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Ghosts of the past stalk Trinity's fallow green lung in bicentenary

Ger Siggins


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The 200th anniversary of cricket at Trinity’s College Park was to be celebrated this season

The 200th anniversary of cricket at Trinity’s College Park was to be celebrated this season

The 200th anniversary of cricket at Trinity’s College Park was to be celebrated this season

They should be playing in College Park today. This morning, groundsman Jack would have given one last roll to the pitches, and the birds would have battled to be heard above the buzz of the mower.

Soon after, the student players would have arrived, and the pre-match warm up with catcalls and the reassuring pick-pack-pock-puck of ball on bat would have echoed around the tranquil ground as game time approached.

But that glorious green lung that helps the centre city breathe is silent today, and likely will be all summer. The Leinster Senior League Cup has been cancelled, meaning no competitive action for the first XI, and the chances of any other teams getting out diminishes by the day.

That doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but the loss of this season in particular is disappointing, as it would have marked the bicentenary of cricket in College Park.

It's a unique sporting arena, an international venue smack in the heart of the city. From 1870 to 1963 barely a season went by without a touring Test side or English county playing Ireland or Trinity there. Australia played there five times, and India, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies. As late as 1923 the student club played the Caribbean tourists.

More than 7,000 packed in to see the 1905 Australians, who featured the legendary Victor Trumper, one of over 300 Test players who have played there. I often tell students about to walk out to the wicket that they are following in the footsteps of WG Grace, Gary Sobers, Richie Benaud and Jack Hobbs. Most look at me with a blank expression - but some get it.

No other sportsground in the world lies 200 metres from both the centre of the city and the national parliament - and the latter's proximity gave it some significance at times. Taoiseach Eamon de Valera used it as a discreet meeting place with the British ambassador during the war. Sir John Maffey regularly organised a team to play there, and on one occasion Dev came down for a chat.

As they circled the boundary Dev picked up a bat and played some air shots, recalling his youth at Blackrock College. The Irish Press photographer spotted this and raced around to take the shot but as soon as Dev saw him he hastily dropped the bat - no votes in cricket for a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach in the 1940s.

It was the scene of tragedy too, at a match involving a military team in June 1921. With the War of Independence raging, a sniper fired shots through the railings at the bottom of Kildare Street. The players recognised the sound and dived flat on the ground but a young spectator, Kathleen Wright, was killed.

But mostly it was a scene of sporting glory, and the club has played an important role in nurturing young talents for those 200 years.

The earliest reference to the game being played in Trinity was published in November 1821, in an obituary in The Times (London) of Dr Jacky Barrett. The academic was said to have once asked what the meaning of "cricket" was. He was told it was a game, to which he replied, "is it the same as shilly-cock?" He was then told cricket was "played almost every day at the proper season, in the College Park".

Barrett was quite an eccentric, only occasionally leaving the college grounds in the last 50 years of his life, and then to visit the bank. He was a brilliant scholar of Greek, Latin and Persian but struggled with English. He refused to light a fire on even the coldest night, rarely changed his clothes and reputedly "stank like a vagrant". He left £80,000, a sum which, adjusted for inflation, would be over €9.2m.

That obituary shows the sport has been played in College Park for at least two centuries, but there was also a reference to a Trinity student side playing Ballinasloe there in 1827, while the earliest evidence of a constituted club dates to 1835.

The club celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1970, and in the great student tradition of "any excuse for a party", marked the 150th anniversary again in 1985.

This year would have seen the bicentenary celebrated with a special match, and a reunion of the last student team to win the Senior League in 1970. But instead the old ground lies fallow, probably hosting a cracking game between the ghosts of all the greats who played there. It will rise again.

Sunday Indo Sport