David Dennison - a talented cricket and footballer
David George Dennison
Davy Dennison, or "Dixie" as he was sometimes known, was the elder of two highly talented cricketer/footballer brothers. Rather like the Nevilles of Manchester United and Lancashire, they could have made their way in either game. Robbie, the younger, was a potentially brilliant batsman of enormous promise, but an even more talented footballer. A full time professional career in the winter game beckoned and was very successfully fulfilled, mostly for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Northern Ireland. Davy, on the other hand, while playing semi professionally - and with great success - for Glenavon, gained his international honours on the cricket field. Eventually, though he had lost - no doubt temporarily - his place in the Irish side, financial circumstances forced him to give the game up at international level. Had he played twenty years later, there can be little doubt that he would have had a longer and more successful career.
Of average height and quick on his feet, he was, first and foremost a batsman, equally at home opening or elsewhere in the upper order. Very strong on the leg side, he was, however, a complete player, most attractive to watch when set. A highly capable wicket keeper, who never let Ireland down when asked, sometimes at short notice, to assume the role, he was also an occasional, but useful change bowler, who, as we shall see, altered the course of one Schweppes All Ireland Cup match, in a quite dramatic fashion.
He first came to a wider notice in age group Interprovincials, but it was representing Ireland in the U19 Tournament in Canada, that ensured his career really took off. Captained by Brian Gilmore, Ireland reached the Final before going down to Bermuda, a result which would be much less likely today! Davy was one of the major successes, establishing a sound opening partnership with Mark Cohen. He did not play until the third match, when his stylish 30, not only dominated the opening stand, but set Ireland on course for a hard earned four wicket win over England South. Against Canada, he and Cohen were in fine form. The hosts having been bowled out for 109, Davy made 55 and Mark 54 as Ireland romped home by 10 wickets. Both, according to the joint managers' report, "gave a first class display of well placed shots and good running."
Against Denmark, Ireland chased 122, as the storm clouds gathered over Upper Canada College. Davy's 33 out of an opening stand of 64, had much to do with an eventual victory on run rate, in those pre D/L days. Regrettably, he failed in the semi final, though Ireland won, and final, but he had done more than enough to establish himself as one for the future.
His club cricket began with Millpark, but he was soon seen in Waringstown's colours at The Lawn. Shortly to he joined by Robbie, he quickly made himself an essential part of that formidable side. Though always a most reliable bat in League fixtures, some of his best performances were reserved for NCU Challenge Cup Finals, which, in the 1980s, were of course, still two innings affairs. Arguably his greatest innings was seen in the 1983 Final against Lurgan at Downpatrick, three weeks after he had made his Irish debut on the same ground. Winning the toss the Villagers lost two early wickets, but Davy, at No 1, was then joined by Ivan Anderson. Together they put on 200 in quick time. Davy made 137, shrewd observer Murray Power describing the innings as, "a gem." Power continued, "He timed his shots superbly, missing his century before lunch by a whisker." Anderson made 71. Waringstown posted 303-6, and though there were sterling contributions for Lurgan, not the least from their two Indian players, Rahul Mankad and Ronan Shah, Waringstown won what Clarence Hiles has called, "arguably the best final of all time" by 92 runs. Davy also made telling contributions with the bat in the victorious Finals of 1986 and 1987. In the former year, his 65 and 76 were key knocks as NICC, though they had a first innings lead of 57, lost by 37 runs, a superb all round display by Garfield Harrison joining with Davy's batting to see North return to Ormeau empty handed. Lurgan were again the unlucky losers the following year, failing to reach the stiff target set them by their neighbours, after Davy's second innings 70.
Waringstown had not taken part in the initial Schweppes All Ireland Cup in 1982. The following year, they not only took part, but added the Cup to the groaning shelves of their trophy cabinet. That they reached the Final was, in no small was due to the Dennison brothers. In a third round match against Phoenix, they found the Dublin side seemingly on their way to a big score, until Davy, far from a regular bowler, took the ball and did the hat trick, tearing the heart out of the Phoenix middle order, and restricting the total to 208. The runs still had to be got, but now Robbie weighed in with a crisply struck hundred, and The Villagers were on the march again.
In interprovincial matches, the Guinness sponsorship finishing towards the end of his career, he totalled 947 runs at 31.56 with two 100s, four 50s, and several useful scores in the 30s and 40s. His highest score, 121*, came against Ulster Town at Wallace Park in 1982. Opening the innings he batted through the 228-4, putting on 86 for the third wicket with Anderson (39). It was enough to secure a 59 run victory. The other hundred came five years later against North Leinster at New Forge. It was a splendid, match saving 112, but was eclipsed by a magnificent 176 from Alf Masood, which had enabled the visitors to post 305-6. Davy was well supported by Charlie McCrum, their side finishing on 242-6. That season, Davy hit 208 runs in the competition at 69.33, including his highest non century score, 88* in a 9 wicket win over Munster at The Mardyke. He had also reached 88 the previous summer, when again accompanied by McCrum (91) he helped his team reach 212-4 in a convincing win over Ulster Town at The Green. However it is arguable that his best half century was his match winning 58 against North Leinster in Phoenix Park in 1984. The hosts had posted a very average total of 152, but the visitors batting was severely challenged by an immaculate spell of off spin form Mike Halliday. Thanks to Davy they got home by 4 wickets.
Davy's international debut against Scotland at Downpatrick in 1983 was disappointing, and in his last season, apart from one fine innings, he suffered a complete loss of form. In between however, he was an essential and valued member of the side. In all he made 650 runs at 28.66, never showing to better advantage than on the Zimbabwe tour early in 1986. John Elder described him as being the outstanding success, writing in "The Ulster Cricketer" that, "His batting looked sounder than any of the others." Elder was also full of praise for Davy's wicket keeping, he was called on to wear the gloves on five occasions.
He played two outstanding innings, though, as was to happen with Masood, each was to be somewhat eclipsed by a bigger one. Against The Stragglers, in a limited overs match, he hit a brilliant 103 in 155 minutes. Facing 103 balls, he hit one 6 and eight 4s. It was the first hundred by an Irish wicket keeper though - to forestall rumblings from, inter alia, Park Avenue and Wantage Road - by no means the last and also the first limited overs ton for the country. Ireland were well pleased with their 226-8 and enhanced this by taking the first of the hosts' wickets at no cost. However this brought in the teenage Graeme Hick, who smashed 155 off 114 balls, the first of several times he was to destroy an Irish attack. The next time came in the following game, as he again up staged a fine effort from Davy. Ireland, batting first against the ZCU President's XI - did Comrade Mugabe actually do the selecting? - reached a useful 211. Davy led the way with a chanceless 84 made in 134 minutes. Unfortunately, he then collapsed with sunstroke and took no further part in the match. Hick responded to Davy's innings with 309, though he was missed on 19. This was rubbing salt into the wounds, his gentle, looping, off spin, had accounted for Davy caught at bat pad. Ireland lost by an innings and 67 runs, with, as we have noticed, Davy unable to bat.
We may note two other innings from Davy's international career. In the summer of 1986, MCC came to Castle Avenue for what proved to be an entertaining, batsmen's match. 1161 runs were scored, Ireland again finding themselves on the receiving end of a talented young player on the verge of greatness. This was a youthful Mark Waugh, who with scores of 239* and 101* dominated the match. However Davy topscored for Ireland, doing so in conditions of considerable discomfort. MCC had made 399, and Davy, at first wicket down, was injured early in his innings, after Ireland had begun well. He returned late in the innings, being joined by Halliday, with the score having slumped to 205-8. Together they added a record 98 for the 9th wicket, before Davy was out, caught by MCC captain Nick Pocock off Chris Trembath, a medium pacer who had played four first class matches for Gloucestershire. Needing 279 to win Ireland finished on 231-8. Davy having come in at 9, having a match saving 9th wicket stand with Paul Jackson.
The following season, when otherwise his form failed him, Davy played a fine innings against a strong Gloucestershire attack in a 55 over match at The Meadow. The County had run up 300-5 and Ireland were never to achieve the required run rate, though they, too, lost only half their wickets. Coming in at 76-2, Davy was undefeated at the end on 44. The only time when the bat looked really in control was when he and Garfield Harrison added 118 in 73 minutes for the 5th wicket, Garfield's share being 62. Though too late to affect the result, this rescued Ireland from 84-4, preventing a more emphatic defeat.
Davy did not play for Ireland again after this season. He would, no doubt, have recovered his form at his level, but, as already mentioned, financial considerations forced his withdrawal from the international scene. His innings in Zimbabwe and against Gloucestershire had proved, if proof were needed, that David George Dennison had the ability to succeed at the highest levels of Irish cricket.