Cricket: Simmons hails Irish fighting spirit
Phil Simmons had a foot in each camp as Ireland squared up to the West Indies in Mohali this morning but his heart was firmly with the World Cup underdogs.
The Trinidadian all-rounder played 143 one- day internationals for the West Indies between 1987 and 1999 but is fully committed to the Irish cause after four years as national coach.
"I'm 100pc with Ireland and so are my family, who are out here supporting the team," he said. "We'll all be wearing our Ireland shirts to the game and there will be no happier man in India than me if we beat them."
Simmons, who lives with his family in north Dublin, accepted the job of coach before the last World Cup and saw Ireland's potential when he was invited to join the squad in the Caribbean by predecessor Adi Birrell.
"I was immediately impressed with the camaraderie," he said. "They had a lot of fight and you could see there was something there to work with. It was good for me to get that insight at that time and I'm still impressed with the fact that Adi allowed me to join the squad. It just shows the stature of the man."
Simmons recognises that the biggest difference between then and now is that 13 of the 15 players with him in India are full-time professionals, either with English county sides or contracted to Cricket Ireland.
"It makes a big difference because the squad is better prepared straight away," he said. "It's also a far more experienced group than last time because we've played 54 games in the last year -- 11 of them against Test sides. We are no longer seen as a surprise package."
Doing the right thing off the field is also important and the 47-year-old has stamped his mark with a mixture of stick and carrot.
He imposed a strict alcohol ban during the World Cup qualifiers but allowed the team to celebrate well into the early hours after their victory over England. It is a regime that is likely to continue because the renewal of his contract with Cricket Ireland when it expires in November is seen as a formality.
Simmons' own World Cup career began with a half-century against Pakistan in 1987 and ended with a disappointing single against Australia 12 years later.
It was during his last World Cup that he first visited Dublin -- taking a modest 1-46 from 10 overs against Bangladesh and not batting as the West Indies won by seven wickets.
"It was freezing, but we enjoyed ourselves," he said. "That was one of the deciding factors for me when the Ireland job was advertised. It's a nice place with good people."
Although he never managed to play in the second stage of the showpiece tournament himself, Simmons was always confident that a trio of victories for Ireland in Group B would see this team reach the last eight.
"Our chances are good against every team now," he said. "We have to get two wins from our last three group games -- but if we can do that we give ourselves a very good chance of getting to the quarter-finals."
Ireland v West Indies,
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