Dermott Monteith, Ireland’s greatest wicket-taker and one of the most indomitable personalities ever to grace the cricket circuit, died at home, in his sleep, on Saturday night. He was 66.
His death comes just three days after Kyle McCallan, Ireland’s most capped player and, for a while, considered the best off spinner in Europe, announced his retirement. Monteith’s self-opinion was that, at his own peak, he was the third best left arm spinner in the world behind Bishen Bedi and Dilip Joshi. No-one dared disagree.
Dermott Monteith was the maverick cricketer good enough to not only captain Ireland 37 times but also to play county cricket for two years with Middlesex.
Although he went to school at RBAI, it was Lisburn where he played his club cricket, breaking into the all-conquering Wallace Park side in the late 1950s as a teenager. He played his first NCU Challenge Cup final as an 18 year old in 1961 against Woodvale at Ormeau, taking 10 wickets in the match. He would play in five more cup finals, captaining two, but lost them all, his last in 1977.
By the time Lisburn reached the final again, in 1985, Monteith’s career had been cut off, if not in its prime then certainly with plenty more to give, the victim of a hit-and run accident at the start of that year. For months it was not just his cricket career which had been ended, his life was in danger.
But Dermott fought his way through that personal battle and even attempted a comeback but it was to be off the field that he would continue to give to Irish cricket.
He had won the first of his 76 international caps in 1965, fittingly against MCC at Lord’s where he would play his county cricket 16 years later. Batting at No 4, he scored a half century on debut but, remarkably, didn’t bowl.
Nowadays, Ireland cricketers can chalk up 76 appearances in barely two years. It took Dermott 19 summers. He missed 25 matches including Ireland’s most famous at the time, at Sion Mills when the West Indies were dismissed for 25. Although his bowling would not have been needed in that match, no one has bowled more overs for Ireland.
With one-day games almost non-existent during the majority of Dermott’s international career, Monteith bowled 2,404 overs, 267 more than McCallan who played exactly 150 extra games! In three successive matches in 1971, he took 37 wickets, as many as most bowlers take in a season. He finished his international career with a staggering 326.
He averaged only 20 with the bat but he rarely went in above No 8 and his highest score was 95, in what was to be his last match.
From 1989 to 2001 he was an outspoken Irish selector, a spell interrupted in 1999 when he was a proud ICU president.
Even “off duty” Dermott would pay his own way to away Ireland matches — he even went to the ICC Trophy in Malaysia in 1997 — and his late-night sessions with fellow selectors Roy Torrens, the late Ronnie Lawlor and yours truly, when we sorted out all the problems of Irish cricket were legendary and, for me, it was always a delight to be in his company.
It was never easy to make friends with Dermott — he didn’t have many close ones — so it was an honour that he took me under his wing, as a young, enthusiastic reporter, and gave me the benefit of his experience and vast knowledge of the game. He had forgotten more than I will ever know about the sport but if I can keep his memory alive in the years ahead, it will be a privilege.
Dermott was never the same after his accident and a heart attack some years ago was a setback from which he would not fully recover. Indeed, he was too ill last year to attend his wife Pamela's funeral.
He is survived by his two sons and a daughter, two sisters and his brother Roger, an inter-provincial cricketer. Ian Callender