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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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'Mindless vandals destroyed our pitch but they're not going to ruin our club'

Four years of hard work and €6,500 has gone up in smoke but Cabinteely Cricket Club are desperately shifting through the wreckage for salvation.

The whole playing surface is now completely beyond repair
The whole playing surface is now completely beyond repair

PAT FINNERTY IS a busy, and tireless, man. Having just collected his grandchildren from school, our conversation had barely begun before there was a ring at the door.

“Sorry, I have to take this,” he apologises. It’s one of his colleagues from Cabinteely Football Club, where he is Director of Coaching, dropping off kit for the weekend. After the momentary interruption, we resume our chat – “You have my undivided attention now,” he jokes.

It’s only a matter of time before his phone, or doorbell, rings again. Administering the youth ranks of a club with more than 54 underage teams is a full-time job in everything but name, and pay packet, yet dividing his time between numerous projects is something he evidently relishes.

Not only has Pat been the driving force behind one of the capital’s largest underage clubs for two decades but he’s been responsible for the rebirth of the athletics club in Kilbogget Park in addition to founding, and now running, Cabinteely Cricket Club from scratch in 2012.

But at a time when the club’s senior team and two junior sides should be fine-tuning preparations for their fourth season in existence they instead find themselves back at square one.

No more than six weeks have passed since he received a call late one Tuesday night to say there were flames coming from his cricket pitch. Sadly, incidents of vandalism to the twelve football playing surfaces in Kilbogget Park are not uncommon – it comes with the territory – but this was an act of mindless, almost unimaginable, delinquency which has left Pat, and the club he worked so hard to establish, sifting through the wreckage for salvation.

screenshot-1423153966-28190-752x501 The artificial pitch after the first night of vandalism

Twenty-four hours after the same group of vandals had hauled two bins across the road from the local supermarket and set them alight on the artificial wicket, they then returned to finish the job with an accelerant.

The artificial pitch he had strained tirelessly to have installed by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council with the intent of developing the sport in the community is now unusable and, just as significantly, unrepairable. Four years of work and €6,500 in council grants up in smoke, literally.

“It kills everyone,” he concedes. “It’s beyond belief, just mindless young lads acting the maggot. People will suggest it’s racially motivated but I honestly don’t think these guys have the intelligence to work that out.

“There have always been problems in the area. There are paths going through the park to the housing estates via the shops meaning there’s always people walking through. We’ve had motorbikes on pitches, goalposts set on fire, the list is endless.”

It’s a concern that invariably burdens the handful of clubs in Leinster who play their cricket on communal turf. At present, there are seven public parks around the province set to host league cricket this season and Cricket Leinster are continually working in association with local councils to locate and develop grounds for clubs to become embedded in the community and establish themselves as stable organisations.

While an unused field fits the bill perfectly, Cabinteely’s plight is first-hand evidence, albeit an extreme case, of the challenges and nuisances facing new clubs even when they’ve found a ground to call home. Cricket Leinster admit the last few years have been a ‘learning process’ as the sport’s surge in popularity has resulted in a demand for suitable locations.

Cabinteely are one of the clubs to have sprouted during the recent bloom. After a chance conversation on the touchline with a parent of one of the kids he was coaching, Pat Finnerty’s ambition to bring cricket to the suburb of South County Dublin was realised.

Pat Pat Finnerty collecting his volunteer award last year Source: Cabinteely FC

“I never played cricket but as a sports fanatic became interested and fascinated in it a couple of years ago after watching a series between England and India,” he recalls. “I was ill and had to sit at home for a month and I just began watching the Test matches and enjoyed it so much.”

For all intents and purposes, Kilbogget was a venue with potential. The ground was flanked by a profusion of football, rugby and gaelic pitches, surrounded by a conveyor belt of walkers and joggers and enclosed by a multitude of clubhouses – it’s the ultimate sporting hotbed and cricket was part of it.

That, in essence, was part of the appeal. The hope was that Pat’s involvement and leverage within the other clubs would lead to an intercorrelation between memberships and cricket’s standing within the community would eventually reflect his own vision for the sport in Kilbogget.

With the help of co-founders Krishna Mohan and Bart Connolly, a grant was eventually secured to have an artificial pitch installed. It was the break they required to get up and running but now, four years down the line, Cabinteely find themselves engulfed in air of uncertainty.

screenshot.1428142408.19632 Four years and €6,500 up in smoke after one mindless act of vandalism Source: Susheel Kumar/Twitter

A succession of unsavoury incidents served as an indication of what was to transpire in February. Last year, a group of teenagers interrupted a league game by sitting on the mat before becoming aggressive when they were asked to kindly leave by the players. You can probably fill in the colourful language using your own imagination.

Despite it all, these are isolated disturbances and Cricket Leinster insist lessons have been learned from past experiences to ensure they are better equipped to solve these issues when they arise. However, there is only so much they can do.

After discussions with the council and the pitch company, all parties agreed putting in another mat at a cost of a further €6,500 in the same location would only be asking for trouble.

“It’s devastating that we have to move out of Kilbogget because we don’t want whoever did this to think we’re being forced out through vandalism,” Pat continues.

“It’s okay if you have money to throw around but realistically you’d be out of your mind to go back up there.”

The question is, where do they go? Part of the club’s original proposition was to make Cabinteely Park their permanent home but considerable work needs to be carried out on the location in order to level the playing surface and make it suitable for cricket. That project is in the pipeline but it remains several years away from fruition yet.

It’s an exciting development but whether there is a cricket club still in existence by the time the funds and manpower becomes available for building to commence is uncertain. Last week, a meeting with the top brass of Blackrock Rugby Club about the possibility of using their Stradbrook complex as the club’s temporary ground fell through when the Irish Rugby Football Union intervened over safety concerns.

Time is ticking. With just a handful of weeks until the new season, a cursory glance of the fixtures for Division 12 still shows Cabinteely’s opening home fixture, against Greystones, is listed for Kilbogget Park on the second weekend of May – perhaps they could play a game of football instead.

Yet, for all the disorder of the last month, Pat remains admirably optimistic. Having been presented with the Long Service Volunteer Award by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown last year, he’ll probably deserve another one if he can get Cabinteely back on their feet in time for the 2015 season. But his final message is telling:

“We’re still looking.”

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Ryan Bailey

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