Cricket: Ireland send Johnston out on a high
JOHN MOONEY stole the show with a five-star man-of-the-match performance as Ireland claimed the InterContinental Cup for the fourth time with a battling 122-run victory over Afghanistan.
The stage was set for Trent Johnston's finale but with the Ireland talisman sitting out the fourth day of the final with an injured Achilles it was the unsung Mooney who stepped into the limelight.
The North County all-rounder, who might not have been playing if Tim Murtagh had been available, destroyed Afghanistan and completed a unique treble with his second five-wicket haul -- for match figures of 10-81.
After winning the 50-over World Cricket League and beating the same opponents last month in the final of the World T20 Qualifiers, William Porterfield's team regained their multi-day title to cap another hugely successful year.
"Absolutely brilliant," Mooney said, after taking the final four wickets to fall in the space of 19 balls, for figures of 5-36. "I've had my problems with injuries over the past couple of years but you always know, if you work hard, days like this are going the come.
"We had to be patient there. They batted superbly to get through the morning session without losing a wicket but we knew the new ball would get those nicks carrying through to the 'keeper and slips and that was the difference."
A gritty sixth-wicket partnership of 114 had chipped away at a victory target of 347, and the relief shown by the Ireland team when Max Sorensen finally pinned Afghan captain Mohammad Nabi lbw gave away their growing concern.
Mooney poured through the breach as the Afghanistan tail obliged by either nicking catches behind or failing to get any wood on straight deliveries, and from a dangerous 199-5 the 2010 champions faded to 224 all out.
It was Ed Joyce, playing in his first IC Cup final, who took the last two catches to spark whoops of joy and the appearance of Johnston from the dressing-room to hug each team-mate in turn and, at their insistence, lift the trophy.
While the great showman will be disappointed to have missed the final day of his international career, after nearly 10 years, 198 caps, 2,610 runs and 273 wickets, Johnston leaves the Irish team in a far more advanced state than he found it.
His influence and inspiration cannot be underestimated as the achievements continue to pile up for the 39-year-old and his colleagues.
A couple of hours before the latest trophy was secured, Kevin O'Brien was named ICC Associate Cricketer of the Year -- the most prestigious award below Test-match playing level.
Johnston and Andrew White both collected their fourth IC Cup winners' medal yesterday -- adding to victories over Kenya in 2005, Canada in 2007 and Namibia a year later -- with White now equalling his good friend Kyle McCallan's record of 226 caps.
A hat-trick of titles this year means that Ireland have won 10 pieces of silverware since 2007 as well as famously beating Pakistan and England in World Cup matches.
Johnston hit the winning six when Ireland upset Pakistan in Jamaica in 2007, while he was at the non-striker's end when Mooney secured victory against England in Bangalore four years later.
More than that, his massive presence in the dressing-room has helped persuade a group of very good players that they can compete with the best and occasionally tweak a precious nose out of joint.
It won't seem the same without him but as Ireland have shown over the last couple of days, Johnston's retirement will not stop the bandwagon he did so much to get on the road.