Cricket fever born, 27 years after its new hero Kevin
TWENTY seven, not out. Ireland's cricket hero Kevin O'Brien celebrated his birthday in traditional style in India last night -- with the mammy at his side.
In a country where the game is almost a religion, the Irishman with the strange hairstyle shot to instant fame after hitting the fastest century in World Cup history against England on Wednesday.
Last night, the Pride Hotel in Bangalore -- where Kevin's parents Brendan and Camilla are staying -- invited the entire family to enjoy a celebratory meal on the house to mark his 27th birthday.
And despite the Irish team's newfound acclaim, the dinner was "going to be a little laid-back", Kevin said yesterday, his mind firmly on tomorrow's contest against India.
Earlier in the day, teammates and coaching staff enjoyed a party complete with cake and paper hats. Kevin got the chance to relax with his girlfriend, Ruth-Anne Kilty, and got an "inspirational" wall clock as a present from his brother Niall.
"Attitude is everything," read the slogan on the clock face, as if the man who batted England off the park needed to be told.
Over the past few days, the Indian nation appears to have taken the underdog Irish team to its heart, pulling on green jerseys and "having the craic" after our shock victory over their old colonial masters.
Of course, that will all change tomorrow when 50,000 cricket-mad Indians cram in alongside about 250 Irish fans to watch favourites India do battle with the Irish minnows, in the same Chinnaswamy stadium where Kevin hit his famous century.
As the O'Brien brothers made their way through Bangalore's streets to their parents' hotel, they probably passed one of the giant advertising hoardings featuring India's cricketers.
Niall has already admitted that they wouldn't mind a piece of that fame themselves.
"It would be nice to get me and my brother up there, two very good-looking men," he said.
That is no idle dream. There has already been talk of Kevin as a future star of the Indian Premier League, and of both brothers being offered contracts on the back of the Irish win.
For the boys' mum, Camilla, jet-setting around the world in the wake of two international cricketers is a far cry from the years of washing muddy kit and making sandwiches.
She remembers "doing a lot of walking" as she ferried all five brothers and their sister to cricket and hockey matches.
The sports-mad family lived only a short distance from the Railway Union Cricket Club in Sandymount, Dublin, where Brendan, a tax inspector from Galway, was the star player.
Dubbed "Ginger", he played more than 700 matches, from the 1950s up to the 1990s until he retired in 2001.
Camilla, who said she was "definitely backroom" when it came to sport, admitted she would find tomorrow's match "a little nerve-wracking". But she said she was very proud of her two sons and would find it "a little bit difficult" to return home, leaving them to complete the tournament.
Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the rest of the family, including brothers Gerard, Conor, Paul and sister Ciara, will all be glued to the screens tomorrow.
Many will be at the Russell Court Hotel, Harcourt Street, Dublin -- a base for hardcore cricket fans and the scene of much jubilation after Wednesday's historic win.
And Rose of Tralee Clare Kambamettu yesterday donned an Irish cricket jersey in support of the Hope Foundation.
The foundation's newest ambassadors are the Irish cricket team, who will visit the charity's projects among children from the slums of Calcutta when they play two matches in the city later this month.
Ireland are 10/1 with some bookies to follow their epic win over England with a victory over hosts and tournament favourites India tomorrow.
If Wimbledon contagion is anything to go by, pitches up and down the country could soon be ringing to the sound of willow on leather.
Cricket fever has arrived.