|Born:||21 June 1899 Sion Mills, Co Tyrone||Died:||14 June 1972 Londonderry||Educated:||Sion Mills Public Elementary School|
|Debut:||28 July 1934 v MCC at Sion Mills||Cap Number:||393||Style:||Right-hand bat, right arm off breaks|
|Teams:||Sion Mills, Strabane|
Andy McFarlane, who learned the game from constant childhood attendance at the Sion Mills ground, was, at his best, a superb batsman. Quick on his feet, he had all the shots, delectable late cuts, powerful hooks and a full range of drives. These were backed up by perfect timing, a strong defensive technique, and, in the words of Donald Shearer, a bat which looked, "as broad as Hammond's, and Cowdrey's too."He was also a very good off spinner, frequently putting on command all round performances, or, on the rare occasions he failed with the bat, winning yet another match for the Village, with his well flighted and sharply turning spin.
War delayed his entry into Senior Cricket until 1919, but he was soon on his way, taking 8-13 v City of Derry in Sion's first home match of the season, and, already regarded as one of the Club's leading batsmen, finishing the season, against the same opponents, with a remarkable 75*, which enabled the villagers to snatch a dramatic one wicket win. For the first, but by no means last, time, he was carried shoulder high from the field. The first of his 22 hundreds in Senior Cricket, if a score of 153* in a friendly, v Ardmore at an unspecified date in the past is discounted, was against St Johnston in 1923 at Sion. The visitors put their hosts in, and then had to field while Andy, well supported by opener TJ Ponsonby (58), put their attack to the sword. He reached three figures in an hour and altogether, was at the crease 75 minutes for 128*, including 13 fours and 3 sixes The Donegal men departed beaten by 155 runs. His all round skills were well demonstrated in a friendly, if there ever was such a thing in North West Cricket, in June 1925, when he "guested" for Strabane v CA Nicholson's XI. Andy dominated the match. A brilliant 104 - 11 fours and 3 sixes - was followed by a masterly display of spin bowling, which brought him 7-13 to give his side an emphatic victory. Another spectacular innings came in 1931, when he established a League record with a "sparkling" 180, putting on a 3rd wicket 194 with J McGrath (57). He gave one chance, when his score was a mere 130! Sion reached 313-5, and then bowled out opponents Brigade for 116.
The centuries continued to flow from his bat, four coming in 1937, when , in addition to three in NW Cricket, he hit 107 for Strabane v Collegians in the NCU Cup, giving them a total of 261, well on the way to an eventual 165 run victory. This was one of several appearances he made for his neighbours in this competition, usually with some success.
The 1933 season, saw however, what many regard as his finest innings in the North West. In 1932, Donald Shearer had overtaken Andy's 180, by making the first double hundred in the North West, 233 v Killaloo. Now, in the last match of the season, with Sion needing only a draw to take the title, Andy, throwing defence to the winds, went after the City man's record, and nearly won it back. Earlier in the summer, he had hit a barnstorming 127* against the 2nd Leicestershires with 20 fours. Now this was surpassed as he made a brilliant 227, including 6 sixes and thirty one 4s. McGrath again helping a big stand, 236 this time, a record for any wicket in NW Cricket. Needless to say Sion won the title.
It has also been argued, however that Andy's greatest innings was his last Senior Cricket hundred, made in 1947, when he was 48 years old. This was the first year in which Sion entered the NCU Challenge Cup. They reached the Final at Ormeau, where they faced a strong Armagh side, reinforced by no less than three clergymen. Sion emerged victorious by one wicket after an epic struggle, packed with heroes, for example Armagh all rounder Lloyd Armstrong, who bowled his heart out to bring his side to the brink of victory. However the deciding factor was Sion's crucial first innings lead of 81. This was largely due to Andy and John Flood. The former in an innings far removed from his destructive hitting on his home territory, made a 270 minute 117. Flood made 87. Their value was shown, when Sion got home by one wicket, when needing only 126. The finish , with a run out and a one short involved just as Sion appeared to have won, was dramatic in the extreme, Andy's son John, who played a key role in getting the runs was the man to be run out at the death.
Andy's successes, of course, were not simply with the bat. He was one of the most successful NW bowlers of his time, "5 fors" abounding when his career is reviewed. Apart from those already mentioned, his hauls included 6-7 v Fawney, in June 1928, when Sion had been dismissed for 53, and, in the first match of the following season, 9 a career best, 9-19 to put Waterside out for 40.
At the end of the 1950 season, he called a halt, something which his many admirers could not quite believe. He had helped Sion to 8 NWCU and 1 NCU Cup triumph, and had also had a large part in their winning 12 outright and 1 shared League Titles. Few could have achieved more. Yet, through all this he made only a handful of appearances for Ulster and Ireland. His top interprovincial score being 43 v Leinster in 1943, while for Ireland, his 73 runs from 5 matches at 10.43 and 1-38, appear at total variance to his ability. No one has ever suggested that he was a big fish in a small pond, who could not make the step up to higher things. Shearer, and master spinner Scott Huey, both believed him to be of county class, and they both knew a thing or two about the art of batting, Shearer as a practitioner and Huey as a destroyer. The answer must lie in selectorial myopia. In the 1920s, and for much of the 30s also, provincial selectors in Belfast, and national selectors there and in Dublin, had little time for NW Cricket. It was seen as being inferior, and good performances therein meaningless. By the time they eventually took notice, Andy was in his mid thirties, and it was too late. Even then, a more consistent policy, and a chance to bat up the order could well have brought dividends.
He began for Ireland v MCC, on the occasion of the first Irish match in the NW, in 1935. He was a victim of his team-mates success. Fellow debutant, Lisburn's Sammy Edgar, hit 104, Shearer 59 and captain James MacDonald 82. Andy had just got in, when Mac Donald, reasonably as it was a two day match, declared, the score having passed 300. In the second innings he was out to an Army officer, with a Hispanic name, W Zambra, for 1. He was given 14 overs and took 1-38. His wicket was that of the somewhat grandiloquently named, Lancelot Charles Digby Robinson. Poor Lancelot, a colonial civil servant on leave, was to die, with his wife 10 months later, in the infamous Quetta earthquake in India.
Andy did not play again until 1937, when he was given a run of three matches. Ill fortune continued to dog him. Jimmy Boucher was captain, and, for some reason, put himself at 5 or 6 in the batting order. Boucher was a good club batsman with 4 centuries and 31 fifties at senior level to his credit, but to place not only Andy but also Ham Lambert below himself in the order was a strange decision. The wickets in all three matches favoured spin, but only one off spinner got a chance to use them, with, it must be said, considerable success.
Andy began with 0 and 23 v Scotland at Ormeau then followed this with 6 and 0 at Lord's. Here he was dismissed in both innings by medium pacer Oliver Battock. Oliver, who was by profession the actor Oliver Gordon, was a very good bowler who took over 6000 wickets in minor cricket. The last of Andy's three matches was at Nottingham at the private ground of multi millionaire Sir Julien Cahn, an English version, though richer and more successful, of Sir Stanley Cochrane. Andy and Charles Mellon, another who might with advantage batted up the order, rescued Ireland from 42-7 in the first innings, though Andy succeeded in getting caught off the knight's bowling, a difficult feat to achieve, apart from those who did it deliberately., a category to which he certainly did not belong.
He did not appear again until Ireland's last match before the war, again v Cahn's XI. In his only innings, he made 16, before being bowled by Jack Walsh, one of Cahn's professionals. Walsh was a very good unorthodox slow left armer, who could not find Test place in Australia. He took 1190 first class wickets, mostly for Leicestershire.
Andy never showed any bitterness about his exclusion from representative cricket and was highly regarded by those who knew him, both as a player and as "a lovely man." He must rank, at least beside Brendan Donaghey and "Decker" Curry as the best "home produced" North West batsman, though perhaps William Porterfield is about to surpass them all. However Andy's superior all round skills surely give him the edge. This writer can only regret, on a personal level, that time scale prevented him from seeing Andy play, and on a more general one, that misguided selection policies may have deprived Irish Cricket of a truly great player.
Andrew McFarlane is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats" and has a special section accorded him in Clarence Hiles "History of Senior Cricket in Ulster." Full details of his career may also be found in WH Platt's books on North West Cricket.
Edward Liddle, April 2008