The question of who stands as the best club team of all time in Ireland is one that always provokes huge debate.
Waringstown’s 1992 team, which won the first ever treble of NCU Challenge Cup, Senior League and Irish Cup, stand as one of a number of contenders.
The villagers’ great teams of the 1970s, which contained the famed Harrison brothers, Ivan Anderson and Michael Reith among others, are strong contenders. They won a remarkable 12 Senior League titles between 1970 and 1985 and 11 Challenge Cups between 1965 and 1979.
A couple of decades later and the North Down team who dominated NCU cricket, winning nine senior league titles between 1999 and 2011 and seven Challenge Cups between 2000 and 2010, have serious credentials. As someone who reported on cricket during some of this era, that North Down team, captained much of the time by Peter Shields, intimidated many of their opponents, with Ryan Haire, Andrew White and David Kennedy amongst their top batsmen.
In Taimur Khan they boasted arguably the most effective overseas professional to have graced the NCU. The only blot on the landscape was the failure to win an Irish Cup. The mitigating factor was Khan’s ineligibility for much of that period when first-class professionals were not allowed to play in the Irish Cup. North Down’s dominance in the NCU also coincided with Leinster holding almost complete sway over the Irish Cup with a proliferation of leading South African and Australian players strengthening the Dublin teams.
Journalist and author Ger Siggins higlighted the Decker Curry-inspired Limavady side that won three Irish Cups between 1994 and 2004, and while Donemana dominated the region at the height of Junior McBrine’s powers, they won just one Irish Cup. Today’s Donemana side continue to break records, with six consecutive North West Senior Cups a truly remarkable statistic.
In Leinster Siggins identified the North County team that won five Irish Cups between 2001 and 2008 as “probably the best Leinster side I’ve ever seen”.
He added: “YMCA of early 90s were very talented, Lewis, Garth, Dunlop the stars, Bailey, Taylor, Nulty, but never won an Irish Senior Cup which must be the modern measure of greatness.”
While touting the merits of other Leinster sides, Siggns adds: “Put a gun to my head and ask an Irish club team to play for my life and I’d pick Dublin University 1893.
“They beat Leinster, Phoenix and the Curragh Garrison home and away, and only rain ruined their chances of completing the double against the Dublin Garrison.
“They then went on tour and beat Oxford University, Leicestershire and Warwickshire, who they bowled out for 14.
“They also drew with Essex, giving a 10-2-0 record for their captain Clem Johnson, who went on to play Tests for South Africa.
I’m going to plump for the Waringstown team of the 1970s. While they never got to test their credentials in the Irish Cup, respected judges like Robin Haire considered them the best he has ever played against or watched and that’s good enough for me.