The Interviews: A Prince Amongst Men

A huge part of Bangor Cricket Club’s success in the latter part of 2017 and the whole of the 2018 season is that we have had numerous options to turn to with the ball. As is already well documented there have been occasions where any one of our eleven can turn their arm on any given day. George Prince has become a mainstay of the Bangor attack, usually being introduced at a crucial time in the opponent’s innings to limit the run rate and strike when necessary. Quiet and unassuming, George has worked relentlessly at his game to become an integral and popular member of the squad. It could all have been very different as unlike 95% of Bangor cricketers, George did not come through the youth system at Upritchard Park. In fact his journey to the Bangor 1st XI is as unique a story as anyone could have imagined, as George himself explains.

“I started playing at a very early age, I think I was nine or ten years old, and at that time there was no provision for my age group at Bangor. Somewhere there are photos of Regan West and I playing kwik cricket, at the club, in 2005. I was desperate to start playing red ball cricket and one of my best mates & his two brothers were at Holywood and so that’s how it happened, that’s how I joined Holywood.”

While I’m consulting Google Maps on my phone to find out where Holywood is, George goes on to explain how important having a strong youth section is to any club, “The set up at Holywood was great. Obviously you had class cricketers like Ross and Mark Adair but it was their father, Ricky, who was one of the biggest influences on my early cricketing career. He really took me under his wing, developed me as a cricketer and got me involved with the NCU junior teams & Cricket Ireland trials.” In what has become a hallmark of these interviews, George talks fondly about his youth cricket career, “I really enjoyed youth cricket at Holywood. We had a strong U13 / U15 side and even made the Graham Cup Final which was a major achievement for the club.”

Ultimately, it was George’s ambition to play senior cricket led to him leaving Holywood. Now fully immersed in the Campbell College 1st XI, it was a natural move to join East Belfast giants CIYMS who had five senior teams as opposed to Holywood, who had only two. I am keen to get an insight into the world George found at Belmont as I often imagine it to be a magical place where ex test internationals ride golden unicorns to retrieve balls hit from the nets. “It was definitely an impressive place. There were people everywhere. The training sessions were full on and the facilities were second to none. It was extremely difficult to break through however and I think I only played two senior games for CI.” There were also logistical problems as George was not able to drive, meaning that his Dad had to take him to training twice a week. After only two seasons at CI, George was reconsidering his options.

Fortunately, we have agents in the field to take advantage of such considerations. Family friend, John McMaster facilitated the return of the young Prince to Bangor where he was welcomed with open arms by Stephen Burns. “I can’t stress enough just how important Barney has been to my Bangor career. Due to me being away from the club for so long I was in a position where very few people knew who I was. Stephen looked after me, introduced me to everyone and enabled me to start playing senior cricket in 2013.” It wasn’t long before George made his breakthrough into the 1st XI in 2014 and he has been a constant presence ever since. For someone so young to break onto the Bangor 1st XI is a rarity and can be a daunting experience. I am intrigued as to how George found his integration to the side. “We have many dominant characters on our side but they have been brilliant with me. That feeling of playing for your home town club and playing for each other that others have alluded to throughout these interviews is real and it’s evident in our performances, particularly throughout 2018. With so many experienced cricketers on the side, there is always someone to learn from, someone to talk to. There is a great sense of camaraderie.”

This sense of camaraderie is perhaps best evidenced when we consider one of the major moments of 2018. George laughs as both of us turn to acknowledge the elephant sitting beside us in The Marcus Ward. In what was the most bizarre end to a cricket match I have ever witnessed I ask George to talk me through the end of the T20 semi-final against Holywood at a sun drenched Upritchard Park in early July. “We’d fielded really well. To limit a very good side, like Holywood, to 107-8 after 20 overs was an excellent performance and we were heavy favourites. We’d thrown it away with the bat. We were 67-7 when I joined Ross (Miller) at the crease and they were rampant in the field. We had plenty of time and we started to bat really well. Slowly but surely we started to get back into it and Ross and I were definitely thinking this was on.”

On the balcony the atmosphere was building. Barney had picked a great evening to have one of his legendary BBQ nights and the place was packed. Having watched many cricket matches over the years there is nothing that gets a crowd going more than an unlikely run chase. Prince and Miller had fought their way to 101-7 with one over remaining. “The hard work was done. Holywood had messed up their overs with Mark Adair bowling the 19th and not the 20th. Having seen him off and only requiring seven to win from the last over, we were now favourites. We shared singles from the first two balls and then I nicked one behind the wicket keeper and the scores were level. It was an amazing feeling.” By this stage the crowd on the balcony were delirious. By virtue of having one wicket less down, we knew if nothing happened at all in the last three balls of the innings Bangor would win. Dot ball followed dot ball. There was one ball to go.

“I was aware of the situation but in the moment, I wanted to score the winning run and win the match against my old club. The ball was bowled outside the off stump and I carved it away down to third man. I had hit it well and, although I started off on the run, I thought the spin had taken it for four. I turned to celebrate the moment with Ross and what followed was just pure chaos. “I just remember Mark English screaming my name but by that stage it was too late.” Holywood had retrieved the ball from the boundary and taken the bails off at the non-strikers end. Utter confusion reigned in the crowd. For the only time this season (apart from Android battery related issues), the Live FB feed went down as we endeavoured to make sense of it all. A super over ensued in which, given the match’s conclusion, we were always going to be second favourites. Mark Adair was superb for the visitors, the match was lost.

Sometimes out of the darkest moments the brightest lights emerge. I have never seen a cricketer leave a field of play in a state of desolation like George was that evening, but the bare facts are that we wouldn’t have been anywhere near it without his contribution. His reaction and that of his teammates were heart-warming in the extreme. While Holywood celebrated their hollow, tied victory each of our guys went to George to console him. “I was devastated. I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. The guys were amazing. They rallied round me and helped me to put the whole thing behind me. It is definitely unfinished business for me. With the team we have and their capability for T20 cricket, I look forward to completing a Herculean/Hollywood styled movie comeback next year.” It is when you take this result in context of the season as a whole that you really view the galvanising affect this result had on the team. We suffered heavy defeats at the hands of Lisburn and Downpatrick the following weekend and, in any other season, this heart-breaking loss would have sent Bangor into a downward spiral. The team went on to win every match before a no result against Derriaghy ended our title challenge in late August.

Stronger for the experience, like all Bangor cricketers, George is looking forward to the 2019 season with some zest. “It’s amazing to see the guys all wanting to net. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before Christmas.” With our current bowling attack all deciding to take a break at the same time, George is relishing the opportunity to cement his role on the team. “I don’t have the express pace of many strike bowlers but I am always learning and in Andy (Nixon) and Taimur (Khan), I can’t think of two better bowlers to learn from. I see no reason why we can’t build on what we did last year.” He is quick to point to the abundance of talent we have at the club and suggests it is only a matter of time before the likes of Chris Pyper and Will Simpson are playing more prominent roles on the 1st XI. “All in all, the club is in good health at the minute and it is great to be a part of that.”

It is impossible not to like George. Each answer is measured, considered and respectful. He offers an oasis of calm in the often tumultuous world of local cricket. Aside from his performances on the field, his work on the club website is now proving invaluable and indeed has offered a higher production value to this series of interviews than the concept ever imagined. At the young age of 23 his Bangor career is progressing nicely, and the potential is endless. I look forward to watching George’s future Bangor career with some excitement as the best is definitely yet to come.

George Prince was talking to Paddy Dixon

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