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Kevin O’Brien bows out quietly, but he should be hailed as Ireland’s greatest


Kevin O'Brien earned a record 389 caps.

Kevin O'Brien earned a record 389 caps.

Kevin O'Brien earned a record 389 caps.

Kevin O’Brien announced his retirement from international cricket yesterday, not with the fanfare his magnificent 15-year career warranted but with a quietly released message on social media, thanking his family and fans.

The prolific all-rounder, who was unceremoniously dropped at the end of last year, has apparently given up on adding to his tally of 389 caps, an Irish record for any sport.

“I had hoped to finish my Ireland career at the T20 World Cup in Australia,” O’Brien said. “But having not been picked since last year’s World Cup, I feel that the selectors and management are looking elsewhere. I’d like to thank all the coaches I’ve worked with, in particular Adi Birrell for giving me the opportunity to play international cricket in 2006, and Phil Simmons, for the eight very enjoyable and successful years we shared together with the national team.

“A special mention too for all my youth coaches through the Railway Union and Leinster systems, especially Brian O’Rourke.”

It was noticeable that the 38-year-old’s statement made no mention of Cricket Ireland who should have allowed their longest-serving player to depart on his own terms, and could surely still arrange a testimonial of some sort to say a proper goodbye.

It’s said there is no room for sentimentality in sport but how much does Cricket Ireland owe to those two World Cup innings O’Brien played in Jamaica and Bangalore?While he will always be remembered for that stunning 113 against England in 2011 – still the fastest century in World Cup history – the 16 not out from 52 balls against Pakistan four years earlier in Kingston was probably of equal importance, if not greater.

When his team-mates were struggling, O’Brien stood strong for more than an hour-and-a-half to help deliver the nervy three-wicket win that set Ireland on the road to playing Test match cricket.

The man-of-the-match in that famous victory was his older brother. “To be able to share the field and dressing-room with Niall for 12 years is something I’m incredibly grateful for – they were amazing times,” O’Brien said.

In all, he scored 9,048 international runs, including a highest score of 171 not out against Kenya in Nairobi, and the first Test century for Ireland, against Pakistan in 2018, plus 276 wickets with his under-rated medium pace, and 181 catches.

In the pantheon of Irish cricketers, he will never be considered as classy as Ed Joyce, as successful as Eoin Morgan nor as relentless as Dermott Monteith, but given his breadth of work and longevity it’s hard to argue against O’Brien as being the greatest player to pull on the green shirt.

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And even as one of its members bows out, the dynasty that began with father Brendan ‘Ginger’ O’Brien in 1966, looks set to continue with Rob O’Brien, the brothers’ nephew, who starred with the bat when Ireland U-15s won the Durham festival last week.

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