A great sporting all-rounder – An Irishman’s Diary on Trevor McVeagh
Trevor McVeagh: represented Ireland in cricket, hockey, tennis and squash
Not many people can claim to have represented Ireland internationally in four different sports (and that over a 20-year period) and, with the increasing professionalisation in sport, the number of those who can so claim is likely to diminish further if not disappear.
But one such person was Trevor McVeagh, who died 50 years ago on June 5th and who represented Ireland in cricket, hockey, tennis and squash. He was “the greatest all-round sportsman of his ... day in Ireland”, according to cricketeurope.com.
He was born in Drewstown House, Athboy, Co Meath, on an estate of some 2,000 acres. His father, also Trevor, was high sheriff of Meath and his mother, Grace Benson, was the daughter of a British army lieutenant-general. Intended for Harrow and Cambridge University, he was sent instead to St Columba’s College and Trinity College due to a downturn in the family’s fortunes.
He captained the Trinity cricket team, which should be no surprise as he came from a strong cricketing background. His great-grandfather, Ferdinand, was one of the founders of Phoenix Cricket Club and his father had his own cricket ground at Athboy. He also came from a strong sporting family; his older sister, Stella, was capped for Ireland at hockey.
McVeagh was a fixture on the Trinity XI from 1925 to 1930 and led the team to the Leinster Senior League Title in 1927. He was capped for the Irish cricket team before he was 20 and played a major role in 1928 in Ireland’s historic victory over the touring West Indies, where he scored an undefeated century and took four catches.
Charles Lysaght, in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, describes him as “a left-handed batsman, with an imperfect technique but an exceptional eye”. The Cricket Europe website says he was “noted for his unorthodoxy” and that his style was termed “even uncouth”.
But his ungainly technique proved no hindrance. He represented Ireland 20 times from 1926-1935 and once in 1938, and his career batting average was the highest achieved for an Irish team until the 1980s.
After university, he joined Phoenix, but because of the demands of his profession as a solicitor and his commitment to tennis, he was a somewhat irregular player for club and country.
His ascent of the hockey ladder was done more slowly as he was not capped for Ireland until 1932, when he played for the Three Rock Rovers club, but he then played 24 consecutive internationals and captained the Irish teams that won three triple crowns in a row 1937-1939. He also played for the Britain and Ireland European Championship-winning team in 1935.
He was, according to Thomas Dagg’s Hockey in Ireland (1942), “one of the speediest left-wing forwards that has been seen on any hockey field and his skilful ball control, grim determination and deadly shooting made him an opponent to be feared”.
From the mid-1930s onwards, tennis replaced cricket as his main summer sport and he represented Ireland in the Davis Cup 1933-1938 and 1946-1948.
His performance in the defeat of Sweden in 1936 stands out in particular, the first and only time that Ireland reached the European zone semi-finals. Charles Lysaght attributed his success to skilful volleying and an unmatched ability to retrieve, also adding, however: “He was unashamed in his gamesmanship, keeping up a stream of talk as he played.”
He was Irish squash champion in the three years 1935-1937 and played on Ireland’s first squash international team in the latter year; Ireland lost 4-1 to Scotland, McVeagh being the only Irish winner. “Intensely competitive, although never boastful about his achievements and quite genial, [he] conceded nothing in any game he played,” in Lysaght’s opinion.
His solicitor’s practice was very successful and he counted the Aga Khan and Sir Oswald Mosley among his clients. Here, again, his competitive instinct was to the fore, with some fellow solicitors disliking how he sought out prospective clients.
In his retirement, his favourite pastime was snipe shooting.
He died suddenly from a heart attack, at the age of 61, following a game of tennis at Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, of which he had been a past president.
He had married Margaret Trainor in 1947 and they had one son and one daughter.
Cricket Europe’s claim that he was the greatest all-round sportsman of his day in Ireland is probably not an exaggeration.
This is all the more remarkable when one takes into account his unorthodox, inelegant cricketing technique, his slight build in the context of hockey and that his serving and ground strokes in tennis were indifferent.