Friday 22 February 2019

Sinead Kissane: 'O'Riordan's life less ordinary as one of Irish cricket's great all-rounders'

Alec O’Riordan with Sinead Kissane at Alec’s home in Clonskeagh
Alec O’Riordan with Sinead Kissane at Alec’s home in Clonskeagh
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

When I pressed the doorbell on the front door of Alec O'Riordan's home in Dublin, the moment's wait was filled by questions. A few weeks previously I made contact with Alec to see if he would be interested in doing an interview before Christmas.

I told him over the phone how we were distant relatives which, I guess, isn't normal pre-interview fare. The night before I met him for the first time, I looked through newspaper clippings that my grand-aunt, Kitty O'Riordan, had saved about Alec in an old scrapbook. Her dad and Alec's grandfather were brothers.

And then the front door opened.

Three years ago O'Riordan was included in the Sunday Independent list of The Stars of 50 Years of Irish Sporting Success for his achievements as a cricket player with Ireland.

"Counties and touring Test sides would visit and return home reeling with tales of this left-arm fast bowler who could bat," the piece read. "First capped as a schoolboy in 1958, his Ireland career lasted almost two decades. In 72 caps he scored over 2,000 runs and took 206 wickets."

O'Riordan was an all-rounder. "For the last 10 years, we've had full-time professionals. But before the last decade there's no doubt Alec was the best all-rounder we ever produced in Ireland," cricket writer and author Ger Siggins said this week. But how did he become one of the best all-rounders?

"My father played cricket. I can remember playing in the front garden at the very end of the war," O'Riordan recalls, as we sit in his family sitting room with a Christmas tree in the corner waiting to be decorated with the grandkids. "I played under-14s cricket for four years. I used to battle with my brothers in the back garden and my sister. My two brothers, both now dead, played cricket. My sister, Mary, also played cricket but she was a hockey international in her time.

"I would practise twice a week and I would take it fairly seriously. I would do what I wanted to do rather than what the other guys wanted," O'Riordan adds. "So, if I wanted to practise my bowling I would do it for about an hour, two days a week. I did take it seriously, some of them said that I took it too seriously, but that was just the way I was."

Even though he was the youngest on the team, O'Riordan's first spell as Ireland captain came at the age of 21. "I was surprised, I was very young," he explains. "I was never dropped, I missed a few games through injury or in the earlier stages because of exams."

"You were never dropped?"

"Never dropped, no. They may have wanted to drop me but they didn't. They dropped me from being captain from time to time, it was a difficult job. You were dealing with amateurs, for a start, playing for the most part against professionals who would have a totally different approach."

It didn't take long for O'Riordan's reputation to catch interest in England as he received a number of offers. After playing his second international game a few months after finishing school, he got an offer to play for Kent - a package which included putting him through university to study engineering. "I didn't pursue it at all, I don't really know why," O'Riordan admits. "I suppose, in many ways, it was one of my regrets. If I had the opportunity now, I would take it."

But he made the most of other opportunities. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Ireland's win over the West Indies at Sion Mills in 1969 when O'Riordan got the better of players like Basil Butcher and Clyde Walcott. He played at Lord's for the first time that year and he remembers how the Ireland officials travelled by plane from Dublin to London but the players had to get the boat to Holyhead and then the train to London. Where's Roy Keane when you need him. "How many times did you play at Lord's?"

"I think around 10 times. The first time was very interesting. If you did well, they would applaud you. If you did badly there was a silence."

"And how did the England players view playing against an Irishman at Lord's?"

"Some of the players, particularly the professionals who were trying to make a name trying to get into the county team, they found it difficult. They didn't like playing against us because if they did badly it was a huge black mark for them. So I used to feel sorry for the average pro who didn't score runs against us because it was their livelihood, it wasn't ours. These guys were playing for a living."

O'Riordan didn't play for a living but maybe a part of him lived for playing. Did he miss the buzz when he retired? "I did yeah. I never said it to Geraldine (his wife), I did miss it," O'Riordan admits. "But then my kids were growing up and I started to watch them play games so I had less time to feel sorry for myself."

After playing, O'Riordan went on to become a selector with Ireland. Like his playing days, he took that role seriously, travelling to watch interpros which wasn't expected of him. He then went on to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Kevin, and became president of the Irish Cricket Union in 1995.

He passed on his love of sport to his four kids including spending every Saturday morning religiously watching his daughter Fiona play hockey and also supporting his youngest son, Brian, who played rugby for teams including Leinster.

A bowler, a batsman, a brother, a husband, a dad, a managing director, a selector, a president, a cricket fan, a rugby follower, a granddad and more. Alec O'Riordan, an all-rounder indeed.

Happy Christmas to you and your family, and to any distant relatives you hope to meet some day soon.

Irish Independent

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