Stirling displays make Paul a worthy winner of top award
As Cricket Ireland steps up into a new era, it was the younger generation of players who went home with the big prizes from Friday night's Turkish Airlines Awards ceremony in Dublin.
The Hanley Energy Women's International Player of the Year, Gaby Lewis; Turkish Airlines Men's Player of the Year, Paul Stirling; and the Sunday Independent Aengus Fanning International Emerging Player of the Year, Jacob Mulder, represent the future as Ireland prepare to play their first men's Test match from May 11-15 next year.
Stirling, a huge favourite with supporters, is still only 27 but has spent a decade in the team. He made more than 700 runs in 2017, with a purple patch in Greater Noida as Ireland contested a ding-dong series with Afghanistan. Stirling made successive innings of 49, 68, 95 and 99 in incredibly difficult conditions, and later in the season played a battling 48 as Ireland gave England a rattle at Lord's.
The all-rounder Lewis was first capped at 14, won the Sunday Independent Aengus Fanning International Emerging Player of the Year Award in 2015, and this year claimed the senior women's award.
Already one of the leaders in the side, she started the year with runs and wickets against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Asia. Over a difficult season for her team she was remarkably consistent and played a big role in the win over Zimbabwe.
The future was a recurring theme for Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom in his state-of-the-union speech at the ceremony in Smock Alley.
"By becoming a Test nation and ICC Full Member, we have completed one stage of a journey that has taken Irish cricket to one of the premier nations in the world's second biggest sport.
"And it is a journey that has been travelled with remarkable speed. Just 10 years ago our then new strategy outlined as a key goal, the men's team being competitive in England's 50-over domestic cup. Now, we are planning our first Test against Pakistan and looking forward to our debut in the future tours programme two years later."
That first Test match was a constant theme in conversations as the venue buzzed with anticipation for the historic year ahead.
And there was a welcome boost for Cricket Ireland facing into that year when Turkish Airlines announced it had extended its sponsorship into 2019. Hasan Mutlu, General Manager Ireland, said: "As cricket in Ireland moves into a new era with Test status, Turkish Airlines are delighted to be announcing tonight that our sponsorship of Cricket Ireland and the Ireland Men's cricket team has been extended to 2019."
"Think forward to Friday, May 11, 2018, our first-ever day of Test cricket as a Full Member", suggested Deutrom. "Won't you want to say in 10 years' time - player, fan, sponsor, broadcaster, cricket writer, corporate guest - that you were there, that you have that ticket, that match programme, those memories?
"How often in our lives do we get to experience a genuine sporting 'first'? Perhaps Ireland v England at Croker in 2007? Katie Taylor's gold medal in London? Soldier Field in Chicago last November? To those you should add the opening day of our first Test."
Deutrom warned that Test status is not an end in itself. "Let's be clear, this year's milestone is just that, a milestone. Being a Test nation is about much more than white clothing and a red ball and five days - it's about having a pool of cricketers capable of competing with the world's best; it's about a thriving club infrastructure; it's about a strong support base with engaged players, fans and stakeholders; it's about moving cricket even further into the mainstream through visibility, promotion and funding.
"It's about the real work starting now and understanding that we need to tackle more than just the 21 boxes we ticked to satisfy ICC's full member criteria."
Eighteen awards were made on Friday night, with Lewis collecting a second as female youth player of the year. Her two were among six awards won by the YMCA club, whose senior men struggled on the field although Simi Singh and Harry Tector had memorable seasons elsewhere.
The Hanley Energy Inter-Pro upgrade allowed James Shannon to show his class with the bat and he was an automatic choice for that award, while Laura Delany took the prize for the Toyota Super 3s. Ryan Eagleson was recognised as coach of the year for helping steer the men's under 19s to their World Cup.
Recognising men whose work laid the foundations for the recent successes, ICU secretaries Derek Scott and John Wright, two awards were renamed in their honour. The volunteer of the year award went to Dave Ramsey who drove the revival and progress of Co Kerry CC, while the prize for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Cricket was given to Barry Chambers. The indefatigable media manager steps down this month after 17 years and also gave Irish cricket a wider audience through one of the finest websites in all sport, Cricket Europe.
The Cricket Writers select the Hall of Fame award and this year inducted its first women players, Mary Pat Moore and Miriam Grealey.
Mulder ready for Test stage
It's only four years since Jacob Mulder landed in Belfast hoping to spend the summer playing cricket in the city where his mother, Helen Baird, was born. “My dad set it up with a friend of his, I was basically just hoping to have a bit of fun and delay starting university,” he admits.
An accomplished bowler growing up in Western Australia, he soon found his feet and rose rapidly through the system. He spent winters back home in Perth, representing his state under 19s, but Irish cricket spotted him early and he was capped in September 2016.
This season saw him turn in some excellent displays and begin to challenge the established spinners in the Irish side, and he was a worthy winner of the Sunday Independent Aengus Fanning International Emerging Player of the Year award.
“To be in with a chance of playing Test cricket was a childhood dream. Obviously it was in the ‘baggy green’ of Australia then, but Test cricket is Test cricket and it’s all the guys and I are thinking about.”
Sunday Indo Sport