When did you attend the school?
I started the school in 1956, having come from the Armstrong Primary just across the road, and left in 1963 to go to Queen’s University to study Maths.
What are your memories of the school and who were the people who influenced you?
I have nothing but good memories of the school and friends made during my time there still remain so. The school has always had an excellent reputation and I feel proud to call myself an ‘Old Armachian’.
I got on well with all the masters/mistresses but those for whom I had particular respect and subsequently got to know better were – Miss Hirsch, ‘Pete’ Hodgson, Darby Reid, Reggie McEwan and Freddie Jones.
Miss Hirsch was a lovely lady of ample proportion who, I believe, really looked on pupils as her children. My grandmother worked in the school when Maisie’s father was Headmaster and my aunt also did some housework for her in later years when she lived on the Mall, so I had something of a family connection with her. She had a Triumph Mayflower car in which she drove to school each day. It was never to be mistaken as it never got out of first gear the whole way from her bungalow to the school.
‘Pete’ Hodgson was a wonderful classicist and teacher and, as a consequence of his army background, a strong disciplinarian. He was one of the fairest men I have ever met in his dealings with all his pupils. He demanded total effort from each one but nothing more than what he felt was each pupil’s ability.
Darby Reid was a gentleman with a good sense of humour and someone with whom it was easy to have a conversation.
Reggie McEwan taught French and was a real francophile. His lessons were often made more interesting as he would relate his experiences in France and compare the French way of life to our own. It was also easy to have a person to person rather than a master to pupil relationship with him.
Of all the staff the one with whom I had the closest relationship and who became a dear friend was Freddie Jones. We shared a love of Maths and also cricket. As the cricket master he wasn’t the greatest of coaches, but he had a deep love of the game and insisted on fairness and good sportsmanship above all else. Woe betide the boy who descended to any underhand behaviour when he was in charge, whether it was cricket, rugby or hockey.
What did you do after leaving school and what career path did you follow?
After school I went to Queen’s where I graduated with a BA in Maths. My first thoughts of a career tended towards teaching. I had done some temporary teaching at Armagh Secondary School and in the spring of 1967 at my alma mater and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Later that year I was offered a job at Lurgan College. However, computing was just taking off and I felt some experience in this field would be useful in a future teaching career. I joined ICL in January 1968 and then moved to the Data Processing Department in Queen’s in May 1970. I never did take up teaching and remained at Queen’s until I retired in 2007.
How did you first become interested in cricket?
I became interested in cricket, I suppose, because I had an uncle who played for Milford. I seemed to have a natural talent for cricket, more so than football, which were the two games all the boys around the Barrack Street/Gaol Square area played at primary school and on the Mall.
What were the first competitive games in which you played and what do you remember about them?
The first competitive games I played in were in my last year at the Armstrong Primary School. We had a mini league consisting of four teams, of which I captained one. In the three matches in which we played I scored two centuries (my first ever) and we were undefeated league winners.
When did you first begin playing for the First XI at school?
If memory serves me right, I made my debut on the school cricket 1st XI in 1958.
After school how did your cricketing career progress?
After school I played for two years at home in Armagh and then I joined Queen’s for my last two years there. Cricket at University was a tremendously valuable experience. It was the last time I played with a team of my peers – we were all in the same age group. Since we did not have any supporters, apart from our girl friends who also doubled up as our Tea Committee, our motivation had to come entirely from within the side itself. It was a time again when lifelong friendships were formed and also one of new playing experiences with an annual tour in the South of England. Most importantly it was in my first year playing at Queen’s (1966) that I made my debut for Ireland.
Following graduation, I returned to captain Armagh in the season 1968. It was a significant time in that it was the year in which I got married and I was also honoured with the captaincy of the Irish team, when Australia was the touring side.
1969 was another important year in that my wife and I set up home in Lisburn and I joined the club with which I was to play for the rest of my career and with which I enjoyed my greatest successes - Waringstown. I continued to be chosen for the Irish side until 1985 and I played my final 1st XI game for Waringstown in 1995.
I subsequently played for a season with my son, Michael, in the 2nd XI. I was also a member of the 2nd and 3rd XI’s which won the Junior Cup in 1997 and the Minor Cup in 1999.
Who were your major role models?
In my early years and during my time playing for Armagh Leslie Spearman was the player who had the greatest influence on me both for his ability and his competitive instincts. Apart from him, my game progressed purely from reading coaching books, watching Test cricket on television and hard experience on the playing field.
You were known as a great all-rounder. What was (a) your most memorable innings (b) your most effective bowling performances and (c) the most satisfying moments as a fielder?
It’s hard to pick out one innings. I scored seven centuries playing for Ireland and they all felt special. It’s the dream of every cricketer to play at the home of cricket, Lord’s, and to score a century there would be the icing on the cake. In 1977 I achieved that dream. Also, when I played, it was every Irish player’s ambition to score a century against Scotland – then viewed as the biggest game of the season, and in 1976 I doubled up by scoring a century in each innings against them. My century against Sri Lanka in 1979 at Eglinton, just before they became a test playing country, was doubly satisfying because it took place in the North West before some of the most critical and most appreciative supporters in the whole of Ireland.
For Waringstown, my 76 in the 1983 cup final against near neighbours Lurgan, going in with the score 11 for 2, was one of my most pleasing innings, considering the pressure of the match – not only was it the final but it was also a ‘local derby’. In another cup match for Waringstown, a score in the forties, out of a total of 109, on a terrible pitch at the RUC ground, was also a memorable knock – it took some time for the bruises to disappear.
On the bowling front I twice took nine wickets in an innings – 9 for 29 for Queen’s against Donacloney in a league game and 9 for 45 for Waringstown against North of Ireland in a cup semi-final. In 1974 against Scotland in Ayr in their second innings when they needed only 145 to win the match, I had figures of 5 for 21 off 19 overs and, alongwith Dermott Monteith, bowled us home by 52 runs. In 1981, against Wales, I took 4 for 31 to again bowl us home in the last over of the match.
I always loved fielding and one of my happiest memories came in the match for Ireland against a South African team brought over by Wilfred Isaacs when I fielded particularly well and he compared my performance to the great West Indian, Sir Clive Lloyd.
What makes a good captain of a cricket team and who are the captains whom you most admire?
Everyone will have their own view on what makes a good captain, but among the many attributes required would be:
A deep knowledge of the game and appreciation of tactics.
Having the respect of one’s team both as a leader and as a player.
The ability to motivate.
Good man management ability.
A competitive spirit.
The ability to read the game and, especially when in the field, to know when to defend and when to attack.
My three captains would be:
1. Sir Leonard Hutton, my boyhood hero, and the first professional cricketer to captain England. He also won an Ashes series in Australia.
2. Richie Benaud – a shrewd, attacking captain who was also a great leg-spin bowler.
3. Steve Waugh – perhaps fortunate to have captained one of the greatest Australian Test sides but also a fantastic player and fierce competitor.
In what ways have you been involved in the game since you stopped playing?
Outside the playing arena, and to the present day, I have been deeply involved with the administrative side of the game. In 1967 I was elected on to the Senior Committee of the Northern Cricket Union and I continue to sit as a member of the Cricket Development Committee of that body to the present day. I have served on the Waringstown Management Committee since the early 1970’s and have acted as Hon. Secretary of the club for three periods totalling in the region of twenty years.
In 1980 I was honoured by the Armagh club by being elected an Honorary Life Member. In 2006 I was elected President of the Northern Cricket Union and was further honoured in 2008 when the Union bestowed Honorary Life Membership on me.
What do you think of the ways in which the game has changed since your playing days?
When I played, most cricket pitches were uncovered and open to the weather and this often gave bowlers the advantage. Runs had to be worked for and there was more variety of shot making. Nowadays the pitches are covered and better prepared and the pendulum has swung perhaps a little too much in favour of the batsman. Technology has improved bats enormously and, with the better pitches, six hits are now commonplace, whereas in my time only the big hitters regularly dispatched the ball ‘out of the park’. The bowlers have to work much harder for their wickets and accuracy is at a premium. Also, up to about 20 years ago, the only youth cricket locally was the Graham Cup – a knockout competition for 15 year olds and under, and there was little or no organised coaching. At that time I led a sub-committee of the Northern Cricket Union and succeeded in persuading the NI Sports Council to fund a Cricket Development Officer. Since then we have developed a wide programme of elite squad coaching and courses for coaches, and the Northern Cricket Union now has competitions for age groups 11, 13, 15 and 17.
On the Irish international team front, the side’s performance in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies raised the profile of Irish cricket to a level previously unheard of. This has opened the gates for many of our young players to go across to England and be offered contracts with county sides to such an extent that the current squad, set to compete in next month’s World Cup in India, has 13 out of 15 players currently earning their living from playing cricket – changed times indeed.
As with other sports, at international level, money dictates the format and has largely been responsible for the T20 form of the game. I personally find it is a bit too much like baseball and still prefer watching Test cricket which brings out all the nuances for which the game is loved.
Apart from cricket what matters to you?
Away from cricket what matters to me most is my immediate family – our daughter, Karen, and her husband, David, live on the Hillsborough side of Lisburn with two kids (Hope and Samuel) and we look after Hope three days a week. Hope was our first grandchild and so holds a very special place in our lives. Our son, Michael, is a Presbyterian Minister in Arklow. He is married to Emma and they have three kids (Erin, Patrick and Conor). Unfortunately we don’t see enough of them but make up for it when we do.
My wife, Marie, and I are deeply involved in our local church and associated with it we are members of a hill-walking group.