Games you can't forget

The memory blurs as you get older, short term memory in particular. So while you have no idea where you left the car keys, the details of a game 40 years ago are burned into the brain. There are the obvious ones, the finals or the day it all came together. Alternatively there are games that went horribly wrong and try as you will, the memories just will not leave you alone.

But some occasions are memorable for just being fantastic games of cricket, whichever way the result went, win or lose. The game in question today is one that I have no doubt is as much remembered by the vanquished as by the vanquisher.

It was the end of the first week of September, Saturday 6th to be precise and for most senior teams the 1986 season was over or at least nearing a close. However in Rathmines, the show piece of Irish club cricket was taking place as Phoenix took on Donemana in the Final of the Irish Senior Cup. On the north side of the city Clontarf were hosting the first semi final of the Wiggins Teape League (a League Cup competition) in which YMCA were taking on the home side.

Clontarf had a good record in the WT style competition, docile Castle Avenue wickets made it difficult to bowl sides out as was required in the League, but in a highest score wins game, they had proved formidable.

YM were a talented and evolving side, not yet the powerhouse they would become over the next few years, but there was a lot of talent at their disposal and the Australian Tim Sullivan (pictured right), an overseas but not professional player, had given them a competitive edge all year. Indeed, they won the League, their first win since 1965 as well as the Cup.

Note: Professional players were banned in Leinster at the stage.

On winning the toss, Clontarf's Enda McDermott had no hesitation in batting first. In modern day cricket, Clontarf's total of 208 for 8 might seem light but in the mid 80s in September on wickets which may or may not have been covered, it was a total the home side considered a decent effort.

The captain was the main contributor to the total. An innings that said an enormous amount about the man as he pulled not one but both hamstrings during his knock. There was a bit of a barney when he called for a runner when the first hamstring went and YM skipper Alan Lewis was less than happy that the runner was someone a fair bit younger and at this stage, quicker than the injured party. McDermott was not slow in pointing out that the proposed runner was also out and therefore fully entitled to run on his behalf.

This however was just the sort of exchange that motivated a man who sported a tee shirt with his nickname "three second fuse" under his playing shirt. Suitably stirred, McDermott proved his qualities under pressure yet again in scoring 85 and was only out on the final ball, caught on the boundary by Eamon Masterson off to the bowling of Lewis. That was Lewis only over, as Jonathan Garth had bowled the previous 24 on the trot in taking 4 for 85.

Enda McDermott receives an award

A crucial partnership of 79 with another street fighter, Fergus Carroll (26 not out) got the home side to what was felt a competitive total. It has to be acknowledged that YM's main bowler that year, the aforementioned Sullivan, did not bowl a ball in the game due to injury. Sullivan would win the O'Grady cup for 1986 with 52 wickets at 9.09.

And so to the chase. It was a chase that seemed never to get going. YM's powerful 3, 4 and 5, Lewis, Clive Davis and Garth all got starts but fell in the 20s. After that, wickets began to tumble and after Keith Bailey departed for 28, Tim Sullivan was left with only seamer Ian Keartland left to keep him company.

Keartland was a fine bowler but less of a bat. Sullivan decided to take matters into his own hands. Having played grade cricket in Sydney with the Bankstown club, he was a peer of the Waugh twins. A very fine bowler, bat and an exceptionally nice person off the field, on the field he was a terrific competitor. He was the prototype for the overseas player for years to come in Leinster cricket. But surely on this day, he was faced with too much.

Despite his damaged hamstrings, McDermott was fielding and directing matters, he opted to bring up the field for Keartland, despite the bowler's protests and when the batter lobbed the ball safely over mid off, the let off offered the opportunity to Sullivan to attempt some heroics. With 41 needed off the final 3 and the miserly Gerry Kirwan to bowl two of those, it was hard to see anything but a home victory. Kirwan was an extraordinary bowler.

Gerry Kirwan

Originally a quickie, he had moved to West Australia for a period, where he played rugby against the British and Irish Lions for the home province. Hard grounds took its toll on his knees and on his return he had shortened his run up and used his metronomic accuracy and great intelligence to take wickets week after week. Bowling for Gerry was a game of chess, he bowled to a well thought out plan and heaven help the fielder who let a batter off the hook whether a drop or a misfield. But what a bowler, check his stats, they tell a remarkable story.

There was still a game to be won and someone had not given up just yet. Sullivan embarked on a hitting spree that we just did not see in those days. Suddenly the ball began flying. Sullivan started to clear the ropes, but not just the ropes, the hedges as well. The area behind the current nets in Castle Avenue used to be a wasteland. A number of balls ended up in that area, never to be found again. So damaged fetlock or not, Enda had to keep going to rummage in his bag and find a replacement. As balls disappeared out of sight, the quality of replacement began to suffer. One 6, possibly the biggest hit, was recovered, but the person who retrieved it had to chase it out the gate and down the lane such was the size of the hit.

Going into the final over, 13 was needed, suddenly everything was possible. That 13 was down to 9 with 2 balls still to bowl. I was out at deep extra cover, not quite sure what to think. I was pretty sure the ball was not coming my way but frankly terrified that it might. Sure enough, ball five was not coming my way as it sailed over long off deep into that green wasteland once again.

Enda headed off again, searching for yet another ball. When the one and only option came out, it was a better ball than Tommy Thompson, the umpire, might have expected, a little bit better than those that had been dispatched so violently. Tommy finally accepted the ball and when Gerry spotted it, his confidence rose. There was a little bit of shine and that is all Gerry wanted.

While Enda tinkered with the field, Gerry worked on the ball, knowing that if he could get the ball to swing, he had a chance of stopping Tim from connecting. There was no one better at finding a bit of shine and no one better at exploiting that shine. Three to win, one ball, Kirwan bowls, Sullivan swings, crucially the ball swings too and thunders into the batman's pad. The ball just squirted off the wicket and Fergus Carroll collected it. One run completed but no more, Clontarf won by 1 run.

I do not remember any celebration, just an enormous relief as we walked off the pitch in a setting sun, scarcely able to believe that a game which had appeared done and dusted just 15 minutes earlier had very nearly been lost.

Emotionally shattered, I avoided the crowds and headed for our changing room where I found Peter Prendergast sitting, unlit cigarette in his fingers but with his hands shaking so much that lighting it or even getting it to his lips was an impossibility. We sat for some time in silence, processing a remarkable game, one that we had come out winning yet without the joy that a victory would normally have given.

For the record, Tim Sullivan scored 53 not out with 5 maximums, Ian Keartland scored just 4 but he played a large part in the innings. Gerry Kirwan finished with 4 for 63 in his 20 overs while there were 3 wickets for Podge Hughes. What a game!

A great one to win, it is one to live long in the memory.

Meanwhile, over in Leinster, Phoenix became the first Leinster side to win the Irish Senior Cup. Subsequently they also qualified for the final of the Wiggins Teape. That one, they did not win, Clontarf won that game and dodgy hamstrings or not Enda McDermott hit the winning runs while scoring an unbeaten 50.

There was no keeping that man out of a game.