Cricket in Wesley College

Cricket in Ireland was flourishing in the 1860s when the first reference to the game in Wesley appears in the biography of Henry Higgins, a boarder in the school between 1861 and 1864. In the yard behind no.79 St. Stephen’s Green, the original site of the Wesleyan Connexional school, games were played including rounders and cricket, the only wickets being trees. In the country there were cricket clubs everywhere. In Tipperary alone there were as many as 50. Phoenix Park boasted between 15 and 20 grounds. The foundation of the GAA in 1884 and the new movements branding of cricket along with soccer and rugby as a “foreign” game dealt the summer pastime a severe blow. Wesley, along with similar secondary schools, would have been unaffected by this “ban”, except that boarders coming from country areas may not have had such easy access to the game as in previous years. The “Big House” society had produced a multitude of teams, with Landlords pitting their teams of estate workers against each other and against the local military. This virtually stopped after the days of the land war, (1879-82) and the subsequent demise of the Ascendancy landlord system.

Back in 1862, in Wesley, a playing field was acquired in Rathmines. Henry Higgins noted that there was now room for football and hurley but the ground was never mowed or rolled for cricket. ( “Hurley” refers to the game which developed into hockey, not the GAA variety). By the time Wesley’s most famous cricketer, Bob Lambert, came to the school in the 1880’s, cricket and rugby were being played at Bloomfield, the land owned by the Royal Hospital for Incurables off Morehampton road, in Donnybrook. Wesley leased this field from the hospital until the school moved to Ballinteer in 1969.

Bob Lambert’s career as a schoolboy cricketer in Wesley is unknown. His career revolved around Leinster Cricket Club where he would frequently go for practice at 7 am with the Leinster professional. He first played for Ireland in 1893 at the age of nineteen, making a century on tour in England. He played for Ireland in five decades and over his career made more than 100 centuries for club and country. He became known as the “Irish Grace” and his achievements in Irish cricket are comparable with those of WG Grace in England. Indeed he even shared a birthday with WG. He was a true all rounder. He completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in nineteen consecutive seasons. He once bowled Scotland out for 32 in College Park, with his off breaks, taking 7 wickets for 11 runs in 10 overs. Grace was asked once if Lambert would have been an even better cricketer if he had played in England. “How do you improve on perfection?” Grace replied. The family connection with Wesley was maintained when his great grand daughter, Mayla, hit the winning runs as the girl’s 1st xi claimed the Leinster School’s Cup in 2005.

In 1893, the year of Bob Lambert’s first cap, Wesley had a 1st and 2nd xi, playing two games a week in the summer term. The club colours were light blue and dark blue. Most of these games were two innings fixtures and in some years the matches spilled over into September. On the 16th and 17th September 1897 a two innings match was played versus Melrose Cricket Cub. The most outstanding player of this period was Sam Crawford, who went on to have a distinguished career with Trinity and Ireland.

Bloomfield was the school’s sportsground but there was not room for a separate cricket pitch so a few strips in the middle of the rugby pitch were prepared for use in the summer term. Because the agreement with the Royal Hospital had to be renewed every year there was reluctance to spend money on anything but the most primitive facilities. A second hand wooden pavilion was erected in 1913. This was replaced by a much more comfortable solid structure in 1956. The school originally shared the ground with Old Wesley Rugby Club and for a period sub let part of the ground to Catholic University School, neighbours still resident in Leeson Street. During the summer holiday the field was let for grazing. It may sound incredible today but unwilling pupils were coerced into reporting to “field” for rolling duty during summer term. Lists of those selected appeared on the notice board in school. These included those with no interest in games of any sort, let alone cricket. Punishment would be meted out for non appearance and it was not unknown for some day boys to pay a boarder, who would have had to have been at “field” anyway, to do their rolling. The best way to avoid rolling was to play cricket and be called away to the nets for practice. The huge roller was originally designed for horses and had two long iron handles attached to the axle. When not in use it and its handles became a sort of primitive gym apparatus and slide for generations of bored pupils. A couple of young, light, boys could hang unto the end of the handles and be catapulted into the air as the handles were flipped 180 degrees by more muscular friends, or enemies. The roller accompanied the school to Ballinteer in 1969 where it was adapted for use by a tractor. It is still there, unused, today. The forced labour of pupils continued in September when teams had to report to rid the “field” of thistles after the summer grazing and before rugby could be played. It should be remembered that we are talking about a period, (the 50s and 60s) when many schools had a policy of compulsory games and much school life was littered with examples of institutionalised bullying. Wesley was, in fact, more lenient and maybe a bit more enlightened than most.

Meanwhile, back on the cricket square, the SCT won the Senior Cup for the first time in 1909, defeating Masonic in the final. The Irish Times reported:


Play was resumed in the above match on the Leinster CC ground, Rathmines, yesterday. Good progress had been made on Monday ( June 28th ), each having completed an innings, and Wesley having lost five wickets in the second venture, which yesterday morning (June 28th ), was finished off for the addition of 26 runs. Masonic were set to make 139 runs to win, but against the bowling of H Smyth, Casey and JW Bennett they again failed to make much headway, being all dismissed for 52, Wesley thus winning by 87 runs.

Beating Masonic was infrequent as they were the cream of the cricketing schools until the 1960s, investing a huge amount of effort into the game, played on their beautiful ground in Richview, Clonskeagh. Belvedere were to become the dominant force subsequently with occasional victories for High School and sometimes St. Columbas, whenever they deigned to enter competitions with the more urban establishments.

The most successful Wesley teams were those of the late 1930s and early 40s. The SCT and JCT completed a Leinster Schools double in 1939 and the SCT went on to capture a hat trick of cups by winning in 1940 and 41 as well. The most effective players were the Sheridan brothers, John and Robert, from Achill island, Dudley Birch, Sonny Hool and Jack Sweetman. Birch, also a fine rugby player, was killed in the war. Sonny Hool became a well known doctor in Belfast and played for Ireland and North of Ireland CC. His family sponsored the Internationals Honours Board in his memory which can be seen in the Concourse in Wesley. Another well known Wesley cricket international of this period was Louis Jacobson who had been in the school in the 30’s. Mervyn Jaffey, a wicketkeeper, played on the Irish team in 1953. Ken Hope has the distinction of being picked for Ireland as an off break bowler in 1958 and then again in 1966 as a batsman. The Senior Cup was shared with Belvedere in 1958. Weather prevented play over a three day period. The campaign was notable for the outstanding bowling of Maurice Atkins. In the semi final against Masonic he took a hat trick with the first three balls of the innings.

Cricket in the school from 1950 to his retirement in 1993 was presided over by Frank Morrison who had an almost fanatical attachment to the game. A teacher and coach of the old school variety, his enthusiasm and methods encouraged and discouraged in about equal proportions. He spent an unbelievable amount of time dedicating himself to the organisation, administration and coaching of rugby and cricket in Wesley and was the secretary of the Leinster Schoolboy branch of the Leinster Cricket Union for 27 years. Sadly Frank only saw two of his teams win trophies. Apart from the shared Senior Cup of 1958, the only other pieces of silverware collected were the Junior Cup in 1963, captained by Mike Halliday and the Under Fourteen League in 1974, captained by Mustansir Khetty. Five players who passed through his hands played for Ireland in future years. Apart from Jaffey and Hope, Mike Halliday, an off spinner, played 93 times between 1970 and 1989 and was captain 25 times, (losing the toss 17 times in a row!). Keith Bailey, a wicketkeeper played between 1985 and 1991. Eddie Moore, a left arm opening bowler, played between 1991 and 1994. The Irish Schools xi started fixtures in 1964 and Halliday played in 1967, Ian Keartland in 1979, John Wolfe between 1980 and 1982, Keith Bailey (1981), Eddie Moore (1986 to 88), Brian Moore (1994),

The Khetty family from Sri Lanka, five of whom were cricketing boarders in the 1970s, presented 3 cups for the most promising Wesley cricketers at beginner, junior and senior levels each season and sponsor equipment for players chosen by today’s coaches. This valuable contribution helps the profile of the game and is greatly appreciated by all.

When the school left Stephen’s Green in 1969, an attractive cricket field was laid out between Ludford House and the main road. Unfortunately it was badly drained and was usually too soft in April and May. The first grit hockey pitch replaced it in 1978 and a new field was laid out in the present location. This ground was well looked after and supervised by Frank Morrison and for 19 years had the benefit of an excellent and proud groundsman, Michael Renehan. He turned the square into one of the best in Dublin, even when compared to club wickets. At the time of writing it is reverting back into its original state as a simple field, but hopefully remedial work is at hand.

Since 1993 there has been a higher level of success in competition. Starting with the Under 13 cup in 1994, a team captained by Craig Sowman, the Under 14 Cup was won on five separate occasions and the SCT came close to emulating the treble teams of 1939 to 41 by doing the double in 2000 and 2001 and narrowly failing in the final in 2002. In 2000, when St. Columbas were the opponents, the game was watched by Frank Morrison, who must have gained some satisfaction in seeing Wesley eventually regain the cup. Also present was Jack Sweetman, who had been on the winning side in 1940 and 41. Duncan Smythe was paid the amazing compliment, later in the summer, of being asked to act as twelth man for the full Ireland team v Scotland. In 2001, CUS were the opposition and Wesley scored an imposing total of 231 for 4 in the 50 overs, with skipper David Roche making 97. Owen Goodman, bowling slow left arm, then had the extraordinary figures of 11 overs, 7 for 26, to wrap up the victory. The hat trick was missed against Belvedere in 2002 when an unlikely win was almost achieved with a handful of balls left in the game. Also in 2002 the Under 14s won their cup again for the fifth time in seven years. Scott Furlong was the architect with a man of the match performance against Belvedere with 50 runs and four wickets. Earlier in that campaign the Channel 4 Cricket Roadshow filmed some footage of a match in Wesley which was shown as part of a program on Irish cricket.

In the last few years, John and Peter Blakeney, Duncan Smythe, Andrew O’Kane, Stuart McDonnell, Neil Lyons, Andrew McConnell and Steven Taylor have all been selected to play for either the Irish Schools xi or the various under age international squads.

An innovation which was introduced in recent years has been an Under 14 tour to England, after the end of term. It has not happened every year as circumstances and availability do not always make it possible. A successful trip was made to Bristol and Taunton, were Wesley had its first ever sporting fixture with a sister school, Queen’s College Taunton. London, Manchester, Surrey and Suffolk have also been visited. ( Staff such as Brian Delany, Derek Shaw and Bob Reed giving up some of their holidays to accompany the boys are to be highly commended. )

In 1982 the first girl’s cricket xi entered for the cup competition and since then the game has become a popular girl’s team sport in the summer term and there has been a good deal of success. In 1990 the 1st xi lost the final to St. Andrews and the first trophy was won by the 2nd xi in 1993. The Under 15s beat Mt. Anville to take the first cup for Wesley in 1994 and since then there have been regular trophys won for the school. Four girls have gone on to represent Ireland with distinction. Nikki Squire in 1991, Lara Molins in 1999 and Jillian Smythe and Eimear Richardson are currently on the Irish panel and at the time of writing are preparing to travel to Pakistan for the qualifying tournament for the World Cup in 2008. In a previous era Elaine Bradshaw played for Ireland in 1964. Elaine also represented her country at golf and hockey.

The 1st xi girl’s team has won the cup six times. In 1998 it was captured for the first time with Lara Molins as captain. Nikki Symmons was selected for the Irish Under 21 panel. Nikki scored 103 not out in the final the following year when the trophy was retained. Anna Rice was captain. In 2000 the Under 15 xi won their cup for the second time. 2002 saw probably the strongest team ever win the senior cup again. Linda Goodman was captain. The success was repeated in 2004 with Jillian Smythe as captain and again in 2005 with Eimear Richardson in charge. 2007 saw the cup return to the school when Sinead Lyons was captain. Ruth Henderson has been the teacher in charge since the beginning of girl’s cricket and all the silverware has been a deserved return for her efforts.

Cricket in Wesley in the modern era is under pressure of time because of the short summer term and the sixth form cannot but be affected by the pressure of the Leaving Certificate. Until the early 1970s the term continued until near the end of June so there was a genuine cricket season. Now school shuts at the end of May, preceded by end of year exams. The teams have only time to play maybe six or seven games. If Easter is late the playing season may be as little as five weeks. Indoor nets which were included in the new sports hall opened in 1980 are a great help but are under pressure from a number of different sports. If a Wesley cricketer is to develop he/she has to play in a club for the rest of the summer. It is hoped that the encouragement a player gets in school will encourage them to do just that

Mike Halliday, master in charge of cricket, 1994 – 2002

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