Mark Anthony Gillespie
Mark Gillespie is a member of one of the North West's best known cricket families. His father, Paddy, has been a Strabane stalwart for many years. A former captain of the club and now an essential part of the non playing set up, he played many memorable innings for his side, often as an opening bat, scoring a well made 56 in the second innings of the NW Cup Final against Ardmore in 1966 when, having been dismissed for 0 in the first innings, he helped Brendan Donaghey (118) to build an impregnable position.
Paddy was also a member of the North West side in the first eight years of the Guinness Cup. Mark is the third of four brothers. His elders John and Michael have done great deeds for Strabane, while the youngest is, of course, Peter, holder of 124 Irish caps.
Mark made his name as an all rounder. A free scoring left hander, his position in the batting order at representative level, often seemed somewhat at his captain's whim. As a bowler he is a leg spinner, having as a boy benefited greatly from the tuition of Bobby Rao, Strabane professional in Mark's formative years.
Like his three brothers, he established himself as a cricketer of great talent while still at school. First playing senior cricket at the age of 11 coming into the side as a late replacement against Limavady, he became a regular in 1984 when still a few months short of his fifteenth birthday.
That season, 1984, he also took 6-3 against Burndennett in an U16 match. He also shone at representative age group level. First appearing for North West in the U 15 interprovincial tournament . After playing two good innings in the 1983 competition which helped win the trophy, he shone in the match against Munster the following season when, in a rain restricted tournament, Leinster regained the title.
Against Munster he took 6-13 including the hat trick, then made an undefeated 44 dominating an unbroken first wicket stand of 62 which brought a 10 wicket victory. 1984 also saw him find a place at a higher level, joining elder brother John in the North West U19 side. A useful 33 against Munster showed his talent while the following season he hit his first representative half century, making a top score of 63 as NW reached 228 against Ulster Country at Kesh. UC batted out time at 175-8.
He was to the fore again in the wet summer of 1986. North West won a tournament which saw three matches totally abandoned. Mark with 187 runs at 88.50 and a highest score of 95, finished third in the overall batting averages. The following summer he reprised his U15 success of 1984 by destroying Munster.
At Limavady NW ran up a good looking 205-5, Mark being 66*, then as Munster struggled to 67 all out he mystified their batting line up with 5-21.
His feats for Strabane have, by any standard, been remarkable. Apart from a brief sojourn with Ardmore, he has been ever present with the club. With a highest score of 137* against Drummond in the League in 1996, when he scored 861 runs at 41, he scored 929 runs at 42.30 as recently as the 2010 season, almost surpassing his season best of 2006 when he made 944 runs at 47.20 with six 50s and two 100s.
Those hundreds both came in the Irish Senior Cup. Playing away against Carrickfergus, Strabane racked up 241-7 off their 50 overs owing the score to Mark and brother John who put on over 150 for the 5th wicket. John made 81 and Mark 110. Nobody else - except for extras - registered a double figure score. Carrick replied with 149, Mark rounding off a good day's work with 2-37.
Strabane progressed to the Quarter Finals where they had to storm the fortress of The Inch to defeat North County. The hosts posted 286-6 with Andre Botha playing brilliantly for 92 before Mark removed him. It was his only bowling success of the afternoon, his 10 overs costing 74 runs. Strabane fell 37 runs short but not before Mark had played an outstanding innings. Coming in at No 4, with his side in trouble, he hit a superb 113 off 102 balls with fourteen 4s and three 6s. Unfortunately for Strabane no one else made a worthwhile score, Extras with 32 being the next highest.
2006 was also his best as an all rounder for Strabane. Besides his runs he took 50 wickets at 16.50 with a best of 5-13.
He made his interprovincial debut in 1988 against Ulster Town at Ormeau. He was out for a duck, bowled by Adrian Semple and was not asked to turn his arm over. Better things were to follow.
His best performance came against Munster in 2000 at Sydney Parade. At 4, Mark was in top form. Stroking the ball to all parts of the field, he made an undefeated 96 seeing his North West team to a challenging total of 225-8 in their 50 overs. Munster also passed the 200 mark but were never up with the required rate. Their 205-7 left the Northerners victorious, Mark with 2 -25 had played his part in the containment.
However a more testing performance was his innings against North Leinster at Limavady in 2004. The visitors had a powerful attack with seven who had bowled for Ireland. The hosts were bowled out for 170, with Mark making an undefeated 70. He came in at 54-2 and made his runs out of the 116 added while he was at the wicket. His dominance is also shown by the fact that Mark Olphert with 21 was the next highest scorer.
NL passed the target with seven wickets standing thanks to some fine batting by John Mooney and Barry Archer. It may seem somewhat surprising that Mark had to wait until his 31st year to make his debut for Ireland, particularly as he had shown promise with the ball for Ireland U23 against The Irish Universities in 1991 taking 6-94 in the match - and that having got there, he played only three games.
He had a good debut match but was discarded after two unsuccessful appearances the following season. His debut came against Scotland at Ayr as one of two late replacements. He and Ryan Haire were called up when Andrew White and Dom Joyce called off.
Though Ireland were to suffer defeat by 6 wickets, the match will long be remembered foe a superb farewell innings by Angus Dunlop. Mark joined him at 90-3 after Ireland had won the toss. They put on 104 in 31 overs before Mark was out shortly after the tea interval, caught at slip of the off spinner Maiden.
He had batted 121 minutes faced 97 balls and hit three 4s. His innings was well received by the media. He then took 2-41 in Scotland's innings of 258, which exactly matched Ireland's declared first innings.
"Gillespie," wrote Derek Scott in his match report, " did very well with his leg breaks."
Unfortunately the Irish batting failed in the second innings, though Mark with 22 in 78 minutes off 59 balls with four 4s did not let the team down. However the hosts had little trouble in winning by 6 wickets.
He appeared twice for Ireland the following season in the Triple Crown Tournament but made little impact.
Mark Anthony Gillespie's international career may have been somewhat brief and disappointing both for him and his legion of admirers. However his name will live long, with those of other members of his family, in the annals of Strabane and North West cricket.