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Edward Liddle's International Profiles
Alphonsus (Alfie) James Linehan
  • Born 20 April 1940 Dublin
  • Died 25 June 2019, Downpatrick
  • Educated St Patrick's CBS, Downpatrick.
  • Occupation Farmer
  • Debut 21 August 1971 v Combined Services at Portsmouth
  • Cap Number 520
  • Style Right hand batsman.
  • Teams Downpatrick

Alfie Linehan, a very popular and good natured figure in Irish Cricket, was a burly, thick set, hard hitting batsman, who, often in company with his more stylish brother Hugh, made visiting bowlers to Strangford Road, "rue the day that they were born." Unfortunately, he was not always able to transfer this form on to a wider stage. He did not score prolifically in Guinness Cup matches for Ulster Country, and, only occasionally showed his true form for Ireland.

Hitting out against Woodvale
During his time, Downpatrick reached the final of the NCU Challenge Cup on five occasions, winning three times. Unsurprisingly, Alfie played an important part in these triumphs. Thus in 1966 at Ormeau, the Co Down side overcame Lisburn by 140 runs, Alfie hitting a second innings 42, which enabled his side to consolidate a big lead. Noel Ferguson made certain of victory, getting 9-78 in the match with his low arm medium pacers.

Then in 1984, in the evening of his career, he "rolled back the years" with a typically aggressive second innings 58 against NICC at Strangford Road, outshining prolific Indian professional Kamal Marchant who made 54. Downpatrick won by 27 runs. Alfie's batting also played a key part in Downpatrick's five League (one shared) titles during his career, but it was perhaps most fitting that he should have been at the wicket when the club won the All Ireland Cup (then the Schweppes) in 1986. Rain made a mockery of some of the early rounds with bowl outs predominating, and the final, postponed once, was played on a wet, slow, Strangford Road wicket, against North Down, one of the "king pins" of the tournament in its opening decades. The visitors were put in and could manage only 79 in 47 overs. Downpatrick found the going no easier, and "were just as slow in reply until Alfie Linehan finished the match off with a few big hits." (ICU Yearbook).

Alfie also shone in earlier rounds of the Cup. Thus in the following season, 1985, by which time he was, of course, Ireland's team manager, he hit a brilliant 118 against Holywood. The seasiders' attack was destroyed as Alfie and prolific professional Kamal Merchant (70*) posted a third wicket stand of 184, enabling Downpatrick to reach 238-6. The visitors were never really in the hunt thereafter, falling for 120. However the Strangford Road side were to go out in the semi final. losing a tight match by one wicket to NICC, even though Alfie top scored with 41. However it had been against those same opponents back in 1958 that the 18 year old Alfie had smashed his way to a typically robust 101 enough to see off the visitors to Strangford Road, despite a cultured knock from Stuart Pollock.

Alfie's sportsmanship and general attitude to cricket meant that he, and his like minded brother Hugh, was both in frequent demand for Leprechauns fixtures against schools and other sides. However one of his best Leprechauns games was in what might be termed South v North fixture in July 1973, between members of the famous wandering club when the President (Jack Sterry's) XI took on a northern side under the banner of JS Pollock's XI. Played at Rathmines, it was a low scoring fixture with the Northern batsmen struggling against the pace of Clontarf's Paddy Murphy and the nagging slow medium left arm of Niall McConnell. Not one to be tied down, however, Alfie made a quick 38, one of only three double figure scores in JSP's XI's innings, which finished on 138. The Southerners struggled in return against a varied attack, with players of the calibre of David Pigot and Gerry Duffy failing. They were 110-8 when stumps were pulled up.

Alfie's debut for Ireland, overdue in the view of Downpatrick fans who would also have had Hugh capped, came in 1971 against Combined Services at Portsmouth. He was one of the few batsmen to move a slow scoring match along, with a first innings 22, in typical fashion. However Ireland were unable to force a win despite a 13 wicket haul for Dermott Monteith. It was in his next match for Ireland, a drawn match with Denmark at Aalborg, that Alfie found his true form. The match, played on a matting wicket, was ruined by rain, Ireland being without Monteith and Ivan Anderson, were below strength. Batting first they had no answer to the hostile bowling of Ole Mortensen, a giant paceman, who took over 400 first class wickets for Derbyshire between 1983 and 1992, when he was considered by some to be past his peak. Ireland were put out for 66, Alfie being among a string of failures. The Danes declared on 113-7 leaving Ireland to bat to save the match. That they did so was in no small way due to Alfie, who promoted to 4, batted with uncharacteristic caution for a long time, before opening up. He finished on 61*, having made 34 in his last three overs including three 6s. Regrettably, he never batted so well again.

Alfie (right) with ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed

He played a further nine matches, six of them as captain, but aggregated only 262 runs all told at 15.41. His only other innings of substance in a cap match was v MCC at Rathmines in 1974. MCC totalled 287, (former Hampshire captain and brilliant batsman Roy Marshall getting 57), then their opening bowlers, Transvaal seamer John Matthews and former Dublin University left armer Adrian Naughten reduced Ireland to 30-5. However Alfie in his second match as captain then joined Stan Mitchell. The pair added 58 for the sixth, Alfie top scoring with 45. Good batting by MCC and a shrewd declaration by Fred Millett, led to the visitors winning by 49 runs. On the Sunday of the match a one day non cap match between the two sides was played at College Park under Gillette Cup rules. It ended in a tie largely due to Alfie top scoring with 43 and holding the tail together, after a productive stand with Mitchell, foreshadowed their partnership on the following day.

These innings apart however, his bating disappointed and the following season he lost both the captaincy, awarded for the fourth time to Alec O'Riordan, and his place in the side . Alfie had been a not unsuccessful skipper with a final record of P6 W2 D2 L2. He was not seen in an Irish team again, though he continued to play senior cricket for Downpatrick, for many years. When he finally retired, he was seen in the game's administration at club, provincial and national level. Chairman of the NCU in 1988-89, he was President ten years later. President of the Irish Cricket Union in 1992, he has also been Downpatrick President on several occasions, being currently (2008) in office. He also had a spell as manager of the Irish side and fulfilled this role on NCU tours, besides being seen as one of the best coaches in the NCU area.

No account of Alfie's career would be complete without reference to other members of his family. His brother Hugh, who died while still a comparatively young man was also a prolific batsman for Downpatrick. An elegant player, considered by some to be the more complete batsman, he could be counted unlucky not to have joined his brother in the national side. Hugh's son Paul captained the NCU U15 XI on its Staffordshire tour of 1984, and, in that same summer averaged 67 in the U15 interprovincial tournament, scoring 90 v Munster and 95 v Leinster. He is still a very useful cricketer, being the current Downpatrick 2nd XI captain. Hugh's daughter Anne has been a member of the Irish Women's team since 1989 as a wicket keeper batter, and occasional bowler. She also played in Ireland's only Test Match in which an emphatic victory was gained over Pakistan. She made 25* in her only innings.

Alphonsus James Linehan remained a highly respected and much liked figure in Irish Cricket. He was well summed up in Clarence Hiles' "History of Senior Cricket in Ulster". Hiles wrote, "He was a true gentleman of cricket. It was only with the bat in his hand that he showed any belligerence."