'We hear the guys complain, but try being a woman for a day'
There's another team representing Ireland at the World Twenty20 in India this week, not that you'll be hearing Nasser Hussein and Pommie Mbangwa eulogising them on Sky. While William Porterfield's men scraped through in qualifying and lost twice here in India, Isobel Joyce's women won all five games in their qualifying tournament, beating Bangladesh in a thrilling final.
Although they refuse to compare themselves to the male cricketers, there is no doubt the team are crying out for that Pakistan 2007 moment that will make people sit up and notice at home. They have actually beaten Pakistan already, in a minor tournament in Qatar, but to take down one of the world powers at a global event would be a boost.
"If we do well it could have a huge impact," says batter Cecelia Joyce. "But people were watching the 2007 win in every pub in Ireland, they won't be watching us. We don't really feel that weight on us - winning a global tournament was huge for our team."
"Beating Bangladesh off the last ball was a massive boost," agrees all-rounder Kim Garth. "We've come here really believing we can beat the so-called bigger teams." That confidence would have taken a blow in Friday's trouncing by New Zealand, but a win over one of the big four was never likely and sights are now trained on out-of-sorts Sri Lanka today.
The side has been well prepared by coach Aaron Hamilton and his assistant Alex Cusack. The former Ireland star suffered a bereavement three weeks ago and had to return to Brisbane. Hobart Hurricanes coach Julia Price has come in, bringing useful knowledge of the format and the international women's game.
Joyce was first capped 15 years ago and has played under 11 coaches. "Having a first full-time coach has made a big difference," she says. "Not just his coaching, but Aaron's work behind the scenes, advocating for us in Cricket Ireland, where it can be easy for them to forget about us. He's doing huge work developing the game, especially in the North."
Since Christmas they have been in the gym six times a week, plus two skills sessions - a huge commitment for an amateur squad that ranges from Junior Cert students to an associate in a top Dublin law firm. "We trained at 6.30am or 9pm", says Garth, who also spent six weeks this winter with the Hobart Hurricanes in Australia's Big Bash.
Joyce's employers, Arthur Cox Solicitors, are very encouraging, allowing her time off to represent her country. She remembers the days when separate unions ran the sport: "There are pluses and minuses about amalgamation, but there's no way we could be playing here with a full-time coach. That said, Cricket Ireland wouldn't get the funding they do if women weren't an equal part."
Joyce, with a master's in sports law, points to failings of the governing body. "Cricket Ireland's governance isn't compliant with best practice internationally," she says. "If you were in the UK you couldn't get away with a board of 10 men and get the funding you want. They need more women on the board, and they need a coaching pathway too. But they're looking at it - I'm not really criticising them as they are trying to do the best they can, and we are seeing great improvement in our supports."
The advances by Ireland's rugby team have also spurred on the cricketers. "It's a really exciting time for women's sport in general, which has been coming for a while," says Joyce. "It's a time to really develop our skills as well as ourselves as ambassadors for the game.
"We're also really conscious that every time we do anything we're representing all women. It's like being an associate nation - when we hear the guys complaining about being hard done by ICC, we think, 'try being a woman for a day'."
Male players' attitudes too are slow to change. "So if one woman can't hit the ball over the ropes, no woman can," sighs Joyce. "If one women's game is boring, all women's cricket is boring. India's men got bowled out for 70-odd this week and no one said, 'Indians can't play cricket'. The way women are treated is the same as how ICC treats the associates.
"People should be watching women's sport for itself and not comparing it to men's sport. We're not the same. It's like an orange and an apple - I could have one, and the next day the other, and enjoy both. But I wouldn't expect them to be the same.
"We play for the love of the game, so there's a freedom in that. At the end of the day I might fail on the pitch, but I get to go back to my job where I have other fulfilment. So I can't imagine what the boys are feeling because that's their life and they've been working so hard, but they didn't play as well as they can."
While John Bracewell's charges messed up last week, Joyce sees a chance to make more progress: "We have a chance to change perceptions and that's what we want to do. We want to be valued."
Squad: I Joyce (capt, Merrion), C Joyce, K McKenna (Merrion), J Gray, C Shillington, G Lewis, R Lewis, L O'Reilly (YMCA), K Garth, S Kavanagh (Pembroke), C Metcalfe (The Hills), L Delany, A Kenealy (Leinster), C Dalton (Middlesex), M Waldron (Malahide).
Remaining fixtures: Today v Sri Lanka (Mohali), Weds v South Africa (Chennai), Sat v Australia (Delhi, live on Sky Sports 2, 10am).
Sunday Indo Sport