AFTER a fairly run-of-the-mill summer of cricket in the North West, Sunday’s final day of the regular season proved to be arguably the most thrilling of the lot.
Written off before the day began, Strabane somehow managed to galvanise themselves and pull out one huge performance just when it was needed most.
Earlier this season they had gone to Beechgrove and been on the brink of stunning the title favourites before a century stand between former Red Caps Rachit Gaur and Jonny Robinson rained on their parade.
Narrow defeats to Eglinton, Coleraine and most recently Ballyspallen seemed to have ended any chance of them surviving in the top flight before that unexpected win on Sunday.
The victory came courtesy of a superb century from Chathura Peiris and a 5-wicket haul from Rhys Logue. The Sri Lankan would have been playing his last game for Strabane had they lost given that he wouldn’t have qualified to play in the second tier, however his time here may not yet now be done.
Tommy Barr’s men have a chance to maintain their status when they take on Burndennett in the play-off today albeit that will be a difficult game against a team who lost just once in the Championship this year.
And as well as Peiris, another man the Red Caps will be pinning their hopes on this Saturday is Peter Gillespie. Unlike the team professional however, the former Irish International insists this will be his last senior game for Strabane.
Now 45 years old, Gillespie is about to complete his 30th season at the Park and insists now is the time to step back.
“I had already decided long before the Brigade game that this was it, but I didn’t see any point in making a fuss,” he explained.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win everything it was possible to win domestically and to play 124 times for Ireland alongside some brilliant players.”
He will have enjoyed Sunday’s win no doubt, but he hesitated just a touch when asked about his favourite memory since that debut in 1989. And as a lifelong Liverpool fan, there was always going to be a ‘Reds’ analogy.
“I suppose I never wanted to be a cricket equivalent of Steven Gerrard – winning whatever was available but never winning your own league. It took a while but we managed to win three in six years once we got the first,” he beamed.
In terms of personal landmarks the former Strabane captain has recorded a total of 29 senior North West centuries as well as one in the green of Ireland. He has never really kept score in that regard but did give a wry smile when reminded that the International ‘ton’ – scored against the MCC in 2005, came off just 47 balls and remains the quickest ever scored by an Ireland International.
“I honestly never kept count and had no idea of those numbers, however I would admit that my hundred against Eglinton last year did mean something to me. I had scored hundreds as a teenager, in my 20s and also my 30s so to complete the set was important,” he acknowledged.
There are a couple of Faughan Valley Cup medals in the collection and one Senior Cup winner’s medal too – earned in the win over Brigade way back in 1993. If he was to choose one standout however it would be the All-Ireland winner’s medal he picked up in 1998.
“I would opt for that one because we won six matches in the competition that year – two against North West teams, two NCU and two Leinster. The latter games were both away as well – Malahide and YMCA – a couple of the strongest teams in the country at that time,” he remembered.
“It was as complete a performance as you could ask for in the competirion and it is something of which we were very proud.”
In terms of what happens next for Peter Gillespie, the future seems to be about development of others in the sport. He has been coaching in the NWCU underage set-up for the past 12 months and will be happy to continue if the Union requires his services going forward.
“Other than that I’m hoping the North West will take my ‘star’ off me so that I can play a few games in the seconds next season. I’ve done my stint in the First XI and the time is right to bow out at that level,” he added.
Yet while that may be the case, Peter has one more go left that he probably didn’t expect to get until Sunday. It is obviously an important game for both clubs, but in a way, there won’t be that much pressure on him individually than may have been the case in the past.
No doubt however that Burndennett would have preferred him to have gone already.