CRICKET in Leinster could be about to take yet another major leap forward with the admission of current first-class players. A survey of players showed general approval and the consensus seems to be that putting a bar on progress would be foolish at this stage in our development.
First-class, even Test cricketers have been a fact of life in the two Ulster unions, although their presence doesn’t seem to have acted as a brake on Leinster’s continued dominance of all Ireland competition at club or provincial level.
As Irish cricket expanded in the 19th century several clubs recruited county professionals, mostly bowlers, and Trinity often had two or three to act as coaches and net bowlers.
The era of the modern professional player dawned in 1978, when four professionals were hired. Carlisle CC recruited Julian Weiner, then opening the batting for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield. Eighteen months after his Dublin sojourn he was opening for Australia in six, albeit Packer-era, test matches.
An article in Magill magazine that summer captures the attitude of some in the province to this development:
“One of the very few professionals here is an Australian, Julian Wiener. There's no question that Wiener is welcome here. He plays for Carlisle, a once ailing Jewish club which has found a new lease of life through Wiener's presence. In the past, most of the professionals have been teaching pros, which Wiener is too. But he's also very much a playing professional and it's this which has stirred a few ripples of disquiet among the entrenched amateurs.
It’s not that Wiener has not, according to practically everybody, done a lot for the game in the short time he's been here. Rather, the disquiet centres on whether Wiener's performance for Carlisle may pave the way for other pros. One second team player said, "He's a really nice bloke and I think the attitude is: 'OK. One's fine, especially if he teaches as well. But if a team were to pack itself with ten professionals, then that would be different'."
Three other clubs also recruited in that season – Salim Uddin, a Pakistani with Yorkshire league experience joined Merrion; David Bevan, who played for Gloucestershire and Eastern Province ten years earlier, came to Leinster; and Robin Waters, a former Ireland international and coach with Belvedere College who performed a similar role for Old Belvedere.
Over the next decade only a small number of senior clubs – Merrion, Pembroke, Carlisle and CYM –brought in paid players, mostly from the southern hemisphere, and the debate on their merits was at times fractious. Some were excellent cricketers and men, others less so.
After a time the LCU introduced a limit on the playing ability which meant someone who had played top State, county or provincial cricket in a full member nation in the previous two years – now 12 months – could not play in Leinster.
Over the 35 years that these professionals have been coming to Dublin, local followers have seen some nascent Test stars and plenty of magnificent cricketers with first-class careers ahead of (or behind) them. To mark the end of this era I have selected a First XI to represent the very best.
Some came here as professionals and became important figures in Irish cricket over a long period, others had just one glorious season. Quite a few had an important impact off the playing field, which is a lot harder to measure, and I have included one such man to represent that vital strain of recruit.
I have defined my team as including men who came here first as pro cricketers – so Andre Botha and Trent Johnston are in, Jeremy Bray and Alf Masood are out.
I hope some of you will be moved to comment and share your own memories of these – and other -- exceptional cricketers.
The first XI
Julian Weiner (Carlisle 1979)
One of the finest exponents of the cover drive ever seen in Dublin; shortly afterwards he played six tests for Australia. Mark Cohen has acknowledged the influence he had on his game, sparking his own annus mirabilis where he made six centuries in a month and won contracts with Middlesex and Glamorgan, and later had a fine Ireland career. Weiner scored two centuries, and the 770 runs and 31 wickets saw him finish second in the batting averages (behind JB Bunworth) and all-rounder rankings (behind Alec O’Riordan).
John Anderson (Railway Union 2005-06, Merrion 2008-13)
Arrived in Dublin as a 22 year old and fitted in quickly at the Sandymount club scoring 516 runs. In his second season they won four trophies, although as an overseas player he was barred from the Irish Senior Cup win. Scored 942 runs and took 35 wickets, finished second in each average table to Andre Botha and John Mooney. On his return to Dublin in 2008 he joined Merrion where he has spearheaded a revival, and won the first of his six Irish caps to date in 2012.
Chris Kuggeleijn (Pembroke 1983-84)
A hard hitting batsman whose 179 at College Park included a six pulled with such ferocity that it cleared a 60ft tree, bounced once on the rugby pitch and ended in the Pearse Street car park. Won a senior cup medal in his first season when he made 1,086 runs at 57.15 and took 53 wickets at 14.75. He was only the second to score 1000 in LCU senior cricket. He finished runner-up in the averages in both his Dublin summers, behind Alf Masood and Alan Lewis. He later played two tests and 16 ODIs for New Zealand in 1988-89.
John Lyon (Clontarf 1982-89)
A wicket-keeper batsman, he played for Lancashire 1973-79 and later coached in Bangor, Co. Down. John didn’t play for Clontarf, but instead introduced a youth coaching system which thousands of boys and girls have enjoyed and benefited from ever since. Even more than this, he was responsible for the recruitment of a shy lad from Roodeport who went on to be one of Ireland’s greatest players, and appears next on this list. John died in South Africa on New Year’s Day 2010, aged just 58.
Andre Botha (Clontarf 1994-2000, North County 2001-10, Terenure 2011-12, Clontarf 2013)
Andre struggled when he first arrived at Castle Avenue to cope with the weather, the language and the culture of Irish cricket. But the duckling grew to become one of the greatest players to wear an Ireland sweater, winning 141 caps and spearheading the great win over Pakistan in 2007, when he bowled 8-5-5-2, a spell described by Trent Johnston as “in the top three I have ever seen.... in the Glenn McGrath or Shaun Pollock class."
At the start of this season he had played 299 games, and scored 24 centuries for his clubs, the LCU record. With Clontarf he won four league titles, one Section B, two cups and one league cup, while with North County he won five All Irelands, five leagues, one cup, three league cups and one Alan Murray. Only Alan Lewis of current players has made more than his 11,537 runs, and his average if 50.7 is behind only Masood and Bray. His 450 wickets came at 17.25, an average behind only Trent Johnston.
He plays a less dominant role these days, back at Clontarf, but can still be relied on when called, such as his 170 in the cup against Phoenix when Cusack and Poynter were away.
Brad Spanner (Merrion 1999-2002)
Powerful batsman who scored the first double century in the province for almost 20 years. He arrived in Merrion as a pro in 1999 when he topped 1000 runs, and returned for three years to work as a journalist/development officer at the club, making 1201, 530 and 977 runs each season, including a total of 12 centuries and averaging 60. He also took 101 wickets at an average of 14.71. He sparked an underperforming club to win one league, one cup and three Alan Murrays in his time there and was twice best all-rounder in the province.
“A legend of a man off the field, a legend of a player on it,” says Dom Joyce. “He is the most popular player in the club’s history.”
Ben Dunk (Dublin University 2007-08, CYM 2007, YMCA 2008)
A talented wicketkeeper-batsman, Dunk came to play the short season in College Park, and scored heavily including a 62 ball century in a total of 148. He only made 10 runs in five innings for CYM, but picked up when he returned in 2008. Made a brilliant century for the LCU President’s XI v Italy and shortly after his return to Australia made his debut for Queensland. He has since moved to Tasmania. Rated as the best overseas batsman ever to play in Dublin by Leinster development manager Brian O’Rourke.
Trent Johnston (Carlisle 1995-98, Leinster 2001, Clontarf 2004-2007, Railway Union 2008-11, YMCA 2012-13)
A chance encounter in a Sydney cricket club led to a deal to play for Carlisle in 1995, and the persistence of a former team-mate led to his return in 2004. Within three years he was a household name as captain when Ireland exploded on the world scene. At club level he has galvanised whatever club he has been at – he helped Railway bring back both league and cup after more than 40 year gaps. His batting is underrated – but his average of 44.76 is second only to Botha of current Leinster cricketers (and fourth of all time). His 5,576 runs include 14 centuries, while his 286 wickets have come at 16.7, the best average of his contemporaries.
Nasser Shaukat (Rush 1995-2009, The Hills 2010-13)
Nas has been a Fingal phenomenon since he first fetched up at Kenure Park. Still a regular first class player in his native Faisalabad up to 1999, he moved to Ireland and was first capped in 2004 aged 38. He won 11 Irish caps and was part of the ICC Trophy squad in 2005, but did not play in that competition.
He was a giant at Rush, regularly turning in match-winning performances and trophy-winning seasons. His most prolific season, 1996, saw him make 826 runs at 69 and 71 wickets at 12. He helped the club to several Section B titles, and to the final of the Leinster cup in 2004 and the Irish cup in 2002 and 2006. At 44 he looked for a new challenge in Milverton, and in 2013 led The Hills to the Bob Kerr final. His 3-16 was enough to secure the trophy and the man of the match award.
To the start of this season, from 294 games he took 554 wickets, his average of 17.55 behind only Johnston and Botha. He has 8,700 with the bat (at 38.8), including five centuries.
Trent Copeland (Railway Union 2008)
The most recent LCU player to play test cricket – he had a decent season down Park Avenue, helping the club out of Division 2. His best performance of 116*and 5-46 came in the always-like-to-win derby with Pembroke. On his return to Sydney he forced his way in the New South Wales side and had the best start to his first-class career in the state’s history. He ended up Sheffield Shield leading wicket-taker and was called up for Australia’s tour to Sri Lanka in September 2011. There he played three tests, taking six wickets at 37.83.
Alan Stimpson (Pembroke 1981)
Stimpson burst onto the Leinster scene in 1981, taking an incredible 91 wickets, which smashed the old record of 76 by Niall McConnell twenty years earlier. An irascible Kiwi, he found few friends among the umpiring fraternity, but rarely needed their assistance anyway.
His wickets came at a ridiculous 9.71 each, beating John Wills to the O’Grady Cup. Wills’ Leinster side were the biggest sufferers at Stimpson’s hands, when he took 9-37 at Rathmines.
‘Stimmo’ played 24 times for Northern Districts, and played for a NZ Selection against the touring Australians in 1977. In August 1994 his body was recovered from Auckland harbour.