The ninth edition of the International Youth Tournament played in Winnipeg, Canada was reduced to six teams for the first time since 1977.
England had traditionally sent two Under 19 sides described as England North and England South, in reality they were the products of a rough geographical division of the First-class Counties. For this Tournament they sent just one, their full U18 side.
For Ireland their record of two wins out of a possible five for fourth place behind England, Bermuda and The Netherlands, whilst disappointing, was a proper reflection Ireland's performances in the tournament. Disappointing indeed as five of the selected squad would go on to win senior selection.
After a heavy defeat in their opening game against The Netherlands, Ireland lost narrowly to England in a reduced overs match which could have gone either way. They scraped home against Denmark in a nail biter, then tossed away victory over Bermuda by a woeful display in the field, before finishing in style with a comprehensive win in their final game against hosts Canada with their best all-round performance of the tournament.
Ireland's batting, about which there were some reservations before setting off to Canada, turned out to be their strength. Each of the main batsmen produced at least one innings of note, with John Byrne the pick of the bunch. He batted consistently throughout the competition to total 223 runs, an aggregate only surpassed by one other player.
Neil Carson, Stuart McCready, Dara Armstrong and Graham Russell chipped in with valuable contributions in the games against England and Canada respectively. The latter helped Byrne put on 106 for an opening partnership in the victory over Canada. Ireland were in fact the only side to go through the tournament with wickets intact in each innings.
Unfortunately Ireland's bowling and fielding were below par and only matched the batting performance in that final game. The bowlers struggled to come to terms with the mat whilst in the field Ireland dropped too many catches and, too often, were guilty of slackness in Ireland's ground fielding and throwing. Admittedly they were playing in daily temperatures of 80 degrees plus but this should not be used as an excuse to cover the deficiencies in these areas.
Derek Heasley was the pick of the bowlers, finishing with eight wickets but the two main strike bowlers, Higgins and Ward, took just three wickets between them in the five matches. On his return home Ward found he had a stress fracture of his left shin. Stewart Taylor struggled, taking four matches to work out the right length to bowl on the matting surfaces.
The matches were all played in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park on adjacent playing areas with common boundaries on matting over shale pitches. The grass on the outfields was thick and coarse although the locals said they had never seen it trimmed so short!
England won the tournament on the ‘tie break’ from Bermuda whom they defeated in the last round of matches. The Netherlands could have also finished their programme with one defeat but they were surprisingly beaten in their last game by Denmark to give the Danes their only win in the tournament.
While there were undoubted challenges for the Irish on the field Ireland Manager Dessie McCall recalls that the journey to and from Winnipeg was almost as arduous as the tournament itself!
“The northern contingent left Belfast on Sunday afternoon to travel south by Ulsterbus. We managed to get the coach to stop in Balrothery where we were met by members of the local club who ferried us to Woodview Farm, home of the Clinton family, for our overnight stay.
Monday morning saw us transported to Dublin Airport to join up with the rest of the party for our Aer Lingus flight to Boston, touching down en route at Shannon. From Boston we flew with Air Canada to Toronto then onwards to Winnipeg. This last leg was completed on a relatively empty plane on which the hostess, of Irish descent, arranged for each one to have a row of seats to themselves to stretch out across. We finally reached Winnipeg some 20 hours after leaving Dublin!
But even then the drama wasn’t over. Michael Marsh’s luggage had gone missing having been wrongly been diverted to Edmonton, his belongings catching up with him the following day much to his relief.
Our return journey was just as arduous. We left Winnipeg early flying to Toronto where Keith Banks unknowing left a trail of his belongs along his route from one side of the terminal to the other. On then to New York’s La Guardia airport before we enjoyed a coach trip through New York itself and out to JFK airport before the overnight Aer Lingus flight to Dublin.
Seven different airports on a single trip is a record that is unlikely ever to be broken. It is always interesting at these tournaments to see how others play the game and sometimes it’s a bit of an eye-opener. We came across a particular umpire who thought that one way to impress was to go through the complete range of signals as per the Laws of the game.
In every game he would demonstrate his knowledge by signalling, at least once, ALL signals from No Ball, to Wide, to One Short, to Dead Ball in addition to the more mundane Bye, Leg Bye and, of course, the Dreaded Finger. ‘Signal Bingo’ was played more than once by those watching.
Off the field the Manager, ably abetted by his Canadian counterpart, tracked down the local Irish Club which resulted in an invitation to the whole party to celebrate “The Twelfth”. Needless to say a grand night was had by all. During the evening I also discovered that the parents of a prominent member of the club lived a few doors from me in Holywood, the proverbial ‘small world’.
On the last night, following the Tournament meal, I learnt the lesson that no matter how hot and humid the weather is you do not leave your bedroom window open and leave the light on. On retiring I was aware of a buzzing noise which on investigation turned out to be the dreaded midges. War broke out as I swatted as many as I could see on the white walls of the Bible College where we were billeted. Convinced I had won I dropped off to sleep but when I wakened in the morning the deceased’s relatives had taken their revenge and I was itching from head to toe with midge bites. A fond farewell from Canada!”
Ireland v The Netherlands
Ireland's total was totally inadequate as the Dutch gave them a lesson on how to bat on the mat. Ireland's innings built steadily if stodgily with Byrne showing good early form as he top scored with 43. Cooke, batting at number four, played a cameo for 42 not out in a fourth wicket stand of 65 with Carson.
Ireland lost 4 wickets in the closing overs to suicidal run outs in a bid to boost the total. In reply the Dutch were never stretched as the Irish bowlers could finnd neither length nor direction and they cruised home with almost ten overs to spare. All in all a comprehensive thrashing by a more than useful Dutch side.
Ireland v England
This was a game which Ireland could have won but for the greater experience, despite their age, of the English. Put into bat Ireland were in trouble at 32 for three when England lost Weston who had taken two wickets in as any overs. Carson(34) and McCready(29) led the recovery and Armstrong smashed a quick-fire 35 to set a formidable target.
A wicket in the first over created further pressure and with 15 overs to go England needed 80 with 5 wickets in hand. Weston was fit to bat and steered his side home, reaching his half century with the winning hit. A couple of fielding lapses at crucial times during the England innings were severely punished.
Ireland v Denmark
This was Stuart McCready’s match. Coming in at 44 for one, Ireland's best start so far, he proceeded to play an innings of the highest calibre. After a confident, steady start he played some glorious shots in his 70 before succumbing to the intense heat.
Unfortunately the later batsmen lost the momentum and though Ireland topped 200 they should have scored 22-30 more runs and put the game well beyond Denmark’s reach. Ireland looked safe as they slumped to 20 for four before a fifth wicket stand took the total to 150 with plenty of overs to spare. Fortunately Carson broke the partnership but the game looked to have slipped away as Denmark entered the final over needing 5 to win with two wickets in hand. McCready snatched victory with two wickets in his first two balls to finish with three for 20 in a superb all-round performance.
Ireland v Bermuda
The one that got away or rather Ireland gave away. After Ireland's (and perhaps the) best batting performance of the tournament they gave the worst display of bowling, catching and fielding. Ireland's total was built on Carson’s 74 not out as the other batsmen supported him splendidly. Carson shared a partnership of 111 for the fourth wicket with Cooke before the latter was dismissed just two short of his half-century.
Ireland, again, claimed early wickets as the Bermudans set about Ireland's total in their usual cavalier manner. The game really turned sour with 15 overs left as their score rocketed from 157 to 199 in just two overs with 29 coming off a Higgin’s over. At least 4 catches were dropped and an easy stumping was missed in one of the worst displays of fielding imaginable. In the end Bermuda coasted to victory with 6 overs to spare. Heasley was’easily the pick of Ireland's bowlers.
Ireland v Canada
Ireland won the toss and fielded first for the first time as they thought rain was imminent. In fact the clouds disappeared and the temperature soared to record heights. A wicket in the first over to a sharp catch set the tone and the previous day’s fielding fiasco was soon forgotten as Canada were dismissed for 143. Heasley was again the leading wicket-taker as Taylor got some belated reward.
An opening stand of 106 in just 21 overs between Byrne and Russell(25) set up an easy 7 wicket victory in the 33rd over. Byrne carried his bat through the innings, finishing on 91 not out for a tournament aggregate of 223 runs.
- Michael Anderson, captain
- Johnny Byrne
- Neil Carson
- Francis Ward
- Brian Higgins
- Stuart Taylor
- Keith Banks
- Derek Heasley
- Darragh Armstrong
- Peter Gillespie
- Graeme Russell
- David Cooke
- Stuart McCready.
- Dessie McCall (manager)
- Michael Marsh (coach)