Memories of a wonderful series of matches
The All-Ireland Youth club competitions were the brainchild of Wesley Ferris (cf. Appendix at the end of this article) of the Mid-Ulster Cricket Group. They evolved in a similar manner to the Irish Junior Cup, and neither the Irish Cricket Union nor the constituent unions were involved initially in the organisation of the games. During the late 1980s, Mr Ferris contacted the Leinster Cricket Union Youth Committee to discuss the feasibility of games being played between the winners of the youth competitions in the different provincial unions. Competition rules and playing regulations were haphazard, and often it was necessary to undertake delicate negotiations on the day of the game to ensure that play would occur. For example, at Under 11 level, the teams in Leinster played with an Incredi (soft) ball, the teams in Northern Ireland used a hard ball, and one of the consequences of using the Incredi ball was that some of the U11 cricketers did not wear pads nor batting gloves. Another equipment controversy arose when the LCU made the wearing of helmets compulsory for all players who were under 18 years of age; the NCU accepted a waiver on this matter if a player had a note from his/her parents for the various age groupings.
Each union specified different pitch lengths varying from 18 yards to 22 yards; in the Leinster leagues, there were compulsory retirements once a player had achieved a certain score; under 11 cricketers in Leinster batted for 4 overs per pair, and there were deductions for wickets lost; the games were of different durations and there were very different interpretations of the LBW law. However the biggest controversy related to the qualifying age limits because when the European Cricket Council decided to apply a 1 September deadline, the LCU complied with this change, but the NCU continued to use 1 July as its cut-off point, and NWCU played its competitions at U12, U14 and U16 levels.
Details regarding the early All-Ireland games are somewhat sketchy, but thanks to the assistance of many people, it has been possible to confirm most of the winners and runners-up from 1983 onwards, when Sion Mills beat Railway Union by 10 wickets. In 1985, Phoenix CC beat Sion Mills by 4 wickets to win the “The Masonic Cricket All-Ireland Boys’ Championship.” Old Belvedere CC won the trophy in 1988 and retained it in 1989. In 1991, Rush CC (with some players from The Hills and one from Balrothery) was victorious and Old Belvedere CC was back in the winners’ enclosure in 1992.A Fingal Selection won the U15 Trophy in 1993 by beating Eglinton or as the banner on the bus read, “Hendy’s Babes”. This was a reference to Hendy Wallace who played professionally in the North West for many seasons, and later played in the LCU area for Leinster CC and Phoenix. In 1994, the cup was shared by Old Belvedere and Waringstown, and from 1996 to 2019, a more complete list of all winners and runners-up has been compiled. In 1996 Clontarf Under 15s beat Donemana in Donemana, and in 1997, Donemana won the trophy by beating The Hills very comprehensively at The Vineyard. The opening three balls of this game were hit into the woods for three successive sixes by Richard Kee of Donemana. Merrion CC were the victors in 1998 when they overcame Donemana, and between 1999 and 2001, Donemana won the U15 title three years in succession.
The lack of formal playing regulations made for some interesting situations. In the U11 final in 2000 between Killyclooney and Clontarf, there were two innings per side, with each innings being of 15 overs duration, and the teams were required to reverse the batting order so that every player had the opportunity to bat. On this occasion also, a Killyclooney player was adjudged LBW on the first ball of the game to the consternation of all and sundry because LBWs were practically unheard of at U11 level. The informal nature of the arrangements in the early years was reflected in the fact that the winners of the U15 competition in Leinster were always given a bye to the final, and the teams from the two Northern Unions played a semi-final. When competitions were organised at U11 and U13 in addition to the U15 category, a greater level of structure was brought to bear on proceedings, and each provincial winner was given one bye to a final but played semi-finals in the other two competitions.
The Youth Committee of the Irish Cricket Union took formal responsibility for the competitions from 2003 onwards, it formulated competition and playing regulations and provided cricket balls for semi-finals and finals. Sponsors for the competitions were sourced and the families of some of the outstanding personalities of Irish cricket very kindly agreed to provide trophies. (The cups now bear the names of Alec Dunlop, DR Pigot and Ian Lewis.) The age limit issue continued to cause difficulties, with teams winning their own cup competitions and some players then being deemed ineligible for the All-Ireland games. On one occasion, a semi-final was not played at all even though the two teams were present, because the mentors of one team were aware that the other team had over-age players and refused to commence the game. Over time also, fielding restrictions were introduced to ensure that the fielding side did not place most of its fielders on the boundary when it was defending a score in the second innings.
During the thirty years of the competitions, there have been some outstanding achievements, and in this regard, Donemana CC takes pride of place because between 2007 and 2012, its teams won the U11 cup in two successive seasons, the U13 cup in the following two seasons and achieved the grand slam by winning the U15 cup two years in a row. A particularly noteworthy element of these successes was that it was virtually the same eleven players who were involved over the six years. Clontarf CC which has a wonderful record in youth cricket over the years was involved in two very memorable occasions. In 2011, Clontarf travelled to Bready for the U13 Final, and scored 154 for 3 in 30 overs. Bready needed 18 runs off 3 overs to win, but David Delany clean bowled 5 batsmen with 5 successive deliveries and shaved the stumps with the 6th delivery. David’s achievement was recorded for posterity by Deryck Vincent in a photo which won the ICC Photo of the Year, 2011 for the Europe Region. In 2012, Jack Carson of Waringstown scored 121* in the U11 Final against Clontarf, and the innings was described by a former international as "the best youth innings I have ever seen at any age, very technically correct.” (David Holmes, Belfast Newsletter). For supporters of The Hills CC, the U11 Final at The Vineyard in 2016 was an incredibly emotional occasion. Joe Clinton, a founder member of the club and a great supporter of youth cricket, was very unwell and only able to watch proceedings from a car parked at the boundary, while his grandson, Adam, scored a magnificent 94 runs against CSNI. As a postscript to this story and an indication of the wonderful spirit in which the game was played, each player from CSNI shook hands with Adam as he left the field. In recent years, the achievements of Rush CC, YMCA, Instonians and Pembroke have been particularly noteworthy, but pressure on space precludes me from developing this comment to any greater extent.
Notwithstanding the rare controversial moment, the All-Ireland Youth competitions developed into wonderful sporting and social occasions, and the games engendered great enthusiasm and goodwill among the participating clubs. In this regard, it would be very remiss of me not to mention the brilliant work of Brian O’Sullivan who from 2003 onwards ensured that regulations were adhered to and games were played in a timely fashion. The vision of Mr Wesley Ferris in 1988 has provided a tremendous legacy in terms of memories and achievements, and as we reflect on past events, it is opportune to suggest to the relevant authorities that the All-Ireland Youth Competitions are deserving of their continued, whole-hearted support.
The last match to get a mention is the U11 final between Pembroke and Instonians in 2019 which is notable as the first game to be live streamed. You can still access it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpgMExa1QS0
The club with the best record in All-Ireland Youth Competitions is Donemana. Donemana dominated the contests against Leinster teams in the early years and won 14 titles in all. Allowing for a few gaps in the records [and if anyone can fill in the missing results please let me know at email@example.com] the list of winners and runners up across the three age groups is set out below.
Clontarf have been the most successful Leinster side in the competitions taking all-Ireland trophies no fewer than nine times. The breakdown across clubs is as follows.
For those interested in these things - the breakdown between North and South in terms of winning teams is exactly even. Leinster sides have had relatively more success at U15 level, while the North / North West sides have won more U13 titles. The U11s are split evenly.
Acknowledgements: The following people very kindly responded to queries during the preparation of this article: Brian O’Sullivan, Donal O’Sullivan, Barry Chambers, Martin Russell, Joseph Clinton, Matt Sheridan, Deryck Vincent, Barry Tucker, David Streak, Declan Moore
Apologies if we have omitted any respondent, but their names will be included in any subsequent revisions of this article.
A Brilliant Legacy : Stewart Lesley Ferris [1927 - 2001]
Wesley Ferris was a good fast medium bowler of great stamina, who thoroughly deserved his three Irish Caps. He gained cup winners medals in two provincial unions and played competitively in a third. He also found time to become a prominent administrator seen mostly through his founding and organisation of the Mid Ulster Cricket Group (MUCG). Besides being a busy professional as a highly respected teacher of Physical Education, he was a Presbyterian lay reader, who did his utmost to combine the various aspects of his life to overcome political and religious bigotry throughout Ireland, whatever its source.
In 1963 he founded the MUCG with only 10 teams. Within a decade this had risen to 160, with cricketers from all four provincial unions taking part in competitions at all levels and ages to Under 14s. He ran these competitions with little help from anyone else. Tours were also organised with Cyprus, Israel and North America featuring among the venues. The character and enthusiasm of the players was noted by Wisden's USA correspondent on their visit to that country in 1968. This was not enough for Wesley who also founded the Pedagogues CC, a wandering club whose title indicates the nature of its membership.
Nor was cricket his only interest. He founded the Mid Ulster Schools Hockey Group and the Northern Ireland Volleyball Association! Mention has already been made of his Church work. He supplemented this by taking a leading role in the Boys Brigade, as well as hill walking and climbing. When he found time to sit quietly at home, he admitted to breeding canaries! As The Ulster Cricketer commented in May 1985, "His boundless energy and enthusiasm has left its mark in many areas and they are all the richer for it." His obituary, which barely scratches the surface of his achievements, is in Wisden 2002.
This is an abbreviated version of the biography which was written by Edward Liddle for the Cricket Europe Website.