Summer days won’t be the same without David Holmes, Mr NCU cricket

David with the famous NCU Challenge Cup. He had presented his own preview programme on the final for the last two summers.
David with the famous NCU Challenge Cup. He had presented his own preview programme on the final for the last two summers.
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  • After News Letter cricket correspondent David Holmes died suddenly this week, editor ALISTAIR BUSHE pays tribute to a man who helped transform the profile of the sport in Northern Ireland

When I was typing probably the most difficult story I have ever had to write last Monday morning, I knew the devastating impact it was going to have in the local cricket community.

However, even I didn’t quite anticipate the reaction that the sudden death of the News Letter’s 54-year-old cricket correspondent, and my close friend, David Holmes, would spark when it reached social media.

David Holmes enjoying a light-hearted moment with News Letter editor Alsitair Bushe at the Click Energy Show at last year's Antrim Show.

David Holmes enjoying a light-hearted moment with News Letter editor Alsitair Bushe at the Click Energy Show at last year's Antrim Show.

In the 12 hours after the news was first published on the News Letter website, and via Facebook and Twitter, I don’t think there was even a two-minute lapse when my phone didn’t bleep or ring, signalling a continuation of the stunned response and outpouring of tributes.

I had known David was popular. After all what was not to like about this small man with the broadest smile and the warmest handshake, a man who revelled in long summer days watching and talking cricket.

The tributes came from the NCU and North West, from Ireland cricketers in the Middle East, and the country’s under-19 team wearing black armbands in their match in New Zealand.

There was also the remarkable sight of David’s name trending on Twitter in Belfast for much of the day. A Twitter addict, he would have particularly loved that. David Holmes trending alongside the outgoing secretary of state James Brokenshire, who would have thought eh? The news of David’s passing was the most read across our entire website on Monday, he would have smiled at that too.

He had so much more to give. He should have had many more years reporting on the NCU, the interprovincials and Ireland, only for it all to end so suddenly and so cruelly. Even now, almost a week on, the terrible news has not sunk in.

David transformed NCU cricket’s online profile over the last decade. It was him, through his @NCUCricketLive account, who pioneered live updates from around the grounds before anyone, myself included, had even thought of it. I hold my hands up now. I rolled my eyes when he first implored me to sign up to Twitter and follow him in posting live updates. OK Holmesy, you were right, and I was wrong.

Those updates have become utterly indispensable to local cricket followers. Saturdays won’t be the same without his ball-by-ball updates from a nailbiting finish at Comber or the latest picture celebrating that day’s teas from Wallace Park.

David didn’t care if it was Waringstown against North Down at The Lawn or Donacloney versus Academy at the Factory Ground, there he was at the boundary, sometimes dressed in an oversized Bangladesh ODI jersey and always in those washed out jeans, and with the rucksack hanging over his shoulder. Always inside it, no matter the weather, was a bottle of sunscreen to protect that bald plate.

In the age of players and spectators fretting that cricket takes far too long, David was refreshingly old school. He was on the road from mid-morning or earlier and didn’t make his way home until the sun was going down. I should know. He rang me religiously sometimes hours after a game had finished on Saturday night, for him the craic in the clubhouse afterwards had been as important as the game itself.

Not for him either any team allegiances. He was a proud former Instonian of course, but I never noticed a trace of bias in his writing or tweeting.

As Ian Callender, this newspaper’s former cricket correspondent, has written, David used to be all about the NCU, and for years my invites for him to join me on a day trip to the North West were politely refused. But in recent years he started to become as well known over the Glenshane Pass.

He had so much more to give. He should have had many more years reporting on the NCU, the interprovincials and Ireland, only for it all to end so suddenly and so cruelly. Even now, almost a week on, the terrible news has not sunk in.

Cricket, still very much a minority sport here struggling in the shadows of football, rugby, motorbikes and GAA, depended on David Holmes. He didn’t just write and tweet, he worked behind the scenes for the NCU to attract sponsorship and revenue.

David Holmes was Mr NCU Cricket. He doesn’t just leave a gap, he leaves a chasm.