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Green shoots after a series of serious setbacks


Andrew Balbirnie

Andrew Balbirnie


Andrew Balbirnie

After a year of often convulsive change, Cricket Ireland can look forward to 2020 with a bit of optimism as green shoots start to emerge. The main woes in 2019 surrounded money after a series of serious setbacks, some self-inflicted. And while some sports can rely on a state dig-out, others have to make do.

The problem with ICC funding won't be solved for two or three years, so playing home Tests - which cost €500,000 to stage - could be that far away. The 2020 men's schedule originally included four Tests, away to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, and home to Bangladesh. But one by one they were cancelled by the hosts as the sport's skewed economics started to bite.

So Cricket Ireland has to knuckle down and cut its cloth for a period of austerity, sadly just as the playing side has started to emerge from its own downswing. Half-a-dozen debuts were handed out by men's coach Graham Ford, and the youngsters' performances proved the most exciting aspect of the programme. Whether they get enough opportunity to hone their skills is the biggest challenge for the governing body.

The women's team will look on in envy as the Twenty20 World Cup kicks off in Australia this weekend, but the men have a chance to get there in October. The senior women played just 14 games in 2019, all T20s and all in Europe, so they will hope the quadrangular in Thailand in the spring goes ahead.

Last year started with the announcement of six women being given full and part-time contracts. Ten more will be added shortly, albeit unpaid but with supports for medical insurance and physiotherapy.

Three heavy defeats to the West Indies last summer saw senior coach Aaron Hamilton leave his job, which left stand-in Ed Joyce just a few weeks to tune up his team for the Twenty20 qualifiers in Scotland. They won three games, but losing to Bangladesh and Thailand proved fatal.

The senior men also said goodbye to long-serving captain William Porterfield, who stepped down after 11 glorious years, and T20 skipper Gary Wilson. There were amazing highs and dismal lows in the 38 games last year, the 19 victories included West Indies, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. But the most memorable game by far ended in defeat.

Lord's ground has rarely seen a more amazing game, with England bowled out in the first session for 85, and still winning the match by 143 runs. Tim Murtagh's wiles accounted for most of the drama that morning, but there were important contributions by rookie Mark Adair and Boyd Rankin in front of a packed house.

Although Andrew Balbirnie's 55 led Ireland to a first innings lead of 122, a nightwatchman proved their undoing, allowing England get to 303. The drama began in the skies on day three as a lightning storm saw the conditions change and Ireland bundled out for 38. The match quelled any notion Ireland were out of their depth at this level and against team of whom many had just lifted the World Cup.

There were white-ball visits from England, Bangladesh, West Indies, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, and an at times hairy bid to qualify for the Twenty20 World Cup eventually proved successful, Ireland finishing third behind Netherlands and Papua New Guinea.

Much of that was down to three batsmen at the top of their game - Paul Stirling (748) and Kevin O'Brien (729) broke the world record for T20 runs in a year, and Balbirnie's 601 means there are three Irishmen in the all-time top seven. All three, plus Murtagh, are on the shortlist for the Turkish Airlines Men's International Player of the Year at this week's award ceremony.

The Hanley Energy Women's International Player of the Year will be chosen from Kim Garth, Mary Waldron, Eimear Richardson and Orla Prendergast.

The youth international awards see Prendergast again nominated alongside Amy Hunter and Alana Dalzell. Rush's Nathan McGuire, touring with the Wolves team, is on the male list alongside YMCA pair Mitchell Thompson and Tim Tector.

The Sunday Independent/Aengus Fanning Outstanding Contribution to Coaching Award has an impressive set of nominees in Brían O'Rourke, Andy McCrea, Mark Olphert and Steven Crothers. Awards will also be made for the Toyota Super 3s Player of the Year, Gibneys Outstanding Contribution to Irish Cricket, and two inductees to the Cricket Writers of Ireland Hall of Fame.

The awards will be presented at the Marker Hotel on Friday.


Awards shortlist

Hanley Energy Women's International Player of the Year: Kim Garth, Orla Prendergast, Eimear Richardson, Mary Waldron

Turkish Airlines Men's International Player of the Year: Andrew Balbirnie, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Paul Stirling

Shapoorji Pallonji Male Youth International Player of the Year: Nathan McGuire, Mitchell Thompson, Tim Tector

Shapoorji Pallonji Female Youth International Player of the Year: Orla Prendergast, Amy Hunter, Alana Dalzell

Clear Currency Volunteering Excellence Award: Michael Hickey (Lismore), Mark Jones (Leinster Lightning), Robert 'Lofty' McGonigle (Donemana)

Sunday Independent/Aengus Fanning Outstanding Contribution to Coaching: Andy Crea (Templepatrick/NCU), Brian O'Rourke (Leinster underage), Mark Olphert (Bready/NW), Stephen Crothers (Instonians/NCU)

Techfynder Club Official of the Year: Joe Connolly, David Caldwell, Talha Kayani

O'Neills Male Club Player of the Year: Andrew Britton (Brigade), Chris Dougherty (CIYMS), John Anderson (Merrion), Majid Khan (Midleton), Marc Ellison (CSNI)

O'Neills Female Club Player of the Year: Alison Cowan (CSNI), Rachel Delaney (Merrion), Sarah Black (Fox Lodge)

Tildenet Club of the Year: Ardmore, Bready, CIYMS, CSNI, Pembroke, Midleton

Test Triangle Inter-Provincial Player of the Year: Andrew Balbirnie (Lightning), Cormac Hassett (Reds), Graham Hume (Warriors), Harry Tector (Knights)

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