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Tribute: Legend Alfie Linehan was class act on the cricket pitch and off it

 

Major contribution: Alfie Linehan has passed away at the age of 79
Major contribution: Alfie Linehan has passed away at the age of 79

By Ian Callender

Former Ireland captain and Downpatrick legend Alfie Linehan died yesterday after a long illness. He was 79.

Although he played only 11 times for Ireland, he was captain in his last six games in 1974 and 1975, winning two, losing two and drawing two.

A big-hitting batsman, who always entertained when at the crease, Alfie would have been one of the first names on the team-sheet in the T20 arena today, but 45 years ago it was strictly red-ball and multi-day cricket.

In a 30-year career with his home club he won five league titles and played in six NCU Challenge Cup finals for Downpatrick, captaining them in 1963 against Muckamore, and was in the ranks alongside his brother Hugh three years later when they beat Lisburn, the first of his three wins.

His other final appearances were in 1971, '77, '82 and '84, the last three of which were at Downpatrick's home ground in Strangford Road.

Mind you, it was always The Meadow (the correct name for the ground) to Alfie, as he frequently told me whenever I dared to give it its most popular name.

Alfie played for Downpatrick well into his 40s and picked up another winner's medal in 1984, when he top scored with 58 in the second innings against North of Ireland, and the following year he played in the fourth Irish Cup final, alongside Hugh and his nephew Paul when they beat North Down at The Meadow.

After his playing career he became chairman of the Ireland selectors, president of the old Irish Cricket Union in 1993 and held both top offices in the Northern Cricket Union, chairman in 1988-89 and president 10 years later. He was made a life member in 2004.

Paying tribute to his great friend, with whom he travelled the world watching cricket, Robin Walsh said yesterday: "The great paradox of Alfie Linehan was to be found in his disposition on the field and off it. In the middle, his was a belligerent style, hitting the ball longer than anyone else, compiling his runs in a manner that kept the scorers busy. Yet this domineering , almost bullying, approach belied a gentle man off it: soft spoken, never a word that offended, never a word against him."

By his side for the last 50 years has been his beloved wife Mary, who even spent their wedding day, in August 1970, watching Alfie playing cricket - married in the morning, cricket in the afternoon, reception in the evening and honeymoon departure the following day. Vintage Alfie.

He will be missed at every ground in Ireland but nowhere more so than at The Meadow where there will always be a seat in Alfie's memory.

To Mary and the family circle, my sincere condolences.

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