Irish Cricket's Soccer Stars
This article by Ger Siggins, about Irish cricketers who have also played international soccer, was first published on 30 May 2002, shortly before the last FIFA World Cup.
I suppose it only comes around once every four years, but cricket fans will now spend the next five weeks struggling to find a paragraph about the sport in the newspapers as football World Cup mania takes hold. I don't want to sound begrudging about it - I've been to two World Cups myself and look forward to dozens of early morning sausage 'n' soccer feasts - but I fear for cricket over the next while.
The world's biggest game has squeezed out many other sports in many other countries, and even the big national sports here will struggle for attention, at least until the Irish team is knocked out. More many years soccer was the third most popular winter team sport among the cricketing fraternity, behind rugby and hockey. That's probably not the case in the north now, and increasingly so in Dublin.
The days of the frequent dual international at rugby and cricket are unlikely to come around again (Raymond Hunter was the last in the '60s), while the necessary increased commitments to both sports makes it likely that Jimmy Kirkwood in 1983 will be the last to win both hockey and cricket caps.
Whatever about the above, I think its safe to say that we will never see a cricket/soccer international in this country again. Had Robbie Dennison not taken up the opportunity to play football in England in the early 1980s, he would almost certainly have followed his brother Davy (no mean footballer himself) onto the Ireland cricket XI. As it was he joined Wolves and won 18 caps for Northern Ireland.
However, there have been seven Ireland cricketers who played international soccer, albeit three at amateur level.
One of those, Donald Shearer, was one of the most distinguished cricketers to play for Ireland, winning 32 caps in the years from 1932 to 1954, which were obviously broken by war. Shearer played amateur football for England.
Archie McQuilken of Muckamore (right) was also capped at amateur level, by Northern Ireland, as well as winning nine cricket caps in the 1960s. Archie died tragically in a car crash in 1984.
Philip Meldon, one of a famous cricket family of whom eight played for Ireland, was capped for Ireland's amateur side in pre-partition days.
Dubliner Louis Bookman - born Buchalter - played for Bradford City and Luton Town before the First World War, winning four caps for the Ireland team either side of the conflict. He played cricket for Leinster and Railway Union and for Ireland throughout the 1920s.
Just after the Great War, two Cliftonville team-mates John Harris and Billy McCleery (left) picked up caps at cricket and soccer for Northern Ireland.
If Shearer was the best cricketer to play football, then Noel Cantwell was certainly the best footballer to play cricket. I once won a tenner in a UK newspaper for posing this excellent teasing question: "Who is the only man to captain an FA Cup winning side and play for his country at cricket ". Any time I've tried it in pubs I've had the usual suspects of CB Fry or some other eminent Victorian. The hint "it was in the last forty years" usually perplexes them even more. The answer of course, is Cantwell.
Noel Euchuria Cornelius Cantwell was a towering presence in the Republic's soccer team from 1954 to 1967, when we narrowly missed qualifying for two World Cups. He won 36 caps in a career that started with West Ham and took him to Manchester United, where he got to lift the FA Cup above his head when captaining them to a 3-1 win over Leicester in 1963. [Editor's note: Noel Cantwell died in 2005.]
His serious cricket career was long gone by then, of course, but he picked up five Ireland caps from 1956 to 1959 when he was summering back home in Cork. A left hand bat with Bohemians, his second cap against the 1957 West Indians saw him record a glorious dismissal - c Worrell b Sobers 0. His highest score came against New Zealand the next summer when he made 40. Two of his brothers, Frank and Gerry, played interprovincial cricket for Munster.
Besides the dual internationals, several others have been notables at both sports. Mark Patterson was capped by Irish Universities at both games before he left for Surrey. Paddy Neville, a hockey and cricket international, was a good enough goalkeeper with Drumcondra to win inter-league honours. Others like Ginger O'Brien (Railway Union and Shelbourne), Johnny Gill (Pembroke, The Hills and Home Farm) and Neville Steedman (YMCA and Shamrock Rovers) have played both games at senior level. Jack Sweetman was a senior cricketer, an interprovincial rugby player and a full back with Swindon Town. Rumours reach us from the west that a member of Co Mayo CC was on the Sheffield Wednesday team that were beaten in the 1966 FA Cup final.
Liverpool and Ireland's Steve Heighway might have been a good cricketer. His father, Sid, was a member of the YMCA 1st XI for several seasons before the family returned to England.
It's not known whether any of the current Ireland squad preparing to do battle in Japan have any interest in the summer game. Roy Keane was spotted sinking pints and prawn sandwiches during the Old Trafford test a couple of years back, but the chances of any of them fetching up on the Ireland cricket XI in the coming years must be even less than them winning the World Cup.