Cricket Ireland hail benefits of La Manga link-up
Warm-weather facilities should play key role in getting Boys in Green up to speed as Test-playing nation
You still have to pinch yourself to make sure it actually happened.
Ireland produced one of the greatest shocks in cricket's history by beating Pakistan in the World Cup on St Patrick's Day 2007 amid unbelievable tension in Jamaica.
Led by their brilliant wicket-keeper batsman Niall O'Brien, Ireland reached a rain-adjusted target of 128 with three wickets remaining in near darkness to spark scenes of wild celebration. And, if Cricket Ireland has its way, glorious days like that will become commonplace.
Ireland's recent elevation to full Test status will see the International Cricket Council double its funding of the game to an expected €40m over the next eight years. Some of that money will make its way to the grassroots of Murcia in south-east Spain where Cricket Ireland and Cricket Scotland have joined together with ICC Europe to open the European Cricket Performance Centre at the famous La Manga Club.
The 1,400-acre complex near the Roman port city of Cartagena has long been a home for elite soccer teams in search of warm-weather winter training and it also boasts a highly regarded tennis facility, along with three 18-hole golf courses.
Now, La Manga has added a cricket training centre to its facilities. Cricket Ireland, like their counterparts in Scotland, have signed a 10-year deal to use the complex and the Irish senior and underage squads have already had training camps there.
The new cricket facilities include six updated first-class grass pitches and two artificial wickets on existing grounds, plus 18 grass and five artificial net lanes - all with 25-yard run-ups. In addition, there are specialist grass fielding, catching and wicket-keeping areas.
Groups using the complex will stay in the purpose-built Los Lomas apartments close to a state-of-the-art fitness centre and spa, which includes a high-performance gym and sports science centre, run in connection with the local university.
Cricket Ireland high-performance director Richard Holdsworth has been involved in the project from the start after visiting La Manga for the first time in 2003 in his previous role as European development manager with the ICC.
"I was in the job with the ICC for only a couple of months when I came here and saw what an incredible resort they have here. There's an air of sporting excellence around everything that goes on here," he said at the launch of the cricket complex.
"There is no other facility in Europe which boasts such good all-year-round weather and facilities as good as those at La Manga. Schools, clubs and international teams will be able to plan warm-weather training in great facilities only a couple of hours' flight away."
Once the decision was made to go ahead with the project, with ICC Europe releasing funding to both countries, the job of building a state-of-the-art cricket facility in Spain threw up its own problems, with the tricky job of getting the right soil proving a particularly tough task.
La Manga sporting director Chad Harpur, a former soccer goalkeeper who won an Ireland U-17 cap under Brian Kerr, explained: "We had a few problems but we overcame them and are delighted with the result.
"This agreement will open up a whole new market for La Manga Club. The cricket facility will be the best in Europe and is something we are very proud to be part of. This is a huge step forward for us and is further evidence that La Manga Club is still the best sporting resort in Europe."