Cricket has long been a poor relation when it comes to competing with the likes of football and rugby for the cream of talented young sportsmen.
In football, brothers Gary and Phil Neville famously choose Manchester United ahead of cricket while in rugby former England internationals Rob Andrew and Danny Cipriani are among those who opted for rugby instead.
Locally though, surely no other club can feel they have received the rough end of the stick more than Lisburn.
The Wallace Park club’s uncanny knack of producing cricketers with other sporting abilities goes right back to the Great Britain and hockey player Jimmy Kirkwood through to Ulster rugby’s Neil Doak, an Ireland international cricketer good enough to be making a living from cricket if he was still in his prime today.
The pattern has continued right through to the present day. Lisburn have spent the last few years facing a relegation battle but their top flight status remains admirably intact. However, it could have been so different had a crop of talented players been available for selection rather than plying their trade in other sports. The list includes Doak himself, who has resumed his cricket playing days in the last couple of summers, former Ulster rugby players Ian Whitten and Michael McComish and two of Ireland’s finest hockey stars, Timmy Cockram and Jonny Bell.
David Simpson, the former captain, admitted it could all have been so different for Lisburn.
“The lads you are talking about were all extremely talented boys and fantastic cricketers,” he said. “It’s a huge pity for us at Lisburn that they had the opportunity to go onto professional levels at other sports. It’s a full squad that could have been together for many years.”
Here Simpson gives his verdict on Lisburn’s ‘might have beens’.
Michael McComish: Now 33 and retired from rugby, McComish played professionally for Connacht before representing Ulster 46 times between 2011 and 2015.
“When he was younger it was men against boys because he was a big lad and had such power. He went through a phase of bowling leg-spin. He was technically very good with the bat and could score very quickly. He came back and played the odd game of cricket for us when he was with Ulster. You still see him still watching the odd game.”
Timmy Cockram: Lisnagarvey and Ireland hockey player with 200 international caps. A solicitor by trade, he is of the best goalscorers Irish hockey has seen.
“Timmy played NCU under-age and Ulster Schools under-15 cricket. He was a very talented batsman and could pace an innings, he had a great temperament. A typical hockey player, he was great to watch, he loved working the ball behind square, He was horrendous to bat with because he was so fast. He played in the Lisburn team that won the Ulster Cup at Eglinton in 2000, he was maybe 16 at the time. He made a couple of hundreds for the firsts but stopped playing when he was 18 because of hockey.”
Jonny Bell: Another stalwart of the Ireland hockey scene, Bell has been captaining the national side and is skipper of Lisnagarvey.
“He was similar to Cockram, hockey player, very very quick between the wickets, he was very astute, very intelligent, and a very deep thinker about the game. Tim played more on natural instinct. Tim got his runs very fast, Jonny was more a nitty, gritty player, who could grind you out of a hole. He didn’t give his wicket away and did his best, no matter what it took to win you a game. He played cricket regularly, but then became captain of Garvey, and all of a sudden he got into the national side and he captained the Ireland side at the qualifiers in Belfast a month ago. He is still about the club watching.”
Ian Whitten: Professional rugby player with Exeter after moving from Ulster.
“Ian went into the Ulster set-up and I am told he said to Neil Doak, ‘Lisburn picked me to play cricket on Saturday, can I play’, and Doaky said go on ahead. If he was available on the Saturday he played. He was a real ‘golden arm’ - he had a great knack of getting vital wickets or breaking partnerships. He always under-estimated his batting, he had the potential for fireworks.”
Neil Doak: Former Ulster rugby player and coach. Irish international cricketer with 32 caps.
“I believe he has said that rugby was his job but cricket was his passion. I think that is the case. He is one of the finest cricketers Ireland has ever produced so to have him about again now is fantastic but he’s spoken to our guys and younger ones about talent being one aspect but developing a determination, a clinical harder edge to their game. He’s trying to bring them to higher levels in the way he talks and suggests ideas. A He’s also very passionate about the whole club at all levels and wants success at underage thirds and fourths as much as the first 11. He’s immensely popular around the place and brings a great buzz, especially when he’s playing.”