This week would have been Finals Week: the culmination of 8 weeks of primary school competitions. 2020 was the first year that our primary schools competitions, The Leprechaun Cup, would have included a female only section for the whole of Leinster to enter. Previously there was ‘The Cailíní Cup’ which was effectively a blitz day for girls teams from Fingal schools. This new league would have been more extensive and open to school across Leinster.
This would also have been the second year of having the Section 3 Soft Ball League. Last year we had 72 teams entering. We had 79 preliminary entries for 2020 with more entries due to come in. As we reflect on the Leprechaun Cup Finals Week we thought it would be nice to have a look back at how it all started.
The Cup was borne of two necessities:- to initiate cricket in National Schools, and to commemorate Noel Mahony's long life in cricket.
1913 was the year of Noel Mahony's birth. In the winter of 1948 a bloke called Charles Bowlby got together a group of prominent Dublin cricketers to form a "Free Foresters" style club, that is to say a wandering club having no home ground. Bowlby, in complete contrast to Noel, had a shady background, being a side-kick of William Joyce, who had broadcast propaganda from Germany during Hitler's war. It was Bowlby's Irish passport which saved him from Joyce's fate and brought him back to Ireland. He allegedly brought something home from Germany with him: the club’s name. One of the file names for a German invasion of Ireland was "OPERATION LEPRECHAUN".
Bowlby turned out to be a bit of a ‘minutes secretary’, so it was left to Noel to get the actual cricket going. The clubs first fixture was against The King's Hospital at Blackhall Place in 1949. By 1999 Noel was back in the middle of things as Leps’ President in their golden jubilee season.
A contemporary study of Irish cricket bemoaned the lack of schools cricket, citing the shortness of the summer term, due to the timing of state exams, as a major contributing factor. By the early 2000s there was cricket in secondary schools, but a late Easter was still a bugbear Dick Forrest remembers. There were two U13 competitions, one of which was the U13Bs which mainly had second XIs and some national schools, including (amongst others) Belgrove NS. By mid-June Belgrove's unbeaten run had come to an administrative end when Clongowes was named the winning team. Later that Summer Brían O'Rourke called into Phoenix CC and resolved the 'Belgrove situation' with a solution: a national school only competition. Brían was short a trophy for the competition, only for the Leprechauns to come to the rescue.
Brían O’Rourke reflected about the first years of the competition: “St Brigid’s Castleknock were the first winners of the actual Leprechaun Cup in 2004, however I do remember Belgrove Boys (including the D’Arcy twins) beating St Joseph’s Terenure (including Ryan Hopkins) a few years before that.”
There were a number of top athletes that participated in the Leprechaun Cup over the years. Current Irish hockey international Lena Tice was an exceptional youth cricketer and played for four years with Aravon school from Bray in The Leprechaun Cup. Current senior Ireland internationals Gareth Delany (Ballyroan) & Lorcan Tucker (Scoil San Treasa) also played in the Leprechaun Cup while Harry Tector (Delgany NS), Neil Rock (Rush NS) and Josh Little (St Andrew’s) played in the Super League, a competition set up in 2013 for the stronger Primary schools. Leinster Lightning players Cormac McLoughlin (Balrothery NS), Fionn Hand (Balrothery NS), Rory Anders (Castleknock NS) and Stephen Doheny (St Catherine’s NS) also played in the Leprechaun Cup during their Primary school years.
Brían O’Rourke, North Leinster Development Manager, contemplated the primary school competitions and what it has meant for the game: “Development of the game at Primary school level continues to be our main focus in Leinster. There is nothing more rewarding than to see school teams take the big jump from ‘schoolyard’ cricket to participating in the Leprechaun Cup. It has been proud to have been involved with this competition since it started, which continues to offer hundreds of boys and girls, every year, the opportunity to play competitive, hardball cricket during their Primary school years.”
Naomi Scott-Hayward, South Leinster Development Manager, added that for her “it is important that kids get to experience different sports. I didn’t receive a very positive experience with sport in primary school and went into secondary school believing that sport wasn’t for me. That was before I discovered cricket, when I started in 1st year in The King’s Hospital. I only wish that I had the opportunity to find the game earlier. Joining North Kildare Cricket Club gave me a whole second family and love of sport, where there was none before. If it wasn’t for cricket in school I would never have become a coach, an administrator of the game, a coach educator, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today, working in a job I love in Cricket Leinster and introducing kids to the game of cricket from as young as 5 years old in schools across South Dublin and Leinster. The Leprechaun Cup and Blitz days are opportunities for the clubs to show off their grounds to the schools and create the school to club links that are much needed to continue to grow the game.”