It’s the morning after a local lad led England to a World Cup final on the other side of the Irish Sea and a few of the natives have gathered where it all began.
They are here to watch a one-day game on the quaint pitch in the tiny coastal town of Rush, 15 miles or so to the north of Dublin. There are a dozen or more of them under the cloudy sky, chatting away before the cricket gets going.
On one side of the outfield at Rush Cricket Club is the Irish Under 15s girls team. Warming up on the other are the girls of Leinster Under 17s, next to where the boundary line suddenly loops in on itself to navigate a small clubhouse.
Eoin Morgan, pictured aged 12 in an Irish jersey, will captain England in Sunday’s final at Lord’s
‘Not sure this game will go the distance,’ says Matt Sheridan, former club president, secretary, player, coach and raconteur. He’s seen a few folk pass through over the years but because one of them was Eoin Morgan, he lets out the happiest of chuckles.
‘His game was over pretty quick as well, hey?’ comes the punchline.
He’s Irish, via Wales, but any victory for Morgan in the shirt of England feels like a victory for this tiny enclave of cricket in a town and country that remains largely indifferent. When Morgan wins, they win; when England beat Australia in a Cricket World Cup semi-final with 18 overs to spare, and Morgan hits the winning runs, they feel nothing but pride.
And so the plans are already being drawn up for Sunday. If Morgan can lead a successful assault on New Zealand then one of Rush’s own will join Martin Johnson and Bobby Moore in England’s limited club of World Cup- winning captains.
Morgan seen celebrating with Joe Root (left) after England beat Australia in a World Cup semi
‘We’ll be coming into the clubhouse here on Sunday morning,’ says Sheridan. ‘We’ll have a nice little group of 40 or 50 members sitting and having a watch on the TV. The only issue is the start time is somewhat contrary to the licencing laws in Ireland because we are not allowed to open the bar until about 12.30pm. Might have to have lemonade or something. Oh dear.’
They’ll all be toasting the red-head boy from five minutes up the road on the Saint Catherine’s Estate. He hasn’t lived in these parts for 20-some years, but Rush Cricket Club is part of him and he is a big part of them.
His father, Jody, captained the third team and has his picture on the wall, his older brothers Gavin and Gareth played here as well, and so did his sisters Laura and Gwen. Only one of the six siblings, Eoin’s younger brother Evan, didn’t take to the family hobby.
‘It was more than a hobby to them — it was an obsession,’ Sheridan says. ‘They would all be here playing cricket whenever they could. Their father, Jody, would be here and they would all follow. He was passionate about the game — I wouldn’t say he was the most technical of players, a bit of a thumper with the bat, but he loved it.’
One story goes that Jody missed Evan’s birth as he was mid-innings for Rush. ‘Someone from the family would always be here,’ Sheridan adds. ‘I remember the first time I saw Eoin turn up, walking through the car park with a bat that was about as tall as him. After that, I never stopped seeing him.’
Morgan (pictured bottom row, third from the right) grew up in Ireland and played for Rush CC
The tales are well worn — there was the time Eoin, aged three, escaped from home when unattended and started on the 15-minute walk to the cricket ground on a mission to see his dad. ‘He was picked up on his way,’ Sheridan says.
There was also the business of how he would hog the strike.
‘Our youngest age group was Under 11s and Eoin was always the best player. He would have started in there at whatever age he was, six or seven, and you would go in pairs, four overs a pair. I always remember Eoin going in with one of his sisters and he would be there, crash, bang, wallop, 30 off five balls, then he would nudge for one and keep the strike for the next over. His sister never got to face a ball.’
The place has only changed slightly since the Morgans left the area to get closer to Dublin when he was 11. One alteration is the nets now have two tracks and each has stumps; back in the day this delightfully basic club was even simpler.
‘There was one concrete strip and a beer keg,’ Sheridan says. ‘People laugh at that but a keg is a bigger target to defend than some little stumps. Maybe that is where Eoin got it.’
Maybe he did. Indeed, it is possible to wonder about much of what Morgan took from his upbringing in Ireland, where cricket is very much a minority sport. Hurling, gaelic football, rugby, football —they rule in these parts. Cricket? At best it is loved in small pockets; at worst, it is a game that draws unfortunate connotations in certain aspects of society.
Morgan himself spoke recently in a documentary into his roots about how it was seen in Ireland as ‘English or British’ and how, in light of the Troubles, could be problematic.
Left-hander Morgan seen in action for Ireland against Canada at St Augustine, Trinidad in 2007
Morgan, though. has always been stubbornly committed to his path, given this is an individual who declared at 13 to Irish officials that he wanted to play for England. Perhaps predictably, his eventual transition a decade ago was not something that was entirely accepted in Ireland, and evidently still isn’t.
‘I think the cricket community appreciate and understand the reason he moved because at the time Irish cricket couldn’t provide the career paths that he had in mind,’ Sheridan says. ‘Those who don’t know cricket will see that as a betrayal of your nationality but anyone who knows cricket will defend him.’
It is nonetheless interesting that Morgan’s profile in Rush is reasonably low. Even on his former street, just yards from a concrete strip where he mastered his straight drives, two newer occupants were none the wiser to who he was on Friday. ‘That’s a cricket thing in this area,’ Sheridan says. ‘It’s not hurling so they don’t quite feel it.’
To him and others at Rush CC, the feeling is just pride. Pride that Morgan made a name for himself. Pride when he didn’t go to Bangladesh a few years back for security fears. Pride that he has led another country to the brink of the World Cup. Pride that it all started on their little pitch near the sea.