Cricket: Lurgan seam-bowling great Alan Johnston passes away

Alan Johnston
Alan Johnston

Alan Johnston, one of the finest seam bowlers in NCU cricket history, has passed away at the age of just 63.

The former Lurgan cricketer and Ireland international died following a long illness in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Ian Clarke, then president of Lurgan Rugby Football and Cricket Club, presents Alan Johnston with the ball he used when taking all ten wickets in a match against Bangor in 1977. Included are team members, back from left, Tom Guy, Dickie Maxwell, Michael Lumb, Eric Sands, Jim Harland, Reggie McNally, Denis Guy, Denis Johnston, front left, Stanley Beattie, front right, Ray Hunter.

Ian Clarke, then president of Lurgan Rugby Football and Cricket Club, presents Alan Johnston with the ball he used when taking all ten wickets in a match against Bangor in 1977. Included are team members, back from left, Tom Guy, Dickie Maxwell, Michael Lumb, Eric Sands, Jim Harland, Reggie McNally, Denis Guy, Denis Johnston, front left, Stanley Beattie, front right, Ray Hunter.

Lurgan chairman Denis Johnston, Alan’s brother, said he had already been inundated with messages from across the cricket community following the news of Alan’s death.

Alan was capped three times by Ireland and his brother believed he could have had far more international honours had he committed to Sunday cricket.

“He was probably one of the top bowlers around, up there with Simon Corlett and John Elder, but he never played on a Sunday, but the opportunity with Ireland came along towards the end of his career,” said Dennis.

“He played against a very good Worcestershire side in 1990, including Ian Botham, and that was a nice reward for all that he had done in the game.

“He moved the ball both ways at a good pace. We won’t forget the 10 wickets he took in an innings against Bangor and the nine he took against Downpatrick.”

Denis said it was the famous derby rivalry with neighbours Waringstown that always brought the best out of Alan.

“He was a tough competitor, a real clubman, and he loved nothing more than a game against Waringstown,” said Denis. “There was the famous cup final against Waringstown which was watched by 3,500 people which we lost. It was one of the great rivalries, myself and Alan played very hard on the pitch but we counted the likes of Roy and Deryck (Harrison) as friends off it.

“In later years Alan played down the club and encouraged the young lads.”

Alan’s understanding with wicketkeeper Eddie Bushe, who stood up to the pace bowler, was one of the features of his club career.

Denis said: “I was standing at first slip and Alan would nod at Eddie, who was standing up to the stumps, and bowled a yorker down the leg side to try and get a stumping. It almost always worked.”

Above all, Denis said Alan was a real competitor, he never knew when he was beaten.

He added: “He was a fighter, and he carried the fight he showed on the sports field into the fight against his illness. It’s such a sad loss for the club.”

Alan was an instrumental part of the great Lurgan teams of the 1970s and 1980s, staring with the famous 1972 Challenge Cup triumph when he was unplayable during a stunning path to the final. He claimed amazing figures of 9-22 against Downpatrick, 4-15 against Waringstown and then 7-20 in the final against Cliftonville.

He was undoubtedly good enough to have graced the international stage at the height of his career but his religious principles meant he was not available for Sunday cricket.

However, in the twilight of his career, at age 37, he played in three Ireland matches in June 1990 against Worcestershire (twice) and Sussex.

In taking three wickets against Worcestershire at Clontarf, his victims included former England batsman Tim Curtis, Phil Neale (later to be England manager) and future England wicketkeeper Steven Rhodes.

Alan’s great swan song in senior cricket came in 2002, when aged 48, he bowled his 10 overs for just 12 runs in the Challenge Cup final against North Down at Stormont. Lurgan secured a famous triumph against the odds by seven wickets.

Alan, who worked in the Ulster Bank in Ballynahinch, Dromore and the Woodstock Road in Belfast, also played rugby as a winger for Lurgan and was a fine golfer. He was a former president of Lurgan Rugby Football and Cricket Club.

Alan is survived by wife Moira, daughters Jayne, Laura and Rachael, son-in-law John and new-born granddaughter Isla.