Pete Johnston was thrilled for his young Ireland charges after an historic 41-run DLS victory over New Zealand in Bloemfontein on Saturday, and predicting a bright future as the Boys in Green finished eighth at the U19 World Cup.
The win was the first by any Ireland cricket team against the Black Caps in 50 attempts, and it also delivered the highest finish by an U19 side at the biennial tournament in 11 campaigns, dating back to 1998.
“I’m immensely proud of what this group has achieved over the last couple of years,” coach Johnston said. “They have formed great friendships, made some cracking memories and are just at the start of their journey.”
So how good are the Class of ‘24?
The first thing to note is that a new tournament format, with a Super Six stage introduced, played into Johnston’s hands because under the old structure Ireland would been relegated to the Plate competition after losing to Bangladesh and India in Group A.
Instead, they had the chance to stretch semi-finalists Pakistan, losing narrowly by three wickets, and beat New Zealand, with Gavin Roulston (82) and Kian Hilton (72) helping to post 267-9 and the Kiwis floundering on 131-5 when the weather intervened.
Hilton, who also made 90 against Bangladesh, looks likely to be the first of the crop to get a chance in the senior Ireland side, while left-hander Roulston and Scott Macbeth - both from the north-west of the country - are also highly rated.
Kian Hilton celebrates his Fifty aginst Bangladesh (ICC)
Clontarf all-rounder John McNally had a good tournament too and remarkably YMCA speedster Reuben Wilson, who led the attack, is still only 17 and has another U19 World Cup in him.
Whether four or five of the group are able to kick on to greater things and become a golden generation, as William Porterfield, Eoin Morgan, Kevin O’Brien Gary Wilson and Boyd Rankin did from the 2004 squad, remains to be seen.
Ireland finished 10th as Plate Runners-up in 2022, but without doubt Johnston’s youngsters are the best since Andy Balbirnie and Paul Stirling led Ireland to a 'joint 10th' place at the U19 World Cup in 2010.