Brendan Donaghey could have been one of the greatest Irish batsmen of his - or possibly any other - generation. He was certainly one of the most outstanding in the North West of the last fifty years. Small of stature and wonderfully quick on his feet, he was, according to Joe Doherty, a former team-mate and seasoned observer of the game in the area, "the original wristy player." Possessed of boundless self confidence, he was happiest on the back foot, excelling in the pull and hook, but he had all the shots, using them to put the best attacks to the sword. Yet this "marvellous, marvellous batsman," as Doherty called him, played only three times for Ireland, for which many reasons have been advanced. He was accused of being uncooperative over availability, and of speaking his mind too freely. On the other hand the Irish Cricket Union has been accused of poor man management, while it has also been suggested that the root of the problem lay in the ICU's refusal to pay his expenses. Whatever the reason, and this writer has no wish to take sides, the result was that Ireland was deprived for many years of a potentially magnificent player. He first made the news as a 14 year old in typically aggressive style. A sunlit mid June afternoon in 1955 saw him race to 131 in a school match, then, turning out for Sion 1st XI later in the evening, destroy the Strabane attack in a Faughan Valley Cup match, reaching an undefeated 70. He had already won his spurs for the Villagers the previous summer, helping the Seconds take the Intermediate Cup with 37 against Eglinton in the Final, thus contributing well towards a 60 run victory.
He continued to show his worth in cup cricket in the years ahead. In the 1957 Final of the NW Senior Cup against Strabane at Beechgrove he made 61 towards a cup record opening stand of 180. His partner Aubrey Finlay made 137, but Brendan, a 16 year old, lost little in comparison with him. Four years later, he chose an NCU first round match for a brilliant display. The game, against Waringstown, formidable opponents if not quite the force they were to become, ended in a tie with each side scoring 218. Sion would not have made theirs without Brendan's chanceless 103*. Sion won the replay but then lost to Lisburn. Brendan was seen at his best again the following year in an NWCU semi final v Brigade, who totalled a useful 165. They then took early wickets before Brendan produced, according to Billy Platt, "some of the best cricket seen all season." His 74 was an innings of utter domination, ensuring a five wicket win. By 1963, he had "moved down the road", to join Strabane. The runs continued to come, a 79 against Limavady in his first season, giving Strabane their first win over that opposition for five years. Most observers consider, however, that his best innings for the club was in 1966, when he struck a superb 118 against Ardmore in the NWCU Cup Final. In 1975, he returned to Sion. Perhaps typically, he did not do so without controversy. On 28 June in a League match against Limavady, he scored 104* to enable Sion reach 246-7, before Ray Moan bowled the opposition out. However the Cup semi final with St Johnston the following week caused trouble. Sion won with some ease thanks to Moan making a fine 98, but Strabane had not cleared Brendan to play. He was deemed to have been ineligible, Sion were thrown out of the competition, and deducted League points as well. Nevertheless they still won the League.
In his 40s Brendan moved again, joining Western Counties, soon to be rebranded as North Fermanagh in 1982. Together with the West Indian professional, Jamaican and Test batsman Everton Matthis, he dominated opposition attacks, ensuring that his club gained promotion to senior status for the first time. To most observers he seemed to have lost little of his old skill. Long time watchers of the game pondered deeply which of the two was the better batsman. When they decided... it was not the Jamaican.
Brendan played only three seasons of Guinness Cup cricket for North West after the tournament was inaugurated in 1966. He was one of the successes in the first year but did not quite repeat this thereafter. In that first summer, with two Irish caps to his name, he scored 173 runs in three matches with an average of 57.66, top scoring in each of his innings. His highest was 70 against Munster at Sion Mills, with the visitors making their long journey worthwhile by just holding on for a draw. Brendan's wicket fell to the Bradford League paceman Dennis Leng, whom induced him to give a catch to a pair of hands renowned for their safety in other fields, those of TJ Kiernan. Brendan had already played the key innings of the opening match against Ulster Country, making a typical 65 before being caught by Lawrence Hunter off Roy Harrison, has contributed largely to a five wicket win.
His three matches for Ireland revealed his potential without being outstanding. Few on seeing them, would have predicted that his career would be so brief. His debut came against Pakistan in a rain affected two day draw in College Park in July 1962. He started with a duck, batting third wicket down, one of a five wicket top order haul for medium pacer Antao de Souza: Stan Bergin, Alec O'Riordan, Herbie Martin and Ian Lewis being the others. In the second innings Brendan came in at 6, as Ireland pressed for a declaration. He had time to rollout a couple of trademark back foot shots before the closure came.
He retained his place for the MCC match at Lord's, but found himself low in the order at 8. Nevertheless he contributed a sparkling 32, before being dismissed by underrated off spinner Eric Bedser, caught by former South African batsman Russell Endean. In the second he was smartly stumped by a young Cambridge blue, standing up to the medium fast amateur Richard Bowman formerly of Oxford and Lancashire. The fledgling gloveman was a certain JM Brearley! The match, like that with Pakistan, ended in a draw.
Five years were to elapse before Brendan returned to the Irish side v Worcestershire at Sydney Parade. He fell victim in each innings to Worcestershire's left arm spinners. In the first he was stumped by Roy Booth off Doug Slade for 8. In the second he topscored with 37, before being bowled by Norman Gifford, the Test man achieving figures of 17 - 13 - 9 - 3, as Ireland just held out for a draw.
Andrew Brendan Donaghey was not to play for his country again. It is surely to be greatly regretted that a meeting of minds, or whatever else was necessary, did not come about, so that this "marvellous, marvellous batsman" could have been seen more often in Irish colours. He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."