Cricket Ireland plans to become full test nation in eight years
CRICKET Ireland have launched an ambitious set of initiatives aimed at fulfilling their dream of becoming a full Test nation by 2020.
Joining the Test ranks has been the long-term ambition of Irish cricket for some time but today's announcements represent a new level of commitment to that goal and will give the International Cricket Council plenty to ponder.
Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom unveiled the organisation's vision at the Croke Park Hotel in Dublin, including plans to double the contracted player pool to 23, establish a first-class domestic structure for the first time and increase commercial funding behind the sport to fund extensive grassroots programmes.
Former West Indies international Phil Simmons has also agreed a new contract as coach, keeping him with Ireland until at least the end of 2013.
While the challenges facing Ireland are significant - most obviously the implementation of a viable first-class system and winning the support of the 10 full member nations in the ICC - Deutrom believes the aspiration is a realistic one.
"We have set ourselves a very clear long-term ambition - to become a full Test nation by 2020, nothing less," he said.
"This is not a dreamy aspiration but a real ambition founded on the playing talent being developed on this island, the growing passion and profile of the game here, a sustained and proven track record of achievement on and off the field, and a clear roadmap set out by us for how to get there."
Cricket Ireland also confirmed that a number of new commercial funding deals are in place and will be revealed in due course, while principal sponsors RSA Insurance understood to have extended their deal until 2015.
"We have and will continue to receive fantastic support from RSA Insurance as our main commercial partner and we look forward to extending the scale and scope of that support," added Deutrom.
"A formal announcement of this and other commercial deals will be made in the coming weeks. This allows us to proceed with confidence as we work towards our vision of becoming a Test nation by 2020."
At last year's World Cup, during which the team's impressive displays and memorable win over England in the group stage raised their profile exponentially, several of the Ireland's 16-man squad were not contracted.
That is now set to change with a total of 23 players being offered deals across three pay bands.
"A key part of our success to date has been the move to professionalism," said Simmons, who took over the side in 2007 and has been key to their emergence as the top associate nation.
"With so many players on full or part-time contracts we now have a structure supporting the senior squad as well as our succession planning to make sure we can maintain our competitiveness on the international stage."
At the domestic level, goals have been set to raise the participation level to 50,000, starting with proposals targeting cricket in schools and culminating in a relaunched Inter-Pro Series competition - a prototype for any future first-class competition.