George McVeagh - greatest all round Irish sportsman of his day
Trevor George Brooke McVeagh
George McVeagh was a superb natural athlete. The greatest all round sportsman of his - or, arguably, any other - day in Ireland, he was, besides being an outstanding cricketer, a hockey, tennis and squash international. He has been described as "Ireland's CB Fry", and so he was - without Fry's personality problems.
George came from a strong cricketing background. His great grandfather, Ferdinand, was one of the founders of the Phoenix Club and a regular player in many of the matches of the day. George's father had his own ground at Athboy. Pat Hone recalled that the station master, a member of the home XI, would hold up the Dublin train until the match was finished so that the visitors, and, no doubt some of the Athboy XI as well, could return to the city that night. The sporting gene ran deep in the McVeagh family. George's elder sister Stella was capped for Ireland at hockey, her son, Donald Pratt was another remarkable all round sportsman. An unorthodox left hander, who played for and captained Ireland, his biography also appears on this site.
An upper order batsman, tall and fair haired, who often but not invariably opened the innings, George did not always please the stylists. He could play with all the charm and elegance of great left handers such as Woolley and Gower, but he was noted for his unorthodoxy, though not to the same extent as his nephew. For DR Pigot (The First) his style could be "almost uncouth." His off and cover driving was a treat to behold, yet there was often a high degree of daylight between bat and pad. However this had its plus side. Not once in his 36 innings for Ireland was he lbw. He also rarely lifted the ball. Whether he went for his trademark wristy cover drive, or drew well back to give himself room for his rasping square cut, he generally kept the expectant slip fieldsmen just that.... expectant. They could only watch as the ball raced boundarywards. He was tremendously quick between the wickets. When batting with someone of similar pace such as Jim Ganly, the opposition was often run ragged in the field. Further he was a brilliant fieldsman. Remembered as a cover point without peer, he also missed little at slip and, as he proved in Ireland's 1928 victory over the West Indies, had a very safe pair of hands in the outfield.
George was originally destined for Harrow and Cambridge, but a downturn in family fortunes sent him to St Columba's College and Dublin University. At St Columba's he was, of course, the outstanding games player of his time, dominating the cricket field in no uncertain manner. Despite this he neither captained the XI nor held any position of responsibility. His life long friend Sean Jeffares, who did both, once told this writer that this was because of George's unorthodox approach to life in general and school rules in particular!
Moving on to University, George was a fixture in the XI for six years from 1925. His best season was 1927, when he captained the XI, aggregating 889 runs at 68.38. For good measure he led them to the League title that season also. In all matches in his University career, he struck 3322 runs at 48.14. He headed the batting from his second season onwards , hitting 10 hundreds.
In the Leinster Senior League he made 1565 runs at 44.71, including six of his centuries. Amongst these was his career best, a brilliant 170* v Phoenix in College Park in 1927. This innings was made in 195 minutes and included 30 fours. He was missed twice, celebrating by hitting two further hundreds in his next two matches: 115* v Merrion and 119* against the luckless Phoenix attack. The Merrion innings was chanceless, took 125 minutes and contained 13 fours. He also hit seven league 50s that summer, his average of 93.12 bringing him the Marchant Cup. He also shone in "Friendlies", often reserving his best for the twice yearly two day match with Cork County. Thus in 1929, at The Mardyke, he hit a quick 112, putting on almost 200 for the first wicket with JF Haynington. They shared several notable stands that year. The County batsmen managed to play out time in the second innings, as they did in the College Park match two years later, when George, at 4, made 99 and 100*on his last appearance in the match.
He also played two first class matches for the University v Northamptonshire, showing himself one of the very few student batsman who could cope with the County attack. Thus at College Park in 1926, he made 67 run out in the University's first innings of 138. His runs came out of the 119 made while he was at the wicket. There were only two other double figure scores. Despite his personal success, it was George himself, who took the lead in proposing that such fixtures be discontinued. No longer was the University in a position, as it had been for more than two decades before the Great War, to compete on something approaching level terms.
However he still found time to make 67 appearances for Phoenix, the last as late as 1957, when he had not played a competitive match for 15 years. He totalled 1613 runs for the club in League and Cup at 27.33, hitting three centuries, these including 102* v unlikely Leinster Senior Cup rivals Imperial Tobacco in 1938. He did help Phoenix to win the Cup that season and again in the following year. Typically, though short of practice, he made telling contributions in both finals. In 1938, his former side, Dublin University led off with a challenging 225. Phoenix wickets fell, mainly to the hostile pace of SR Redpath, but George hit a splendid 71, the old odd side shots rolled out as though he was in regular "nick." Phoenix got home by two wickets. Things were not so tight the following summer with Jimmy Boucher bowling Leinster out for 199. Three Phoenix men passed 50 on their way to a six wicket victory. It was, however, George 67*, who led the way. His season's total was only 75!
His highest score for Phoenix was 104*, his last century in competitive matches, v Pembroke in "The Park", in 1942. He put on 219 for the 4th wicket with Frank Quinn in 125 minutes. In all competitive matches in Leinster Senior Cricket, he scored 3178 runs at 33.80, including 10 hundreds and 13 fifties. He also held 36 catches, and, a generally ignored fact, took 6 wickets at 15.33.
His tennis and squash commitments, to a say nothing of the law, severely restricted his appearances for Ireland. He played only 20 of the 41 matches held during his 12 year career 1926 - 1938. His career record stands at 1108 runs at 35.74. He passed 50 on nine occasions, going on to convert two of these into hundreds. Reaching his thousand runs in 31 innings, which remained the fastest for Ireland until surpassed by Alf Massod in 1986, he was only dismissed for a single figure score on three occasions.
His debut v Scotland in College Park in 1926, saw him make 14 and 41, but he was not fully established in the side by the time of the West Indies match at the same venue two years later. This was the Windies first Test tour. They were a reasonably strong side who were unbeaten at the time of their visit to College Park. Led by Ganly, Ireland took a first innings lead of 31, but then lost six cheap second innings wickets to the visitors' pace attack of Herman Griffith and Joe Small. George, batting at 8, had made 14 in the first innings. Now he joined Jacko Heaslip in a seventh wicket stand of 81, before Heaslip(44) was out. George, now playing brilliantly, was joined by Pat Thornton with whom he had put on 230 v for the University v Leinster the previous season. Together they added a vital 106. George, 85* overnight, was joined by last man Tom Dixon, early on the last morning. Just as George was a formidable No 8, so Dixon was certainly no Devon Malcolm or Phil Tufnell at 11. He contributed 21 to the last wicket stand of 40, staying to see George complete his hundred with a sumptous cover drive off Small. The visitors needed 352 in 315 minutes. They would probably have got them had it not been for George holding four catches. The key one was a one handed effort, high above his head, at long leg, to send back Clifford Roach for 71. Fittingly too, it was George who brought the match to a close, taking a skier at cover to get rid of Griffith and end a last wicket stand of 24, seeing Ireland home by 60 runs with four minutes to spare.
His other hundred at this level, against Scotland at Greenock in 1932, was also a match winner. Late on the second day, Ireland, at 98-4 in their second innings were only 15 runs ahead. Enter George. Almost at once he gave a simple chance which was badly missed. Then he proceeded to take the hosts apart. On 32* overnight, he blazed away the following morning to reach 109 in 150 minutes with sixteen 4s. He was particularly severe on paceman AD Baxter, then seen as a Test possible. Boucher, Eddie Ingram and Arthur Douglas then bowled Ireland to a 58 runs victory.
George's seven fifties, included one near miss hundred - 95 v Civil Service on the English tour of 1929 - when he also made a half century v MCC at Lord's. On this occasion Ireland were captained by wicket keeper/batsman Augustine Kelly, who, having commanded a machine gun corps and won the MC during the War, was somewhat of a martinet on the cricket field. When George, having lost his kit and been held up in traffic, ran out on to the hallowed turf 30 minutes late, wearing tennis shoes and borrowed flannels several sizes too short, Kelly's fury knew no bounds. George was banished to long leg at both end, the team forbidden to speak to him. Demoted to 8 in the order, he made a typically brilliant 59, adding 44 for the 7th wicket with his captain, who then forgave him! It was a timely innings doing much to enable Ireland save the match.
Besides his tennis, George also excelled at squash being Irish Champion from 1935 to 1937, winning his sole cap in the latter year. As a hockey player, he was a member of four Triple Crown winning sides, being captain for three of them.
Having dropped out of cricket for over a decade, he did, as we have seen, return to play three matches for Phoenix in 1957. In that, and the following year, he was President of the Irish Cricket Union. His last match of any description, was, to the best of my knowledge at St Columba's College,his old stamping ground, in June 1960. He played for the Old Columban XI in its annual fixture v the College 1st XI. He opened the batting on a misty, damp morning, with the sun just breaking through. This writer, normally the College scorer but pressed in to service as umpire, was enthralled for some twenty minutes as George weighed into the fancied pace attack. That glorious cover drive, and the square cut that so offended the purists were rolled out for our entertainment. He hit four boundaries, before being out for 21. I can remember few other details of the match, but observing George at close quarters was a treat I shall never forget. And it might never have happened. The first ball of the match crashed into his pads - he was on the back foot and, seemingly, in line. A joyous youthful appeal was turned down by my white coated colleague, Norman Lush, master in charge of cricket at The College, a position he held for more than three decades. "I could have given that," he told the bowler later, " but I could not give George McVeagh out first ball."
Just eight years later George was dead. He was practising for his annual visit to Wimbledon to play in the Veterans Tournament. After a game, he had a shower, then collapsed with a heart attack, dying almost instantly. Tennis had claimed him at last.
His obituary is in Wisden 1969 and he is, naturally, profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
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