Fisher keen to make major impression for Ireland A
It's just five years since Tom Fisher walked up the lane to Railway Union, a short journey that brought him back to the game he loves. It was March 2007, and there was a match on TV in the bar.
“I had arrived the October before, and had been living on a couch in Marine Drive. The World Cup was on, and when I realised Ireland were playing in it I decided I wanted to play cricket again.
“So I got on the internet and found the clubs in the area, sent an email off to them all, and John Moffatt of Railway replied. He invited me down to clubhouse for a drink on the night Ireland tied with Zimbabwe. I met a few of the guys; Greg O’Meara, Mulley, Roj.
“I had a training session with Merrion but decided Railway was the best bet. I’ve got a lot to be thankful to Moffo for. Coming from Australia he had a similar experience of club cricket and he explained to me how Dublin was different.”
Roll the movie forward five years and T D L Fisher is now a vital member of the most successful Railway Union team of all time, has captained Ireland A and the proud bearer of a Cricket Ireland contract.
“The way the contract came about was funny – I haven’t been working since the autumn so I asked Simmo [Phil Simmons] could I come out and hit a few balls and he said fine. I spent a lot of the winter working with the squad which was fantastic.
“Then, out of the blue, I got this email from Richard Holdsworth enclosing a contract and asking me to sign it and return.”
The contract allows Tom to gear up his fitness work – he spends two hours a day in the gym – as
well as becoming part of one of the most exciting stories in international cricket.
“The ‘A’ team has been getting together as a unit too, and its great working with Jeremy Bray. Fitness-wise we have a tough schedule, shadowing what the senior guys do. It’s a quite challenging programme but a great opportunity to get fit and commit to cricket.”
Growing up in Christchurch, Tom played in a strong school system. “Most of youth cricket in New Zealand is in schools, and there’s not the same emphasis on club cricket. I played for my school first XI – it was strong side, lot of the guys went on to play first-class cricket.
“I played a lot against the McCullum brothers while guys I played with and against include Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, James Franklin, Andrew Ellis and Hamish Bennett.”
After I left school I played a bit for the High School Old Boys club, who had three Kiwi bowlers in Shane Bond, Paul Wiseman and Geoff Allott.
“Bond was a bit of a handful in the nets. In my first ever senior club game I somehow ended up fielding at first slip to Shane Bond, which was, eh, quite an experience. I didn’t drop – or hold – any catches, and made a first ball duck!”
Tom played half a dozen games for Canterbury U19s around 2001, and even got to captain the state U21s, but he drifted away from cricket.
“I injured my shoulder badly in my last year in school and I didn’t give it the rehab it needed. It kept dislocating.
“By that time I was up in Wellington at uni – and played a bit of senior cricket up there – but I was more interested in doing different things.”
If he’d stuck with it, would he have made the state side?
“That’s hard to say, but I’d like to think so.”
Tom studied history and politics in Wellington before working in Christchurch for a year and a half.
He had some experience of this side of the world, spending the year after he left school working as a teaching assistant in Farnham Royal, near Slough.
“Cricket is a very different set-up over here – in New Zealand it’s the summer sport, and there’s a much larger pool of players, but it’s taken much more seriously in Ireland.
“Even at senior level in Canterbury we wouldn’t have sightscreens, electronic scoreboards, coloured clothing or sit-down teas. Generally speaking, there’s no paid pros either.”
Tom worked in financial services here for a couple of years before he headed home to New Zealand, where he played a bit of cricket.
But he returned to Ireland in 2009 with a sense that he wanted to give cricket a real go. That summer was spectacularly successful for Tom, winning the Marchant Cup as Leinster’s leading batsman, and meeting Marguerite at a party.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Tom says, “and she came to New Zealand with me last year. I feel at home in Ireland now, especially with an Irish girlfriend and spending a lot of time with her family.”
Through his relationship with Marguerite he has a de facto visa which allows him play for Ireland.
Since then it’s been cricket all the way for Tom, helped by Rangan, his understanding employer in the Russell Court Hotel.
It’s been a glorious era for Park Avenue, and for Tom it started in the unlikely surroundings of Wesley College for an early April friendly against Pembroke, while Kevin, Kenny and TJ were still sunning themselves in Barbados.
“In previous years the club had won plenty – including four trophies in 2006 – but my first year was a bad year. But we built a team and in 2008 got promotion to Section A, 2009 won the 45 over league, 2010 won the LHW cup and got to the final of the Bob Kerr, and then last year we won the league.
“We’ve built a team in a different way to other clubs, partly because we don’t have their financial resources. But guys like TJ and Kev are an attractive prospect to play alongside and improve your cricket. So guys like Paddy Conliffe, with 10 senior seasons under his belt at Phoenix, Graeme McDonnell, Carlo Rendell have all been great signings, and we’ve built a squad without the outlay. When we’re at full strength we’re the strongest in the country.”
While Railway have been consistent over the last four seasons, there was a feeling that a squad that talented should be winning more. Tom was appointed captain for 2011.
“We knew we’d do OK if we got off to a good start, because we had such a rough draw with our first five games away from home. We won four of the first six games which really set us up.”
Then, after two games, Kevin went off to Gloucestershire and Trent’s injury woes meant he hardly bowled a ball all summer. “They’re not the sort of guys you can replace with one player – you need four at least.
“But unless you’re an exceptional team you will always have a bad run, and we lost four in a row in the middle part of the season.
“Then came the turning point of the whole summer, at Anglesea Road. John Anderson put us into bat and we were 20-5. I was sitting thinking we were in danger of slipping into a relegation battle, but Paddy and Graeme put on 167 to get us to 237, and we bowled them out for 177 to win easily. That stand changed everything and we never lost a league game thereafter.
“Personally, my highlight of the summer was getting 94 not out to beat Clontarf, I put on 90 with Kev and 70 with Pat Collins and we got it in 35 overs.
“Then against Strabane at home in the Irish Cup, we didn’t bowl well and they got 227, and then Pat Collins made 72 and I got 95 in a partnership of 154 and we won by seven wickets.
“Another highlight was against Eglinton in the Irish Cup, when Mulley and I put on over 200 and we both got hundreds.
“The Hills game at the end was fantastic, although I did my best to throw it away, but it worked out in the end. I knew if I stayed there we’d win the game and I stayed till we needed eight to win.”
Tom has resigned as Railway captain for the new season, which sees him firmly part of the Irish set-up after his ‘A’ debut last summer.
“I was lucky enough to sneak into the development team, and to captain on my debut against MCC, with guys like Phil Eaglestone, who has 20 or 30 caps, Rory McCann, James Shannon, was an amazing honour.
“Trips like that are great for your cricket. I got starts in most games, but didn’t get past 42 in eight innings so I didn’t really make the impact I would have liked.
Last winter Tom went home for a visit that coincided with the Rugby World Cup. “I stayed in Christchurch so I didn’t see any of the matches live, but it was just great to be there when we won.
“I played schools rugby – in the backs – but I didn’t really like tackling!”
His brother played for the All Blacks at U17s level, and his sporting family also includes dad Mike, who is operations manager for Canterbury cricket
Tom is positive about Railway in 2012, but there are gaps to be filled, especially with Sam Farthing retiring. “Hopefully Mark Ingram can slip into the team, but we’re looking for a full-time keeper; Dhruv will be at Trinity early on; Andy O’Neill is captaining the 2nds and he was great when he stepped in when we needed him last year – he took some stunning catches and he’s a great fielder.
“But we need to work on the lower teams to get players coming through. While our 2nds are in Division 4 it’ll be hard to attract people. We’ve a big enough first team squad so very few people can join us and expect to walk onto the 1sts – but why would young guys around the area come to us with the 2nds down that low?
“I think Graeme McDonnell will play at bit more this year. He played some blinding innings for us last year, he’s a serious cricketer and it’s a shame we can’t have him every week.”
But with the possibility of playing for Ireland becoming a reality, progressing his own game has become Tom’s focus.
“Playing alongside Kev and TJ, and playing against the likes of Alex Cusack and John Boy helped me to realise it’s not that wild a dream to play for Ireland.”