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One Shot More...Part 27

Monday 27th July 2020

One Shot More...Part 27

Picture: Paul McCrum MOM in the great 1995 Irish Cup Final v Bready

 

Back in the Big Time 1980-1997

 

“We are delighted to be able to announce continued sponsorship of the North Down Cricket Club.  We recognise the prominent position in the game that the club habitually occupies both on and off the field of play.  We are also very happy that North Down will again widen the sphere of cricket by organising the ever-popular ‘Sixes’ competition and wish them all the best in their efforts.  We also wish all the teams in the club success in their respective league and cup competitions in the season ahead”

Michael Cooke, Harp Lager Marketing Director 1985

Comber in 1980

In 1980 Comber was a growing town and the population had risen to 6,500 boosted by the migration of people from the city seeking a better life away from the main centres of civil disturbance. New housing to accommodate the rising population had stretched the town boundaries and lands that had been earmarked for development within the Ards Area Plan had largely been used up restricting further growth.

Two popular Comber landmarks disappeared, both deemed to be as a result of acts of vandalism.  The first was officially sanctioned by local government but many local people were disgusted when the old Irish Oak tree that had stood for hundreds of years in front of the Andrews ‘Old House’ in Castle Street was cut down to, supposedly, facilitate progress.

Much less organised but just as devastating was the destruction of the famous old ‘Piggery’ just behind The Green.  Built at the grand cost of £1,750 in 1863 as a grain store, it was later used in the manufacture of rice starch and during the Second World War as billeting quarters for American troops.  After the war it was taken over by two Indian Army colonels and used as a piggery. When that enterprise ended it was used to store a variety of goods. The vast six-storey building was an impressive example of Industrial Revolution architecture and for over 115 years it had been an integral part of the club’s heritage and just as important as a landmark as Scrabo Tower in the distance. Vandals callously burned it down and in the midst of the heavy black smoke that clouded the town for several hours, went a bevy of cricketers’ stories, mostly relating to tales or otherwise of the gable wall having been hit by powerful shots. It would certainly have taken a powerful strike but, true or false, the stories were all part of North Down cricket folklore, sadly gone forever.

Ulster struggled economically in the Eighties as over a decade of violence and civil unrest took its toll.  Unemployment rose as factories closed all over the province. 

Comber’s culture had also changed and while most of the old stock remained, many new families were being absorbed into the community and gone were the days when everybody knew everybody in the town. The village culture had gone and Comber was now a dormitory town servicing Belfast and Newtownards.

 

Cricket in the NCU

Sport was a breath of fresh air throughout the Troubles and both the NCU and the ICU ensured cricket was well administered and had a vision for the future. North/South relations were improving and they were significantly strengthened by the introduction of the Irish Senior Cup, a new competition embracing clubs from all the provinces. Some northern clubs were initially tentative, as indeed were some southern clubs when drawn away to the Londonderry or Belfast ‘hot-spots’, but the competition survived and in time it became the main goal of all senior clubs to win it.

The new competition was in keeping with the development of the one-day game, one of the much debated issues of the times, but not as controversial as the influx of professional cricketers into the Ulster scene.

Club professionals were nothing new as Lisburn, North of Ireland, North Down and others had employed overseas cricketers, usually English, from very early times, and indeed North Down’s first recorded ‘pro’ was Arthur Clay in 1884. The ‘pros’ were not allowed to play in some competitions over the years and there was also a stigma attached to their status, almost a class issue with some people. North Down could relate to the issue as late as 1963 when they were thrown out of the Senior Challenge Cup for allegedly playing Willie Dempster who was a part-time groundsman at the time receiving token remuneration for his services.  As reported by Peter McMullan, the excellent cricket correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph: -

“The sensational announcement was made last night by the senior emergency committee that North Down has been disqualified from the Senior Cup.”

 The decision was later reversed but the undercurrent remained and Ulster cricket was polarised between those who supported and those who opposed professionals. This contentious debate was coloured by other issues, not least the emergence of a new generation of more affluent cricket clubs blossoming on the back of lucrative clubhouse bar takings, and with committee members who had little time for traditions and the status quo of Ulster cricket. They were ambitious, visionary and had clear goals, and at the top of their priority list was a craving for success. In their path stood Waringstown, the kings of local cricket whose domination had reduced everyone else to also-ran status for virtually 15 years.

But was all that about to change?

The Michael Reith Affair

The shock news in 1980 that North Down had signed Michael Reith, the Waringstown and Ireland international all rounder, was greeted with amazement in local cricketing circles. Michael was Waringstown born and bred, the team’s opening batsman and bowler in an era when the Villagers dominated club cricket and had the strongest team in Ireland. He was also a highly respected player with a proven pedigree and extremely popular at the Lawn. He was the complete cricketer. A deep-thinking strategist and highly motivated leader, he was an attacking batsman of great talent and a medium-pace swing bowler who conceded few runs and could bowl long spells. He had vast experience and in cricketing terms he had done it all; numerous Challenge Cup and league wins, interprovincial honours with both Ulster Country and Ulster Town and 44 caps for Ireland since his debut at Sion Mills against the West Indies in that famous victory in 1969.

He was no stranger to the professional debate as the Lawn was the strongest bastion of the amateur code in Ulster cricket and, of course, he had first-hand experience of it when Lisburn’s new professional John Solanky and then Woodvale’s mercurial Indian spinner Uday Joshi challenged Waringstown’s supremacy.

It was therefore unthinkable that he would move, let alone join the professional ranks.

During the winter of 1979 some members of the North Down committee hatched a plan to hire a local professional and for many reasons Michael Reith topped the list. In due course an approach was made and when he responded positively a series of secret meetings took place to complete the details.

  The announcement of Reith’s appointment as club coach sent shockwaves throughout local cricket but it was a classic coup made for the right reasons and in the best interests of North Down Cricket Club. It was also another huge stepping stone in getting the club back to the top of NCU cricket and if critics could only see short-term ‘damage’ to the amateur code, the visionaries at The Green were miles ahead in their enterprise and ambition.  

First Senior Challenge Cup win since 1936

Back: J.Patton (Scorer), J Galway, I Demspter, D Shields, C Hiles, W Dale, J Barry (Chairman) 

Front: W Dempster (Trustee), D Artt, R Haire, M Reith (Captain), G Mowat, J Gilliland, G Dempster

In his three years with the club Michael Reith was the model professional and made a huge impact with both the playing members and the supporters. He rarely missed a practice and he not only coached the younger members, he took time to work with established players to improve their skills and their focus. He was a great motivator and he instilled a Waringstown will-to-win that brought the club its first Challenge Cup success in 45 years. He mixed well socially and became a great favourite with the members, but above all he delivered, both as a coach and as a player, and history has shown that he was the catalyst that sparked North Down’s return to the big time. He led by example, and when it was time to return to Waringstown he handed over the captaincy to Robin Haire, a player he had tutored with great care and commitment.

Michael Reith showed a lot of courage and resolve to make the move to Comber and he will always have a special place in our history, not just as a cricketer but also as a person. He was a true sportsman and a gentleman in every way. 

NCU Centenary Celebrations

The Northern Cricket Union (1986) and the North West Cricket Union (1988) celebrated their centenaries in the Eighties, as did Donemana, Woodvale, Drummond and CIYMS, while Lisburn, the second oldest club in Ireland, celebrated its sesquicentenary in style in 1986.  Their Patron’s XI in their special celebratory match included the great Ian Botham, Graham Roope and North Down’s Asjit Jayaprakasham, each giving a memorable batting display and enthralling one of the largest crowds ever seen at Wallace Park.

The NCU administrators did a tremendous job in their centenary year celebration organizing a number of special games across the province and inviting many leading cricketing personalities to participate.

Ireland played a star-studded Indian side captained by Ravi Shastri and the North Down ‘pro’ Raman Lamba opened the batting for India with Kris Srikkanth at Ormeau.

North Down welcomed Bermuda to the Green to play an NCU President’s XI that featured Robin Haire, while Ian Shields played at the Mall for an Armagh Invitation XI that included Desmond Haynes, Mudassar Nazar and Rahul Mankad.  In the President’s XI was Asjit Jayaprakasham.

The NCU also produced a special Centenary Brochure with North Down’s Sam Turner on the front page and there was plenty of coverage of the club in the text plus two feature articles on Willie Andrews and James Macdonald. Clarence Hiles and Jim Barry were heavily involved in the organizing committees within the union throughout the year.

The culmination of the season’s celebrations off the field included a special centenary church service at St Anne’s Cathedral where the preacher was former North Down all-rounder Canon Hamilton Leckey, and in October 1986 a Grand Centenary Dinner at the Europa Hotel.

 

Throughout this period there were no less than four chairmen, Eddie Doherty until 1981, Derek Steen up to 1987, Sydney Elliott through to 1992 and then Billy Crawford. 

Terry Ritchie Secretary and player

The secretary throughout most of this time was Terry Ritchie from 1982 until 1993, preceded by Sydney Elliott and followed by Gordon Scott up to 1997.  Terry mixed his secretarial duties with useful cricketing contributions on virtually every North Down team and, after a long lay off, resumed playing in our sesquicentenary year with great benefit to the 3rd XI.

Wilmer McKibbin was treasurer from the mid-Seventies except for one season when Trevor McMillan balanced the books. ‘Kibbie’, who had done an excellent job, finally passed the accounts to Tom Mills in 1994.

For a time during this era Eddie Doherty, Jim Barry and Sammy Haire met in the pavilion every Thursday to discuss the internal affairs of the club and enjoy their favourite ‘tipple’ and they became affectionately known as the Thursday Club.  Each with his own skill and experience did tremendous work for North Down.  Sammy, a non cricketer himself, knew everything there was to know about groundsmanship and even today is consulted from time to time on the best approach to preparing wickets. Our Club Patron, he has held the office of president and was wise counsel in the committee for many years. 

The 'Thursday Club' Sammy Haire, Jim Barry and Eddie Doherty

Towards the end of the era, in January 1995, an initial application was made to the Lottery Sports Fund and with a lot of dedicated work from chairman Billy Crawford and secretary Gordon Scott, the plans were drawn up for a pavilion extension. On the 15th August, 1996 a North Down Select XI played The Free Forresters to mark the official opening performed by Don Allen, chairman of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and attended by Robert Gibson, the Mayor of Ards, councillor Tom Benson, Michael Rea, the president of the ICU, and Comber resident John Law, the NCU president. The new addition to the clubhouse made North Down’s facilities amongst the best of any club in Ireland.

On the playing side, the 1st XI under Sydney Elliott’s captaincy finished mid-table in 1980 with Ian Shields finishing fourth in the NCU batting averages and Clarence Hiles sixth in the bowling averages with 42 wickets. Clarence had taken on the difficult role of replacing the unavailable Lawrence Hunter.

Under Michael Reith’s captaincy in 1981 and 1982 the side retained its senior status, but only just, finishing eighth and tenth. However, this was still progress compared to the Seventies. Robin Haire’s XI fared no better with ninth and seventh league placings in 1983 and 1984, but after Raman Lamba arrived at Comber to replace Javed Mohammed as the professional, all the anxieties regarding relegation disappeared overnight. The brilliant Indian inspired youngsters and veterans alike, and became an integral part of the North Down scene for more than a decade.

On his first visit to the Lawn, Lamba hit a sparkling century in an exciting seven runs win, and according to Michael Reith it was one of the best centuries ever seen there.

Despite his huge contribution, the senior league title was never won during Raman’s time although the team was ‘knocking on the door’ most seasons and attained the runners-up spot in 1987, 1991 and 1994. Captains Robin Haire and Ian Carser may not have registered any league championships, but they had great success with Irish Senior Cup wins in 1989, 1993 and 1995.

Irish Senior Cup

Irish Cup Winners 1989

Back: John Patton (Scorer), Ivan Connolly, John Gilliland, Billy Adams, Graham Benson, Robin Haire, Billy Connolly

Front: Garson Mowat, Michael Quinn, Ian Carser (Capt), Ramon Lamba, Jonathan Gamble(12th)

The Irish Senior Cup had become the premier club competition in Irish cricket, a barometer to measure the club’s progress and return to the big time.  North Down has one of the best records in this competition and from 1982 until 1997 they played 49 games, winning 36 and losing only 13.

There were cup final wins in 1989 against Donemana, in 1993 against Brigade and in 1995 against Bready and losing final appearances in 1985 to Downpatrick, and in 1988 to Lurgan.

The first Irish Cup win in 1989 was very special and started with a win against Dublin CYM at Terenure. The home side’s 141 total was never enough, with Billy Adams, Kevin Copeland and Raman Lamba turning in excellent bowling figures aided by two brilliant boundary catches from Michael Quinn.  Raman’s unbeaten 89 saw the side into the 3rd round against neighbours Bangor at The Green.

Robin Haire and Ian Shields, both with 40s ensured a 184 total and two crucial run outs and great pressure bowling from Haire, enabled North Down to squeeze home by 5 runs.

Dublin YMCA came to The Green for the quarter final and Alan Lewis, international cricketer, famed for his rugby refereeing, hit a century in the 216 total.  It wasn’t enough on a marvellous wicket as Ian Shields (65) and a superb unbeaten 114 from big John Gilliland set up a semi final against Carlisle, another Dublin side.

The visitors felt the full brunt of Lamba as he powered his way to 124 in a 199 total and Carlisle had no answer as Ian Carser took 4 for 31, Michael Quinn 2 for 21 off 10 overs and Ivan Connolly with 3 catches and a good stumping ensured a final at Rathmines.

Never was there a game more tense than this final played on a green ‘pudding’ track in Dublin.  Treble seeking Donemana were put in to bat by the North Down captain, Ian Carser, who threw down the challenge to a side noted for aggression with the bat.  It certainly wasn’t a wicket for sustained big hitting or stroke play and an immediate controversy arose when Lamba’s slip catch to dismiss Angus Scott was disputed. He was out and Billy Adams had the first of his 3 wickets the other two being Decker Curry and James McBrine. A dramatic collapse ensued and unbelievably the score at one stage was 49 for 9 but captain Raymond Mitchell (24no) and bowler Alfie Dunn (30) added 51 for the last wicket. They had nudged and found gaps and played the only safe and sensible way and as a result threw their team a lifeline with a total of 101. It was a reasonably confident Raman Lamba and Ian Shields who opened the North Down innings, knowing that a victory would probably have to be ‘ground out’ and under the circumstances they got the side off to a satisfactory start.  The partnership was broken on 34 and the side slumped to 68 for 6. With the overs running out and the conditions and tension terrible for the batsmen, the game was slipping away from North Down.

Michael Quinn captured by Leonard Coey as Graham Benson and Robin Haire join the celebrations

Billy Docherty and Michael Quinn - Heroes of Rathmines

The situation required determination, courage, skill and luck and in Michael Quinn (21no) and Billy Doherty (13no) they found the deliverers. The partnership of 33 was the best rearguard action seen in North Down’s Irish Cup history and when Doherty drove ‘Decker’ Curry through the covers for ‘four’ the euphoria was incredible.

Irish Cup Winners 1989: I Carser (Capt), Robin Haire, Billy Adams, Ian Shields, Michael Quinn and Raman Lamba

 

In 1993, a bye and Limerick unable to travel meant a third round tie against Clontarf at Comber where John Gilliland (96no) and Robin Haire (66) enabled a 204 for 4 total. Charlie McCrum and Ian Carser took 3 wickets each for few runs and Strabane were next at The Green for a quarter final tie.

John Gilliland 4 short of a ton against Clontarf

The main contributor in the 169 total was Charlie McCrum with 70 and it was enough, as Strabane crashed to 24 for 4 and never recovered. Michael Quinn took only one wicket, but it was the key one, as Alan Stevenson held on to the catch that dismissed Peter Gillespie when on 52.

At Magheramason, in the semi final, Bready crumpled from 126 for 1 to 165 for 8 at the end of 50 overs but were uplifted, when Charlie McCrum was given out early on for obstructing the wicket.  Ian Carser (55) and Robin Haire (48) were instrumental in the win, but it was Adrian Semple and John Gilliland who had to keep their nerve to win the game off the penultimate delivery.

Captain Ian Carser with his Irish Cup Winners

Back: W Crawford (Chairman), C McCrum, G Benson, J Montgomery, Jo Montgomery, A Stevenson, J Robinson, A Semple, J Patton(Scorer)

Front: R Haire, M Quinn, I Carser (Captain), J Gilliland, P Moore

The fourth Irish Senior Cup final was scheduled for Rathmines against the powerful Brigade from the North West, but two good catches and a Marshall Kilgore run out when he had scored 47 left Haire and Carser to tighten the screw with excellent bowling.  In their 20 allotted overs they conceded only 46 runs.  Charlie McCrum dominated for most of the North Down innings and his dismissal on 87 was surprising from the total control that he exhibited until then.  Ian Carser’s early dismissal had brought John Gilliland (32) to the crease to join McCrum and they put the match out of sight of the disappointing Brigade.  Willie Wilson’s 10 overs for 13 runs was the wicketless highlight of their day.  The celebrations began in earnest and the trophy was brought back to ‘The Green’

Charlie McCrum dominated the final with the bat (photo courtesy Rowland White)

There were many exciting games in the Irish Senior Cup and in 1995, home wins against Clontarf and Bangor, away wins at Railway Union and The Meadow at Downpatrick set up a final at The Green against Bready. The McCrum brothers, Charlie and Paul, Adrian Semple, Gavin Rodgers, Ian Carser and Michael Quinn had been the major contributors in this fine side in these early rounds, but arguably none of them had played in a match as tense and dramatic than that which unfolded at The Green in the final.  Chasing 228 runs for victory, Alan Rutherford, Bready’s aggressive international wicketkeeper who had batted brilliantly for his 70 runs, needed two runs to win off the last ball, when Charlie McCrum bowled him. It was an unbelievable finale but there were many other moments in that match to savour. Gavin Rodgers, with an accurate boundary throw, ran out Sam McConnell at a crucial stage and Ian Carser, David Moreland, Robin Haire and Michael Quinn all held vital catches as the Bready batsmen attempted to hit the ball out of the ground. Paul McCrum was awarded the Man-of-the-Match from Sir Everton Weekes for a fine century and two wickets, and the occasion was recalled by Sir Everton on his sesquicentenary visit for the Gala Dinner at La Mon Hotel in October 2007.

Irish Cup Winners 1995

Back: Gavin Rogers, John Gilliland, Jo Montgomery, Billy Crawford (Chairman), David Moreland, Adrian Semple, Ian Carser, Andrew Macrory

Front: Sammy Haire (Pressident), Paul Moore, Michael Quinn, Robin Haire (Captain), Charlie McCrum, Paul McCrum, John Patton (Scorer)

 There was no less excitement in North Down’s first Schweppes-sponsored Irish Senior Cup game played at the Holm in 1982.  At 22 for three, Donemana ralliedto 112 without losing a further wicket but when the rain poured down there was no other option but to have a ‘bowl out’.

With the scores level at two strikes each, Michael Reith missed and Roy McBrine sent the local supporters home happy with a last ball win. It was a miserable feeling that, fortunately, North Down suffered only once more, in 1991, when Lisburn won a second round tie 4–3. But in the meantime we won a few on the way.

The North Down tour to Barbados clashed with the Irish Cup semi-final match against Lurgan in 1984 although there was an opportunity for Lurgan to play on another date. However, no rearrangement was offered and the remnants of a North Down 1st XI were soundly thrashed at Pollock Park.

The ‘bowl out’ against Fox Lodge was welcomed in the first round at Ballymagorry in 1986 and when big fast bowler Kevin Copeland scattered the stumps off a splashing full run up, the visitors came away with a 4-3 win courtesy of Garson Mowat, Ken Boucher and the ever reliable John Gilliland. 

Two years later on a wet day that wiped out six Irish Senior Cup second round games, North Down returned from Castle Avenue with a 2-0 win over Clontarf and proceeded to the final.

Old Belvedere looked beaten at The Green in the 1986 second round game, when chasing 117 they found themselves 89 for nine.  However, Asjit Jayaprakasham’s Man-of-the-Match award for 29 runs and four for 11, was scant compensation as the tied match resulted in a countback of wickets lost and a North Down defeat.

Asjit - a popular pro

The preliminary round tie against Waterford in 1987 was exceptional.

The visitors arrived with seven players and were supplemented by four volunteers from North Down.  For the record, Dessie Savage, Raymond Moreland, Colin McCaughey and Colin Montgomery played for Waterford.

Their excellence in the field, especially Savage, the wicketkeeper, resulted in a mediocre North Down total of 129 runs.  It was then game on. However, at 51 for seven and with only the ‘North Down Four’ to bat, Waterford sportingly conceded the tie.

 

     

The Waterford four, Savage, Moreland, Beac and McCaughey shook 'the establishment' in Irish Cup

 

 

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