5 November 2007

The sad passing of Noel Ferguson will come as a great disappointment to many people who knew the Downpatrick legend.


He was a lovable character with a big broad infectious smile and he played the game with exceptional high standards of sportsmanship. Off the field he was an engaging conversationalist and much too modest to discuss his heroics on it. But what a fine cricketer and a true gentleman in every sense.
Noel graduated to senior cricket from the fiercely partisan Ballee and District League in South Down where he played with his younger brother David for Tobermoney. He never forgot his cricketing roots and they never forgot him as many of the supporters that in later years stood on the Strangford Road to applaud his heroics were from the same local league, and they took great pride that one of their own became the best player ever to grace the Downpatrick club.
Noel Ferguson"Fergie" was a legend in his lifetime. He marked his late call up to the 1945 cup final team with a match-winning 6 for 36 against Waringstown. It was the start of a distinguished senior cricket career that spanned 37 seasons and brought him everyhonour in the local game. He played in four Senior Challenge Cup winning teams but lost out to Wee Archie McQuilken's Muckamore team in 1963 after hitting a half-century and taking 8 wickets in their second innings. His 98 in the 1977 final win over Lisburn was sensational and even the Lisburn players were disappointed that he didn't get a richly-deserved century. It was typical of the status he held in local cricket and his immense popularity with friend and foe alike. Noel had no enemies on and off the field and his legacy to the game will always be the magnificent manner in which he carried himself.
He was first capped by Ireland in 1951 but had to wait an amazing eleven years before winning his second call-up. His Ireland career ended in 1964 with ten caps. Noel generated a lot of pace with his slinging action and he was just as devastating with the bat as he always seemed to want to hit the ball as hard as possible, and he succeeded most times. In his final senior game against Lurgan in 1982 he scored 64 not out and playing for the seconds against Donaghadee the following year he scored a magnificent 165. He was 55 years old at the time but just as enthusiastic as the day he arrived to play in the 1945 cup final.
In later years Noel took his place around the boundary and occasionally on the road to watch his son Geoffrey follow in father's footsteps, a tough mantle that Geoff bore with distinction if not quite at the same level as his proud dad. Noel's other son Stephen also played at the club, and his brother 'Dee' was a popular member for many years.
It was an honour and a privilege for our generation to play against and at times with such a legend as Noel Ferguson, even in the twilight of his career, because he was such a distinguished cricket celebrity. Not that he would have welcomed the word celebrity, because "Fergie" took every performance in his stride and never sought personal gratification.
Cricket has lost a rare gem in Noel Ferguson, a true son of the Downpatrick Cricket Club.
May he rest in peace.

Clarence Hiles

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