Nearly 10,000 runs, over 700 wickets - why Ryan Eagleson owes everything to Carrick
Even in local club cricket, finding a player who resists all overtures to remain at the same club for the duration of his career is becoming increasingly difficult.
Ryan Eagleson, now 42 years young and a mainstay of Carrickfergus and NCU cricket since way back in 1990, is one such man.
In an era in the NCU when the winter close season increasingly resembles a Premier League football transfer window, Eagleson’s story has become almost romantic.
He has played in the Carrick senior team since he was 14 and, if last Saturday’s Premier League match against Instonians had not been washed out, the runs that he made would have taken him past 10,000 in senior cricket. He also has taken the small matter of 700 wickets.
Not that the milestone, when he gets there, will be a cause for celebrations. Despite all his achievements in the game - Carrick debut at 14, Ireland international at 20, county cricketer with Derbyshire, Irish winner against West Indies - Eagleson remains a man imbedded to his roots. If there were offers to leave Middle Road for a more glamorous club, Eagleson never entertained any of them.
“I went to a school in Carrick that didn’t play cricket so all my cricket was learnt at the club,” he explained. “We always had professionals who did a lot of coaching and took a lot of interest in the young players. My goal was to play for the first 11, and once I was established in the first eleven I wanted to play as high as I could. Back then it was Ulster Town and then Ireland. I played for Ireland when I was 20 and we were still in Section Two (now Section One) and I was opening the bowling and batting five. I had no real need to move, I was playing for my home town club and had played for Ireland and the next goal was to play county cricket.”
Eagleson put himself in the shop-window by unashamedly writing to all English counties asking for a trial.
“I played a couple of games for Glamorgan twos, one for Essex twos and one for Derbyshire twos, that was against Notts. It was a two-day game and I got nine wickets in the match, and they offered me a contract the next day. I was 24-25 when I signed for Derby.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing though and injury largely curtailed his county career and did permanent damage to hopes of a long Irish career.
“I hurt my back in a second eleven game and had to go through a pretty serious operation,” Eagleson said. “I had four screws put in my back and didn’t bowl for 18 months, I missed two years of cricket. I had to remodel my action to get back on the park, those were pretty dark days, I did wonder would I end up playing club cricket only as a batsman. Dean Hedley (ex-England bowler) had the same operation and didn’t come back. It was a worry.
“I knew my body could not stand up to county cricket, luckily enough I got back into the Ireland side eventually but I knew I was struggling with two or three days’ cricket in a row.”
Eagleson had already experienced international disappointment. He played in the World Cup qualifying play-off defeat against Scotland in Malaysia in 1997, ensuring Ireland failed to make the 1999 World Cup in England. But at least he bowed out of Irish cricket in style, playing in a famous 2005 win in the second of two ODIs against West Indies at Stormont. His selection for the game was a tad unconventional.
“Ireland was very different back then to what it is now,” Eagleson added. “My last game was against the West Indies when we beat them. I had been struggling with my back and I was in the crowd watching that game the day before, having a couple of beers, and there were a few injuries and the coach Aidy Birrell said to me ‘we need to you play tomorrow’. I went back home and got my whites on and I remember bowling to Chris Gayle and we knocked the runs off. It was a thoroughly enjoyable time, though it was not the professional set-up it is now.”
Off the field, Eagleson has also been through tough times. His wife Justine battled serious illness about five years ago, a worrying time when people within the NCU rallied around. Thankfully for Eagleson, Justine is a woman who enjoys the cricket scene.
“It is getting harder, you might have a T20 on a Friday night, all day Saturday and a rearrangement on a Sunday, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for family men to get the time away,” he said. “I’m lucky that my wife enjoys coming up to the club with the wee man, having a coffee and letting him run about.
“I always enjoyed playing against other teams and staying around for a beer. We encourage our players to talk to the other team over a beer, even if it’s been feisty out on the pitch.”
The 2014 year, when Carrick won four trophies, was special - but a Challenge Cup final would be nice before he hangs up the boots.
“I love watching the cup finals and part of me wanted to be playing in it but no part of me would want to sacrifice playing for Carrick to play in a Challenge Cup final for another team. A lot of my best mates are still at the club and that’s still a drive, playing with your mates and having a couple of beers. Having that changing room banter and winning with your mates would override a Challenge Cup final with someone else.”