Peter Gillespie Interview February 2, 2007

Keeping it in the family

You might think that for a young boy growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, cricket wouldn't feature too prominently on his list of extra-curricular activities.

More international cricket can only benefit Ireland, says Peter Gillespite © Getty Images
You might think that for a young boy growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, cricket wouldn't feature too prominently on his list of extra-curricular activities. But for Peter Gillespie, the Ireland allrounder, choosing to play the sport was more lifestyle choice.

He was one of four Gillespies turning out for Strabane's first XI, the remainder made up of three other families: the Pattons, two Stewarts and two Porters. Cricket runs through the community's veins, in spite of Catholicism being the town's predominant religion.

"You wouldn't normally associate cricket with Catholics," he said after a training session at the Aga Khan ground this week. "It's more a protestant sport in Northern Ireland. There were always British army troops based in Northern Ireland and Strabane and, perhaps, they would've brought it with them. But it's always had an affection with the locals and it's been played by all traditions in Strabane.

"Cricket helped me see the world, but it also helped me see a new outlook - especially growing through a lot of turmoil in Northern Ireland and our town. Cricket was a get-out clause. I was able to get to know all types of different people, backgrounds and religions and it helped me broaden my outlook in general."

Might his life have taken a dangerous, darker route without the influence and diversion of cricket? 'What ifs' are not the most incisive of questions but, in Gillespie's case, the question has added poignancy; it hangs in the air for several telling moments but he responds with assuredness and honesty.

"Yes. It could've happened. Although I guess that might have affected my brothers more than me," he said. "They were born in the 1960s - but we were all just really fortunate to have cricket. We had a vision and a focus, what our parents wanted. It was a way of life for us. It was a social club more than a cricket club - a focal point for our lives for a very long time."

Gillespie's story, while not unique, is rare. The lure of football for Ireland's teenagers is still strong and cricket's interest remains in the minority. The two primary schools near Gillespie's home in Strabane were the fortunate recipients of his father's generous offer to provide facilities at the club for the children two use. The schools took up the offer and, consequently, a number of first XI players were born, for want of a better phrase.

The responsibility should not be on a club captain to nurture young talent but Gillespie is philosophical about the plight of Irish cricket. "Cricket is well down the list [of popular sports], hence our struggles for funding and sponsorship...but what do you do? If you love playing something and you're good at it, you continue playing."

From Strabane to Nairobi, Gillespie passionately believes the Associates desperately need to play each other much more often - a trend among all the players in the tournament.

"We need to be playing as much as possible," he said. "The last time we played Bermuda was in the ICC Trophy in 2005 [when] they had probably come off playing mainly club cricket. But in the intervening years they've probably played more international cricket than us; they've had a lot of exposure since we last played and they've closed the gap on us.

"When we first played them, they needed to improve - and they have. That's the great thing about being in the top six - the extra exposure, the extra funding, more high quality games."

There have been high quality games, too. Scotland shocked Ireland with a last ball win this week and, today, Ireland again snatched defeat, this time from Kenya. There is no doubting the passion among the Associate nations. But where will the next Peter Gillespie, Eoin Morgan or Niall O'Brien come from? You wouldn't bet against Strabane, but you wouldn't want to rely on it either.

Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo