Cricket: Strength of back-up for influential Stirling key to Irish bid
IRELAND coach Matt Dwyer expects his young guns to give cricket's big boys a run for their money when the U-19 World Cup gets under way in New Zealand this week.
Ireland qualified for the 16-team tournament as the best of the non-Test-playing nations, only to find themselves in a tough group alongside South Africa, Australia and the USA.
Only two teams can advance to the next stage, but Dwyer refuses to believe that the outcome is a foregone conclusion and is backing his "exceptionally good" squad to cause an upset .
The former Ireland spinner said: "We definitely have the talent to beat any side on our day and results can be far from predictable in youth cricket.
"We would rather have drawn maybe New Zealand or the West Indies as our second Test-playing nation, but we will be going into the group believing we can qualify."
Paul Stirling, a regular in the full Ireland team, is the pick of the 15 players who spent last week practising at the University of New South Wales in Sydney -- where they enjoyed sessions with former Australia fast-bowler Geoff Lawson.
However, Dwyer also expects big things from Dublin-based all-rounders Andy Balbirnie, Graham McDonnell and Shane Getkate.
Dwyer said: "We have an exceptionally good standard right across the board here. In past tournaments maybe we'd have four or five stand-out players -- this time, there is quality all the way through.
"Stirlo is a quality batsman and he can be a match-winner for us.
"Balbirnie, McDonnell and Getkate all played in the last U-19 World Cup in Malaysia and with two years' more experience under their belts, they'll be important players for us."
So will Leinster left-arm spinner George Dockrell, who gets an early chance to show why Phil Simmons has called him into the senior squad for the Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers in Dubai next month.
Ireland take on Afghanistan in a warm-up in Christchurch today before another practice match against the West Indies tomorrow.
The squad will then travel across New Zealand's South Island to Queenstown for their first match of the tournament against South Africa on Friday.
Dwyer's charges completed their training camp in Australia with a 172-run victory over their university hosts.
The win was based around a hard-hitting hundred from Stirling, who retired on reaching three figures. Ireland reached 341 for five before bowling their opponents out for 169, with Stuart Thompson and Eddie Richardson each taking three wickets.
Squad in factfile