Why World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan should be celebrated on both sides of the Irish Sea
EOIN MORGAN couldn't have been clearer. "England don’t have a chance of winning the World Cup. None at all," he said before spelling out exactly what was wrong with the tactics, selection and approach of his adopted team. And he was right – he nearly always is.
We were having dinner with his former Ireland team-mate Paul Stirling, five months before the 2015 World Cup that saw England embarrassed by Bangladesh and win fewer games Down Under than Ireland, as their brand of one-day cricket was shown to be hopelessly out of date.
Morgan was animated that evening in Scarborough. It was clear that things would be done very differently if he were in charge, and also that he would love to take on the responsibility.
He was appointed England skipper a few weeks before the doomed campaign, with no time to change the style of play, or stamp his 'back yourself and play fearlessly' philosophy on the side.
It didn't take long. With free-hitting batsmen like Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow at the top of the order, the calm heads of Joe Root and Morgan himself in the middle and the swashbuckling Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to follow, England started bullying opponents.
Scores of 350-380 became commonplace and at Trent Bridge against Australia last year England should have become the first team to score 500 in a 50 overs innings, tailing off to a record 481-6.
It was and is Morgan's team; the 32-year-old is in complete control. His reading of a game and coolness under pressure are exemplary and he was the reason that the hosts began this World Cup as favourites and the No1 side on the planet.
And yet he is still not universally appreciated – never mind loved.
If he was from the Home Counties with an Oxbridge education, the English would be comparing Morgan to their greatest skipper Mike Brearley and arranging an honorary knighthood, but many fans and sections of the media have never quite warmed to the north Dubliner. Not wholly.
The lingering antipathy from some Irish quarters is easier to understand. The mildest of his remaining critics see Morgan as an opportunist; the harshest as a turncoat mercenary, and the sight of him lifting the World Cup would have been hard to take.
He was always going to play for England, of course, with a career path meticulously mapped out from an early age. On first meeting Adi Birrell, as a 15-year-old, he explained to the Ireland coach that his ambition was to play Test matches and his time with the Boys in Green would be limited.
Even as a teenager Eoin was his own man.
He won 63 caps, the first against the amateur Free Foresters being a barometer of the Irish fixture list in 2003, but once established in the Middlesex team his appearances became more reluctant, and he was dropped for what would have been his final match for demanding to fly home from South Africa once Ireland had qualified for the 2011 World Cup.
Nor did he endear himself by turning up to his old club Malahide as England captain in 2013, announcing that Ireland’s best young batsman Stirling should follow his path of defection and then scoring a match-winning century in front of the biggest Irish crowd to attend an ODI.
That wasn't the first time he had helped defeat the land of his birth. Fielding as a substitute in Belfast, soon after swapping flags in 2009, he somehow managed to leap and knock a Trent Johnston 'six' back into play in the last over as Ireland lost by three runs.
Yet surely it's time now to rise above all that and toast the brilliance of a focused and driven young man who dared to dream and reached the very pinnacle of his sport through talent and hard work? To lift the World Cup is an incredible achievement and it should be celebrated on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Fantastic effort, Eoin.
You do wonder, though, who he'll be supporting when Ireland play their first Test match at Lord’s next week.