Famous Irish cricketers: Gerry Duffy
Gerard Andrew Anthony Duffy
Gerry Duffy was a remarkable all round cricketer. As a batsman, normally in the upper middle order, but quite capable of opening the innings, he was the bane of bowlers' lives in Leinster competitive cricket, scoring 10264 runs at 35.27.
Often batting gloveless and always instantly recognisable, he hit the ball with immense power, accumulating , during a career which lasted almost four decades, 9 centuries and 64 fifties in League and Cup cricket.
As a bowler, he sent down deceptively gentle looking leg rollers and little floaters, which lured many an unwary batsman to his doom, gaining Gerry 944 wickets in the process. He also fielded well anywhere, being particularly adept at holding return catches or taking blinding ones in the gully, where he had few peers in Ireland. In all his safe hands snared 238 victims, putting him second only to Ginger O'Brien in the LCU's list of all time catchers.
He first came to note as a schoolboy at St Mary's College, his deeds still being the stuff of legend there. He came under the direction of Father FG Barry, almost as much a heroic figure in "Mary's" cricket as Gerry himself. In 1945, the College won the Leinster Schools Junior Cup, defeating Blackrock by three wickets in a low scoring encounter. Gerry had bowled the opposition out for 65, but then saw his side collapse to 10-5. Denizens of Observatory Lane will not need to be told that their hero stood firm. He made 30* and was carried shoulder high from the field by his jubilant team-mates.
St Mary's had, at this time, a series of well known coaches, another example of Barry's enthusiasm He arranged to share their services with Leinster. None was better known than the great West Indian, Learie Constantine, who, in his autobiography, published in different editions as "Cricket and I" or "Cricket in the Sun", was glowing indeed in his praise of Gerry.
Unfortunately he calls him Gerry O'Connor but has this to say, "Never before or since have I seen such promise in a batsman after so short a period of tuition. If he comes into county cricket.... he may very well open for England one day." Learie was prone to overstatement about cricketers' abilities - so much so about his own that team-mates said he should have been a doctor as he was an "I specialist" - but he was also a shrewd judge of a player and was correct in seeing Gerry as a young cricketer of exceptional talent.
As for the prophecy... Gerry never took the bait of terms later offered him by Glamorgan. Had he done so, or had he the facilities and quality of play enjoyed by the Irish side today... who knows? Gerry first played senior cricket for Leinster in 1947, his last match came 43 years later, when he bowled an unchanged 20 overs v Old Belvedere, taking 4-70.
His regular appearances dwindled in the 1980s, though he took 22 wickets at 15.63 in 1983. He turned his attention to Senior 2 Cricket, winning the bowling award in 1986. A far as awards in Senior 1 are concerned, he won the Marchant Cup for batting 5 times between 1961 and 1972, averaging 78 in 1962 and 76 five years later. He won the O'Grady bowling award in 1976, taking 56 wickets, and the all rounders trophy, named the Samuels Cup during his career on eight occasions. He appeared to have made it a permanent fixture on the Duffy mantelpiece in the 1950s, but thereafter faced the challenge of Alec O'Riordan.
However if Eddie Ingram and Bob Lambert, whose League and Cup careers were shorter than Gerry or Alec's and involved a different type of match are discounted, he clearly ranks second only to Alec amongst Dublin cricket's all rounders. The highest of his 9 centuries was a magnificent 200* v Phoenix at Rathmines in 1955. Lasting 244 minutes, it contained one 6 and thirty 4s. He was missed once - at 196- off the great Jimmy Boucher, who for once in his career finished wicketless with over 100 runs against his name.
Phoenix were also the recipients of harsh treatment when he reached his second highest score 146 on their home ground in 1960. Bowling, he had no fewer than 54 "5 fors", his best return being 8-21 v Merrion at Rathmines in 1969. Twelve of these occasions brought a strong all round performance, as he also passed 50, twice making a century. In 1957 against Railway Union at Park Avenue, he made 115*, putting on an unbroken 225 for the first wicket with Ian Duff, besides taking 7-67.
He helped Leinster to six titles each in Cup and League, captaining them to the former in 1958. Amongst his best performances in the Final were 4-39 v Malahide in 1953 and 61 against the same opponents two years later, both feats being important parts of wins by over 100 runs. In all Gerry was almost a permanent feature of the Observatory Lane scene. He spent hours tending the square and outfield. When not doing this he was playing - two matches a day on occasions- and practising, by himself if fainter hearts left the ground when darkness closed in.
Later in his career, he became a most valuable and astute coach, particularly with the club's U15 side. He had proved his worth in the old style representative matches, and was to do so for South Leinster in the Guinness Cup, though he did not, perhaps, prove quite the force that might have been anticipated. However he often made highly valuable contributions to his team's cause, never more so than with his century and two fifties, notched between 1967 and 1969.
Against Ulster Country at Rathmines - where else - in the first year mentioned, the hosts faced a formidable total. Good batting by Con McCall and Herbie Martin had enabled the Northerners to declare on 224-6. Then SL lost a wicket without a run on the board. Enter Gerry who proceeded, almost single handed, to save the match. He had reached 103 when stumps were drawn with the hosts on 195-9. Only two others reached double figures, YMCA pair, international batsman Ian Lewis and all rounder Johnny Ridgeway. The rest struggled against a Dermot Monteith "5 for."
Gerry was again instrumental in saving the game against North West at Sydney Parade the following summer. He was unfortunately run out for 54 when on top of a varied attack. In 1968 against Ulster Town, he led the side, playing a captain's innings of 62* from a total of 95. He could not stave off defeat this time, his team-mates collapsing to the pace of Tim English (6-39).
Gerry gained 55 Irish caps between his debut, in a rain ruined draw with Scotland at Ormeau in 1953 and his finale against The Netherlands at Amstelveen in 1974. He scored 1123 runs at 18.11, with a highest score of 92 against MCC at Castle Avenue in 1970, besides taking 82 wickets at 19.23.
Some commentators have felt that he underperformed in an Irish sweater. Thus Siggins and Fitzgerald, who rightly include him in their "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats" comment that, "He peaked at international at level far less often than he should have done." However though he never made a hundred and had but one "5 for" to his credit, he was at a considerable disadvantage compared to today's players for much of his career.
He had to come out of weekend cricket, often with little preparation to play against county and Test sides as well as against opponents with whom Ireland was more evenly matched. In only his second game for Ireland he played a vital role in a two run victory. This was the MCC match at College Park in September 1954. This writer, a 10 year old fanatic, recalls sitting on the boundary edge, as, on a fine sunny day, Irish first innings wickets fell, to the formidable visiting medium pacers JHG Deighton and George Chesterton. Enter Gerry at 56-4. Well supported by Alf Cooper and then "Sonny" Hool, he made a commanding 44, driving Chesterton to the pavilion fence and hooking Deighton to the Nassau Street railings.
Fifty four years later, the image of him returning to the pavilion to the applause of a big crowd is still clear in the mind. Scott Huey spun Ireland to the narrowest of victories but Gerry's first innings made it possible. He also showed his batting prowess against Lancashire in College Park five years later. On a wicket which took spin from the start, and on which Scott Huey really troubled the County, former England left armer Malcolm Hilton and off spinner Roy Collins were too much for the Irish batsmen. Batting at 8, Gerry came in at 105-6 to finish on 30*, dominating a last wicket stand of 35 with Huey that gave Ireland some sort of respectability. The match was still to end in a heavy defeat, but Gerry had shown how well he could compete at this level.
An undefeated 55 v Scotland at Paisley the following year gave his country an untaken chance of a win by establishing a useful lead despite the presence in the hosts' attack of Jimmy Allan, a former Oxford Blue who had begun his first class career in 1953 by tying Keith Miller up in knots.
Another recovery innings was that against India at Castle Avenue in 1967, a match which Ireland eventually lost by 6 wickets but was, for much of the time, on level terms. That this came about was, in no small way, due to Gerry. Coming in at 55-5 after Ireland had won the toss, he soon saw another wicket go down before he and Ray Hunter added 96 for the 7th wicket. The Lisburn man hit a belligerent 48, while Gerry was undefeated on 52 when O'Riordan declared. Gerry had taken on the famous spin trio of Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghavan, and emerged triumphant, rolling out his shots as though he were playing on a Saturday afternoon at Rathmines.
However his most successful match as a batsman was the MCC game of 1970 at Castle Avenue. In Ireland's first innings of 238, he and Mike Reith (58) both made half centuries, Gerry eventually being bowled by leg spinner Alan Duff for 79, then his highest score for Ireland. Despite his efforts Ireland trailed on the first innings and were pushing for quick runs and a declaration on the third morning. Finding an unlikely 4th wicket partner in nightwatchman Ossie Colhoun, Gerry dominated the attack, being undefeated on 92 at the interval, with the stand worth 105. First ball after lunch, he was bowled by part time Middlesex seamer Ron Hooker, with the only ball of the entire match to misbehave. He was never to get so close to three figures again.
As a bowler his great day was a stormy September one, when the 1961 Australians came to Ormeau. Earning everyone's thanks for agreeing to play in a near hurricane, they were on 148-3, when Gerry joined the attack. He speedily removed the well set Norman O'Neill (85) and Richie Benaud (39) and, then disposing of four lesser batting lights, finished with the memorable figures of 6-29 in 13.2 overs. The future honey voiced maestro of TV commentary was induced to hit his wicket, tailender Lindsay Kline was stumped by the ever alert Colhoun, the remainder were caught, one, inevitably, by the bowler himself. Wisden commemorated the feat by referring to Gerry as, "Duffy, the Leinster off spinner."
When his long career finally came to an end Gerry concentrated on coaching, inspiring and educating many, towards the same enthusiasm as once caused him to practise bowling down the aisle of a Jumbo Jet. At length he felt there was no more he could do for Leinster, but soon took up a similar role with Merrion.
Here he was particularly impressed by a family of brothers and sisters who seemed to share all his hunger for the game. He did much to help them develop their considerable talents. Their name was Joyce.
He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats"
Edward Liddle, December 2008
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