man Charlie McCrum may well, in retrospect, have been the decisive ball of the match - and in 1996 when his side lost to Lurgan by 5 wickets despite his second innings top score 36.
He represented Ulster Country at interprovincial level having several useful performances to his credit, of which two may be mentioned here. In 1994 against North West at Strabane, the visitors were bowled out for 164, Neil being easily topscore with 64, George Hunter (32) being next. Neil was caught and bowled by Bobby Rao but then struck back with the ball dismissing the Indian Test player for a duck. However the strength of the hosts' batting, in the form of Messrs Curry, Smyth and Junior McBrine, saw them home by 7 wickets. The following year the match was played at Stormont with the North West posting a useful 218. Neil had 2-45, the valued scalps of Mark Gillespie and Alan Rutherford. UC finished just short on 211-4, Neil, who was undefeated on 67, having added 105 for the second wicket with Shane Harrison. UC would probably have won but for rain break, which left them batting in fading light and needing 139 in 14 overs. His 32 matches for Ireland brought him 479 runs at 26.26 and 31 wickets at 21.84.
His highest score of 84* in 1996. was also undoubtedly his best innings for Ireland and, arguably, of his career. It was played at Eglinton in an early season Benson and Hedges Cup Match against Surrey. Ireland had already suffered two humiliating defeats and, at 17-5 against an attack including Chris Lewis, Martin Bicknell and the Australian Bernard Julien, seemed on course for another. Then Neil, who had come in at 1-2 was joined by Lisburn team-mate Derek Heasley on debut. Never one to bother about bowlers' reputations, Heasley raced to 36 in 36 balls with one 6 and six 4s, before being leg before to Julien. Then Neil took over. Ireland recovered to 196 with 70 coming from the last 10 overs. The Irish Cricket Annual reporting that "Bernard Julien and Chris Lewis were treated like club bowlers", added that Neil was "the uncontested winner of the Gold Award." Never one to spread itself Wisden praised "a responsible 84 not out by Neil Doak". Surrey eventually won by 5 wickets.
Another to enthuse over the innings was the late and much lamented Dermott Monteith who, later in his autobiography having described Neil as a "magnificent cricketer" went so far as to write, "For a period of a few years he was probably the best cricketer in Ireland, his off spin bowling being another strong string to his bow."
Later that summer Neil was again to the fore in the first European Championship in the Netherlands playing no small part in Ireland's success. He was in particularly fine form against Denmark, scoring 51 - his only other half century for Ireland - and taking 4-49. Again there was no other serious contender for Man of the Match. His achievement was all the more noteworthy as the match was played on matting, meat and drink to the Danes but strange to the Irish.
He was also a key figure in Ireland's ultimately unsuccessful bid for World Cup qualification in the ICC Trophy at Kuala Lumpur in 1997. They just failed to make the finals, finishing fourth. John Elder commented in Irish Cricket Annual, "If one had to pick out individuals for praise then Decker Curry and, particularly, Neil Doak would be my nominations. Doak really is the ultimate competitor and an inspiration to all around him." He averaged only 19.96 with the bat, though making useful 30s against Kenya and Bangladesh - two of the best attacks in the tournament - but he took 16 wickets at 14.62, making him the 8th highest wicket taker. This included a career best for Ireland of 4-9 as a weak Israel side was overwhelmed.
Unfortunately for cricket, rugby was increasingly him from the late 90s, though his last appearance for Ireland was not until 2000. In a recent interview with The Irish Times Neil explained how cricket helped his rugby and said, that though he felt a few pangs as Ireland made the headlines in the Caribbean in 2007, he had no regrets. As a rugby player he was a top class scrum half who represented four Ulster clubs in addition to his 76 caps. After making his Ulster debut against Northern Transvaal in 1995, he was on the bench for Ireland v Fiji later in the year, but, as related above, did not get the call to take the field. He then had some problems with injuries and turned more to coaching but earned a recall to the Ulster side in 2001 which led to him being part of Eddie O'Sullivan's selection for the World Cup in Australia in 2003. Again, however, he did not manage a cap. Though retiring from the Ulster side in 2005 for development role with the IRFU, he returned to coach the Provincial U19 level and to be Assistant Coach to the U 20 and A squads. At the outset of the current (2010 - 2011) season, he became backs coach to the senior side and has had much to do with its present resurgence.
Neil Gordon Doak deserves to be remembered as one of Ulster and Ireland's leading all round sportsmen.