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Hat-trick of Ireland heroes have played their last match

By Ian Callender

The end of a season invariably signals the end of a few careers but last weekend no fewer than three former Ireland internationals announced their retirement from club cricket.

Gordon Cooke, who played for Ireland between 1994 and 2005 - his last match was the ICC Trophy final against Scotland - played his final game for Coleraine on Sunday and, much like his farewell international appearance which ended in defeat, the Bannsiders loss at Beechgrove ended their reign as North West Premiership champions.

But Cooke's career was anything but a failure. The highlight at international level was the 1996 season when he played every match in Ireland's Triple Crown and European Championship successes - although he was just as proud in 2004 when coach Adi Birrell recalled him to the Ireland team after an absence of four years - and at club level he lifted a winners' medal in every competition in the North West, including six league titles in a row with Limavady.

Dave Langford-Smith was Ireland's opening bowler at their first World Cup in 2007 in the West Indies. He had made his debut for Ireland only 11 months earlier, another inspired selection by Birrell, and he took three wickets in Ireland's first ODI, against England at Stormont, his first being that of one Ed Joyce.

At the World Cup, he celebrated each of his seven wickets with the Ferret Dance - captain Trent Johnston did the Chicken Dance - but less than a year later his international career was over, as he returned to Australia.

At club level, DLS had long service with Phoenix before ending up at Merrion where he had a winning climax in the Irish Cup final against Waringstown.

Alex Cusack also quit at the top on Sunday when he helped Clontarf retain the Leinster League title and, right to the very end, he was making a significant contribution, hitting the winning six, after taking three wickets.

Only 35 - six years younger than Cooke, and born four years after Langford-Smith - Cusack had to play through the pain barrier in the last couple of seasons, forcing him to quit the international arena in July last year, after 176 matches but much earlier than Ireland could afford.

He took 10 wickets at the World T20 qualifiers but will be remembered most for the innings in Bangalore at the 2011 World Cup when he shared a stand of 162 with Kevin O'Brien on the day Ireland beat England.

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