Thursday, 10 May 2012

When Irish eyes are smiling...

Irish cricket is currently the strongest it has ever been. Did you know there are more Irish qualified players playing in the LVCC, than there are West Indian and Pakistani combined? No? Us neither! Some of them such as Tim Murtagh and George Dockrell have already had very impressive starts to the 2012 campaign, whilst more and more of their younger players are breaking into county sides.

We caught up with Cricket Ireland Media Manager, Barry Chambers who gave us an insight into their success, as well as their aspirations to be the next Test playing nation. Go on ICC, they deserve it, and besides can you imagine the Barmy Army on the "craic" in Dublin?


Ireland...recent winners of the ICC World T20 Trophy 




TMS: Irish cricket has never been stronger has it? Wins over England, ICC number 1. What is the state of Irish cricket like for you Barry?


BC: We've always produced talented players, but for me the difference now is that there's a definite structure to the set-up. We've become much more professional both on and off the field. We have genuine aspirations to become the next Test nation, and it won't be for lack of effort if we don't achieve that.

There's a depth now to the squad - in the past, if we lost a player or two, then we'd struggle. The coach Phil Simmons is now taking a much more hands-on role with the A and Under 19 teams in addition to the senior squad. He and his predecessor Adi Birrell have both been excellent in spotting talent, where others haven't.
At the time, the selections of Niall O'Brien, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin and George Dockrell raised eyebrows in certain quarters. Time and time again their hunches have been proved right!

There's definitely a real buzz about Irish cricket at the minute - at all levels. It seems to me that the interest is really multiplying around the Leinster region, while Connacht is a real area for potential growth.

They have just formed a new Union, and Eoin Morgan's dad Jodie is their President. It's a real GAA and hurling hinterland, and if we can make inroads there, there's bound to be a rich seam of talent available. The hand-eye co-ordination and skills associated with hurling aren't too dissimilar to cricket.

There's a lot of development work going on in the schools with new competitions and initatives, and our headline sponsor RSA has recently announced a major cash injection into not only the Senior teams, but a 'Get into cricket' scheme which I'm sure will reap rich dividends.

Funding has also been found in the North for two development officers - one of whom is current Irish international Nigel Jones - so all in all it's looking good for cricket in general.

TMS: Is there a league system over there such as a Premier League? What is club cricket like over there?

BC: Cricket in Ireland is based around four main cities. The Leinster Cricket Union is based around Dublin, The Northern Cricket Union has Belfast as its epicentre, The North West Cricket Union is in Derry and Tyrone, while Cork is the base for the Munster Cricket Union.
There's a move towards each of the main Unions having an 8 team Premier league and that's nearing completion. The top 32 teams play each other in the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup - that's been happening since 1982, while there's a new competition this year - the RSA National Cup for 32 clubs at the level below - Senior Two.
Cricket Ireland are also re-introducing the Interprovincial Series, with three North v South clashed scheduled for the coming season. The plan is to expand this in the coming years as a fore-runner to a first-class structure - seen as a pre-requisite for Test status.
There are some very good club sides but the standard needs improving. There are too many easy/soft games for sides, but hopefully the reduction in league numbers to eight will improve that.

TMS: How do you find the talent to play for Ireland?

BC: We've always had an excellent record in finding talent. Tribute has to be paid to the myriad of club and regional coaches who spend many unpaid hours at the coalface. Mark Garaway and his successor Richard Holdsworth have formalised the coaching structures and the systems they've put in place mean very few fall through the cracks.
The fact we also play in various under-age European and other tournaments mean the coaches and selectors get a chance to see how the youngsters perform under pressure.



An Irish jig of delight as they celebrate a dramatic tie with Zimbabwe  

TMS: Obviously losing Eoin Morgan was a blow. However you still have some cracking players in the LVCC such as Murtagh and Dockrell. Any others?


BC: It's always a blow when you lose a world-class player like Eoin Morgan, but it's been softened by the return of Ed Joyce and the emergence of Paul Stirling. Stirling has taken his game to another level and his hundred against Pakistan in Belfast last year was acknowledged by Waqar Younis as 'one of the best he's ever seen.' He has the potential to become a truly genuine world great.

Boyd Rankin and William Porterfield are both at Warwickshire, while Gary Wilson is at Surrey. Niall O'Brien has been in county cricket for about 8 years now and has thrived since joining Northants.

Kevin O'Brien played with Gloucestershire last season, winning the trophy for the season's quickest hundred. He's hopeful of securing another T20 contract with a county this year.
On the fringes are Graeme McCarter, who has just made his debut for Gloucestershire, and Shane Getkate, Stuart Poynter, Craig Young, Stuart Thompson and Andrew Balbirnie, who are all involved in second XI county cricket. A few others are currently attracting attention and have been over for trials.



Porterfield and Stirling celebrate the win

TMS: Where do you see Ireland being in five years time? Test status?

BC: As I mentioned earlier, that's the goal. It's not that far-fetched seeing the progress that's been made since we beat Pakistan in the World Cup in 2007. If we keep producing results, I don't see how the ICC can ignore us - we've just got to keep battering away at the door until they let us in.

TMS: How was the recent ICC tournament?

BC: After a losing start to Namibia, we played pretty much perfect cricket. There was a swagger and a confidence to our play which comes with that perfect combination of hard work and ability. Phil Simmons' motto is 'no fear of failure' and that's reflected in the brand of cricket that Ireland play.

The team got better and better as the competition wore on - despite the crazy, inhumane schedule!

We beat our fierce rivals Afghanistan in the final - they are a serious side and one to watch in the coming years - to qualify for the finals in Sri Lanka in September.

We play Afghanistan in July in two World Cup Qualifiers and an Intercontinental Cup game - we're currently top of both tables.

We're drawn in the same group as West Indies and Australia in Sri Lanka - the latter we meet before then in the RSA Challenge ODI at Stormont on Saturday June 23rd (tickets available at www.ticketmaster.co.uk)

We're currently negotiating with ICC and Bangladesh to host a tour in July, while South Africa A are coming here for a major tour in August.

For me the move to full-time contracts for the Irish based players has made the greatest impact. We've now got 23 players on some form of contract and there are also plans well under way to set up Regional Academies. All this will ensure that Irish cricket remains successful in the forseeable future.

So Irish cricket looks in fantastic shape, and we wish them all the best as they strive to be a Test playing nation. The boys in green certainly deserve it, with the hard work they are putting in.

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