Matt Dwyer (MD) speaks to Jim Bennett (JB)
MD: Tell us about your background, please.
JB: I’m from Portlaoise, where my late father, Paddy, owned a pub and a grocery. I went to school in the local Christian Brothers’ School and after secondary school, I trained as a primary teacher in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. My first teaching job was in St Peter and Paul’s BNS, Balbriggan and after 1 year, I moved to St Colmcille’s BNS where I spent the rest of my teaching career.
MD: Portlaoise wouldn’t be known as a hotbed of cricket so how did you get interested in the game?
JB: I have always loved reading and sport, and the best sports literature is written about cricket so I read all about the great cricketers, Donald Bradman, Len Hutton, Wally Hammond, Peter May etc without ever seeing a game played. In the early 1960s, my father went to work in England, I went over to join him for the school holidays in 1963, and the West Indies team was in England on tour. The first live game of cricket that I ever saw was the West Indies playing Warwickshire. In that game, Gary Sobers got a century and Frank Worrell a 50. It was also a treat for me coming from one channel land to be able to watch the test matches on BBC TV, and I remember in particular the courage of Colin Cowdrey coming out to save a test with a broken arm, facing the bowling of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith.
MD: So that’s how your interest was stimulated, but how did you get involved in cricket at local level?
JB: I have two sons, Pat and James, and I used bowl to them in the back garden, but I didn’t know how to go about getting the lads into a club. Eventually, I brought Pat down to a local club, but it was very crowded so the opportunities for him to bat and bowl were very limited. We gave up on joining a cricket club, but then I had a chance meeting with Shay McGuinness who had worked with us in St Colmcille’s BNS and was now the Principal of Milverton NS. Shay said to bring Pat out to The Hills CC, and he’d introduce him to some of the club officials. Skerries was one of the places that Marie and I brought the two boys during the summer, so we knew where the Vineyard was. On his first evening in the Hills, Pat played for the U11s. The batting instructions from Michael Dwyer, his coach, were very simple. Don’t get out. (There was a five- run penalty at that stage for every wicket lost). He batted with Robert Hoare, his final score was 0*, and he was hooked. During the course of the next few weeks, we could not have been made more welcome by the members of the club, and it was suggested to me that we might like to look at the First team playing. I had always bought the Fingal Independent to keep up with local news as part of my day job, so I knew about the Hills’ Adult teams, but I had never seen them play. From that summer of 1994, the two lads played with the youth teams, and then we stayed on to watch the adult teams every Saturday and Sunday.
MD: How did you get involved in administration in the Hills CC?
JB: Partly because I couldn’t reverse my car out of the car park quickly enough, but seriously, the late Joe Clinton, a wonderful man, was running summer camps at the club, and seeing that I was doing nothing (?) during the summer, he asked me if I would give a hand. I collected the £1 and gave out the orange juice and rice krispie buns. Shortly after that I became the Hills’ Juvenile Representative to the LCU, and this meant that I was also involved in committee work at the Hills. I was greatly honoured to be elected President of the Hills CC in 2001 and I served in that office until 2015.
MD: You have also been involved in administrative roles in Cricket Leinster and Cricket Ireland?
JB: Yes, I served as Chair of the Youth Committee of Cricket Leinster from 2000 to 2002, and I was Chair of Cricket Ireland’s Youth Committee from 2003 to 2015. I was very fortunate to be involved in youth cricket at that time because there were some wonderful cricketers coming through, Ireland was playing in international youth tournaments, and the All-Ireland Youth Club competitions had become very prestigious events.
MD: Can you give me some of your cricketing highlights?
Certainly. There have been many. Everything about The Hills winning the Cup at the Vineyard in 1996 was brilliant. The newly erected pavilion looked fantastic, there was a marquee for the great and the good, the sun shone, the Hills scored 200 runs and won handsomely. Winning the Bob Kerr Irish Cup for the first time in 2012 was an incredibly emotional occasion for us. At a family level, I will always remember an U15 game at Eglinton between Ireland and Scotland in which James, my younger son, was playing. He had scored a duck on the previous day, was dropped twice in this game before he scored a run, and his lack of form was putting pressure on the players at the other end so Eoin Morgan and Gary Wilson were both out, trying to make up for him. Eventually, a spinner came on to bowl and he hit him for three successive fours. I was standing at the machine shed during all this time, terrified to move. Ireland won, and he ended up on 54*. A great day. I could go on and on, but for me, every day at The Vineyard, with the sun shining, being among friends and watching cricket is a highlight.
MD: That’s the cricket stuff exhausted. I’m going to ask you a few quick questions.
Favourite Film: The Great Escape and High Noon. (I know you only asked for one).
Favourite Singer: I love music, but you only asked for one, so I’ll say Luciano Pavarotti.
Last Book Read: Arsene Wenger’s Autobigraphy, My Life in Red
Favourite Food: Steak (medium to well-done)
Favourite Dessert: Ice cream
Favourite Cakes: Mrs Kitteringham’s scones
Favourite Meal: Breakfast (a fry, the healthy option)
Favourite Holiday Destination: Newcastle, Co. Down
Favourite Football Team: Manchester United (not as passionate about United as I was in the days of Best, Charlton, and Law).
Ambitions: For my family and me to stay healthy.
MD: Any other thoughts?
I’ll always be grateful to the members of the Hills CC for making us so welcome. With God’s help, there will be many more years when we can enjoy looking at cricket in the Vineyard, one of my favourite places in the whole world. Thanks very much to you, Mr Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to have this chat with you. To all of the Hills’ members and friends, thank you and stay safe.
Jim, may I say a big thank you to you and your family from all at The Hills CC.
We wish you every success in your new post with CL and let’s hope we can all share some time together during the 2021 cricket season.