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One Shot More ...Part 13

Wednesday 13th May 2020

One Shot More ...Part 13

 Finals Galore

(picture Raymond Crosby who made his senior debut in 1936)

But they all came back down to earth in 1929 and ironically it was Lisburn who got their revenge in what has been called “Tommy Martin’s final.” The young strapping Lisburn pace bowler shot North Down out for 52 in the final and, despite a bit of panic at the end, they got home at 29 for five to secure a famous victory against the hot favourites.

Undeterred, North Down returned for their fifth successive final in 1930 but this time it was Linfield football legend Billy McCleery who did the damage (71 runs and five for 29) as Ulster won by 105 runs. On the way to the final James Macdonald scored a record 197 not out against CPA, 61 against Cliftonville, and 54 against Holywood. 

New additions to the side in the early 1930s included George Macdonald, HC Graham, Neville Petts, Reggie Morgan, Percy Clarke and David McKibbin. This was typical of North Down at the time because, despite their success, there were always changes in personnel, a culture that unkindly earned them the dubious title of the ‘league of nations’ from less complimentary opponents.

James Macdonald, North Down's greatest all-rounder

Perhaps it was fate that the 1930 finalists should meet again in the 1931 NCU showpiece but this time the gritty McCleery was upstaged by TJ Macdonald (108) and his brother James (13 for 83) as the Challenge Cup went back to Comber. Earlier in the competition ‘TJ’ Macdonald had scored a brilliant 106 against Strabane and 66 against Armagh, while James had warmed up for the final with eight for 44 against Downpatrick, six for 35 against Strabane and six for 49 against Armagh. George Macdonald joined his brothers in the 1931 cup final team but like most players, friend or foe alike, he always played second fiddle to them when they were on song.

James took 16 wickets in three games as North Down reached their seventh successive cup final in 1932. Armagh’s legendary Rev. RJ Barnes excelled with a first innings 40 runs and seven for 49 but, chasing 103 for victory and back-to-back wins, the Macdonald brothers once again saw North Down home with a five-wicket victory.

An unusually poor batting performance in June 1933 saw Woodvale beat North Down at Ballygomartin Road in the first round and go the whole way to become the first junior club to win the Senior Challenge Cup. But North Down responded in style and when the two teams met again in the 1934 final it was the Comber men who triumphed by 131 runs. McCleery was now the guru at Woodvale, with hundreds of Linfield supporters joining the Ballygomartin Road faithful at cricket matches following their elevation to senior status. However, on this occasion Jackie Shields (six for 13) eclipsed the great Charlie Billingsley (six for 48) in a head-to-head that many people felt should have won Shields an international call-up.

Jackie Shields unlucky to miss out on International call up

Earlier in the competition, Holywood, Strabane (with Andy McFarlane) and Derry (with Donald Shearer) provided no shocks as Victor Metcalfe followed his 89 at Strabane with an unbeaten 108 against Derry at Cliftonville in the semi-final and FH ‘Freddie’ Mills (seven for 22) put paid to Derry hopes. Metcalfe and Mills had earned their Senior Challenge Cup final ‘spurs’ in some style. 

Albert Anderson and TJ Macdonald open the innings at Ormeau

The long serving vice-captain Albert Anderson played the last of his eleven senior cup winning appearances in 1934 and when the team returned for the 1935 final popular young local player Harry Donnan was in his place.

“There’s nothing like being a bachelor gay,

At least so I’ve heard Albert Anderson say,

Though he’s fond of the girls, he’s not easy to bluff,

With his old ‘Yellow Peril’ he has trouble enough”

Tra la la.  Tra la lee,

The best team in Ireland is North Down CC”

The season 1935 was the James Macdonald roadshow from start to finish with seven for 30 at Waringstown, 114 runs and six for 31 at Donacloney, seven for 38 against Armagh in the semi-final and a record-breaking 159 not out in the final against North of Ireland.  Of course there were other cameos, but nowhere has a player dominated a Senior Challenge Cup campaign to the extent that James Macdonald did in 1935. He was outstanding.

Billy Shields and Gerry Spence made their debuts on the 1936 side that cruised through to the final with wins against Collegians, Donacloney and Waringstown but there was no cruising against a determined Woodvale side at Cliftonville as the narrow four wickets win indicated. Batting number six, Neville Petts scored a crucial 14 not out as North Down struggled to 49 for six to win. However, it was the brilliant bowling of domiciled West Indian Dr. Percy Clarke that took the honours with 13 for 69 runs. Shades of ‘league of nations’ perhaps!


Dr Percy Clarke, Neville Petts and DGR McKibbin

This was North Down’s third win in succession again and their fifth win in six years, but Woodvale was the coming team and about to challenge that supremacy.

Both teams returned for the 1937 final at Cliftonville in August and when North Down took a 105 runs first innings lead, it looked like plain sailing for the Comber men. David McKibbin (80) and TJ Macdonald (49) put on 133 for the first wicket before a middle order collapse was recovered with a 107 runs eighth wicket partnership involving Jackie (67) and Billy Shields (57).  The first innings total of 331 looked good, and even better when Freddie Mills and Percy Clarke shared eight wickets in reducing Woodvale to 226. But this Woodvale team was never short of fighting spirit and Harry Armstrong and Charlie Billingsley shot North Down out for 129 second time round.  Nevertheless, their batsmen still had a mountain to climb against the formidable bowling of Mills, Macdonald, Shields and Clarke, but McCleery (50) and George Wilson (58) pulled off a miraculous one wicket victory despite another James Macdonald five-wicket haul.

Amazingly this match started on the 7th of August and was only finished on the 10th of September. It was also the record aggregate runs in a final with 923 scored.

Although we were not to know it at the time, this was essentially the end of the great North Down era and it was fitting that the emerging Woodvale team should assume that mantle as they were to prove a fine side, unfortunately thwarted by the war years. 

Although the semi-final was reached in 1938, the team included WJ Logan, EDR ‘Donald’ Shearer, W Shanks and DF Bradley, players that would rarely appear again in a North Down team. On this occasion the North Down batting was poor, scoring only 75 runs, and Donacloney won easily to make their one and only Senior Challenge Cup Final appearance. Sadly for this wonderful little factory village club, they lost to North of Ireland by an innings and 17 runs.

In 1939 victories over Cliftonville, Cregagh and Strabane saw North Down reach their last final for 42 years, but poor batting again resulted in an innings defeat against the strong Woodvale side.

The second ‘Golden Era’ was over.

Five Senior Challenge Cup wins and three Senior League wins in 1932, 1934 and 1936 confirmed North Down domination of Ulster cricket during the Thirties, but war brought it all to an end and it was a long time before the club regained such lofty status.

Between the wars the Challenge Cup became very special to North Down and the Comber community, and even though it would not find its way back to The Green until 1981, the legacy of the 1920s and 1930s teams was the passion they left for future generations. Cup cricket was ‘in the blood’ and, even if aspirations were constantly thwarted with weaker teams in later years, there was a legacy to build on no matter how long it took. However, nobody expected it to take almost 50 years!

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