Cricket: Hendrick gets Irish to look on bright side
WHEN the squads were announced for today's RSA Challenge ODI, there was indignation among Ireland fans that England could only be bothered to send across what is seen as a Second XI for the official opening of the new national stadium in Malahide.
Where were Captain Cook, KP and Swanny? Where were the Ashes heroes? How dare they snub the biggest day in the Irish cricketing calendar and disappoint a 10,000 sell-out crowd at the wonderful new 'Fortress Malahide'?
"What have the English ever done for us?" one writer ventured to ask, echoing a famous line from Monty Python. A 64-year-old guest at today's 50-over match would have a wry smile at that because he is the Englishman who kick-started the Irish cricket revolution.
Mike Hendrick was charged with changing the amateur culture of the Irish Cricket Union – as Cricket Ireland was then – and producing a team that could compete and win on days such as this, when he was appointed as the first full-time national coach in 1995.
"I thought I'd give it a season, but it soon became obvious that there was so much talent and potential and passion for the game in Ireland that I fell in love with it," Hendrick said.
The former England fast bowler stayed for four successful years, winning the 1996 European Championship and narrowing missing out on qualification for the 1999 World Cup.
"In those days there wasn't a lot of money and trying to get things done was frustrating beyond belief at times," he said. "But it was a wonderful chapter in my life that I look back on now with great fondness."
Hendrick shook up the youth structures throughout the island, introduced young blood – including Ed Joyce – into the national team and brought both professionalism and a professional approach to the game in Ireland.
"Am I surprised how far Ireland have progressed? Not at all. What was needed was some organisation and direction and as (Ireland team manager) Roy Torrens is fond of saying, I built the tracks and Adi Birrell (his successor) drove the train down them."
Phil Simmons, the current coach, has taken that train a few stations further along the line but despite famous wins on foreign fields, one milestone that still eludes Ireland is an ODI victory over a major Test nation on home soil.
After near misses against England and Australia in recent seasons, Simmons' team will be trying to break their duck against opponents that are likely to include two former colleagues in Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin.
Hendrick remembers a young Rankin as one of the players who convinced him that Ireland had the raw talent to take on the big boys in world cricket.
"The first time I saw Boyd bowl, I thought he had the height and pace to go right to the very top – not just in Ireland, I'm talking being one of the best 10 bowlers in the world.
"He's had a few setbacks with injuries but there's still time for him – it'll be with England now, of course."
Ireland v England,
Live, Sky Sports 2, 10.30