I came to be in Ireland because of a chance meeting with YM’s captain Alan Lewis, when he was playing for Mosman CC in Sydney in the 1985-86 summer. Alan had been featured in Sydney’s leading morning newspaper after taking an unusual hat trick. He had taken a wicket off the second last ball of an over and drinks which were due were then taken. Alan got another wicket on resumption with the last ball of the over, and then another wicket on the first ball of his next over. Three wickets in three balls, but nobody realised until stumps!

I had been planning to go to the north of England to play, but on reading Alan’s story I began to rethink. My heritage is Irish—my grandmother was from Cappagh White in Tipperary and on the other side my great grandparents were from Cork. My club team, Bankstown, in which I was a bowling all rounder, was due to play Mosman next round. I decided to talk to Alan about playing in Ireland. We met in the warmups before play and Alan said he’d be happy to talk. In the first session I took three wickets for not many and at lunch Alan said ‘You have to come to Dublin—come and play at YM!’ Alan was about to join the Irish team on its tour of Zimbabwe and said we’d talk more when he returned to Sydney. When we caught up, I already had my passport and ticket in order and so the adventure began.

Alan persuaded his cousin, Keith Lewis, to take me in as a lodger in his home at Clontarf which began another lifelong friendship in cricket and an association with the people of the Clontarf CC—YM’s opponents in the game Deryck has so vividly recalled.

On arriving in Ireland, I had to adjust to bowl a fuller length than I was used to bowling. Although the wickets were helpful to seam and swing bowling, they were generally slow and a fuller length was more effective. There wasn’t a lot of value in the short ball unless it was quite short. On the harder wickets in Australia, most quicker bowlers will bowl a length that forces batters onto the back foot, and then seek to draw them forward to play at a moving ball as the wicket taking option. That didn’t work on slower wickets, so I had to develop more options bowling a fuller length.

I had an important conversation with the great Irish bowler, Simon Corlett, whilst walking around the ground together during Ireland’s match v Yorkshire at Malahide. I had watched Simon’s control of swing both ways during the series against India that year, and asked him how he bowled his inswinger. I had never had a good inswinger—I tended to push it leg side instead of swinging it from a good wrist position. Simon showed me how he bowled his inswinger. We were playing Malahide the next day at home in Clermont Rd. I tried the ball I called ‘the ‘Corlett’ and got 9-20, mostly using the Corlett. The secret was maintaining a strong wrist position, slightly angled to fine leg, but pulling down behind the ball just as one might with the outswinger.

I also had to adjust to batting on slow wickets which was a bigger problem for me as I was very ‘bottom-handed’, i.e., my stronger right hand dominated. I found out in my 30s that was probably a response to short-sightedness. Once I started wearing correcting glasses, I could not believe how different the world looked let alone being able to see the cricket ball. I realised that I had been seeing the ball as if it was on a slightly blurry screen halfway down the wicket from which the ball would shoot out. So I became bottom-hand dominant to compensate for the lack of time to see and play the length being bowled. In the game Deryck writes about, I was carrying an injured right shoulder that meant I had to adapt to a more top-handed approach. I’d hurt it in a testimonial match the day after we won the Leinster Senior Cup Final. I’d had no sleep and didn’t prepare properly, and paid the price. It had become progressively worse and in the week leading up to the Wiggins Teape semi, I could barely raise my right arm past the horizontal, so I was not sure I would be able to play at all. But I was desperate to play. I loved cricket (still do) and just wanted to be a part of any game I could. I especially loved bowling and the skills of moving the ball, I loved running in, I loved the sensation of bowling and the effort it required. The skipper, Alan Lewis, was keen for me to play too, so I snuck into my usual spot at number 7 in the hope that I’d be able to play some part in winning the game.

YM bowled pretty well, and Jon Garth’s effort was typically lion-hearted. What a good all-round cricketer he was. Although Clontarf had a good score, we were confident we could get it. Our opening partnership of Angus Dunlop and Ian Burns had been reliable in getting us off to good starts, including a match-winning one in the Leinster Senior Cup Final. But we kept losing wickets and the innings never really gained momentum. I remember that as wickets fell and we looked less likely to win, I felt pretty calm. I had been saying all season to the lads at practice that it was important for everyone to get a hit in the nets and to take it seriously because in a crunch game it was going to count. So I thought that if we could keep some scoreboard pressure on with good running between the wickets, and kept our heads (me included), we could get close. Eamon Masterson and I had several partnerships through the season that built my confidence in that moment too.

Right through that season we had been good at getting out of gaol in games because everyone could do a bit of everything. Everyone in the team bowled something useful, and all could be relied upon with the bat. And I think we were the best fielding team in the competition. We had a terrific keeper in Keith Bailey who maintained a high standard in his glovework and getting to the stumps, and provided energy and encouragement. And as a young team it was very athletic. Clontarf was the most intense contest for YM that year because the sides were so alike. They were both well-balanced teams with depth right through the list, very competitive, tactically aggressive captains, and sprinkled with international experience.

Deryck’s description of the last few overs is spine tingling. There was one moment of controversy when a very high straight hit landed close to the boundary. Some claimed it was six, but it was hard to tell, and the Clontarf players closest to it were too far away to be sure, especially with the crowd at Castle Avenue packed in right up to the boundary line. In the end the umpire signalled four and there can be no argument with that. Ian Keartland did a great job in turning over the strike, and the running at times was pretty daring. By the time we got to the last ball, I was sure we could do it.

I remember thinking Gerry Kirwan was not going to give me any room. He had bowled too well right through that day. I was sure he’d either jam it from left-arm around the wicket into my heels, or, flat and full into the line of off-stump. He and Enda had covered those options, the field was in, but there was a chance behind square. If I could flick it to fine leg, we could get at least the two runs we needed. I’d said to Ian that no matter what happened we were just going to run and see what happens. In retrospect, I should have been thinking only on that one option—on where the gap was, rather than where Gerry might bowl the ball. It didn’t matter if I got out trying. It was jammed in at my heels, and I couldn’t get contact. It was too good. Perhaps if I had been bolder in backing my instincts…

I owe Ian Keartland something else from that day. I was using a Gunn and Moore I got from Ian at the start of the season and it was a cracker. Sadly, I broke it on returning to Australia jamming down on a fast yorker. I was heartbroken about that.

Deryck is right to recognise Enda McDermott’s wonderful innings. It was classy and very good tactically. But he may have been too modest to mention his own knock that day. Deryck set the pace with his beautiful driving down the ground and through cover. I was side on to the wicket most of his innings and I was so impressed with his footwork and reach to get to the pitch of the ball, and the flow of his hands and bat through the line. When Deryck was dismissed, I thought that might have been a game-changing moment, but Enda took control brilliantly to keep the pressure on. I said to Deryck afterwards that I would love to see him play in Australia on harder and faster wickets because I think he would have been a sensation. He may not have had the chance to drive as much as he did that day in Castle Avenue, but his technique was good enough to adapt.

There was one light moment with Clontarf’s feisty wicketkeeper Fergus Carroll in all the tension. Fergus was in his crouch early and I don’t know what came over me but as I took guard I pulled his cap down over his eyes. It was cheeky and Fergus didn’t appreciate it. He jumped up and glared at me ‘What are you at?’ ‘Take it easy Ferg’, I said. After the game I apologised and Fergus did too for his reaction and we both laughed at it then. Both teams stayed in the clubhouse at Clontarf afterwards and had a terrific night together. As it should always be!

Apart from the quality and richness of the cricket I experienced in Dublin, I have two overwhelming appreciations of my time in Ireland. The first is of the friends made amongst the people playing or involved in Dublin cricket. There was an immersion in, and appreciation of, the game like nothing I had seen at home where we can be a bit blasé because cricket is the great and eternal national summer sport that unites all Australians.

Secondly, as a student of history, and having spent most of my professional life involved with history and heritage, I gained a deeper and fresher understanding of Irish history. I had studied aspects of Irish history at university but through the lens of British imperialism. To have the chance to walk the streets that Joyce and Yeats evoked, to immerse myself in the National Library and Dublin’s museums and galleries, and to read into an Irish perspective was priceless. It was an intellectual watershed for me in my appreciation of history and the value of diversity and new perspectives in historical scholarship.

Cricket may have been the reason for my travel, but through the great game, I gained a greater life experience than I had ever dreamed.