A BRIDGE TOO FAR
My father’s best friend at school was killed in World War II as he attempted to parachute into Arnhem. Shot to pieces by SS Machine gun fire before he even hit the ground. He was 18 years old.
The failed operation is brilliantly told in the 1977 film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ which is a staple of Christmas movies for some reason – there’s not much festive spirit in it.
My colleague Ian Johnston informed me that it was actually filmed in Deventer, not Arnhem. The last time I visited there was back in 2003 where the U19 World Cup qualifiers were taking place.
A very strong Ireland team that included Eoin Morgan, William Porterfield, Gary Wilson, Kevin O’Brien, Greg Thompson, Gary Kidd and Boyd Rankin unsurprisingly won the tournament, and acquitted themselves very well in the 2004 World Cup in Bangladesh.
The Man of the Match award was a towel....
Ireland came within six runs of beating West Indies thanks to a brilliant Kevin O’Brien innings and Eoin Morgan gave Australia a real scare chasing over 300. Their final placing of 11th reflected the strength of the competition and the format with only the top two making it from group stages.
It was at this tournament that Adi Birrell – just over a year into his tenure took a close, in-depth look at the talent available to him for the challenges ahead. Four of whom would play a major role in the 2007 World Cup, with Gary Wilson so close to making it a fifth – edged out by Niall O’Brien and Jeremy Bray.
The current crop recorded a best finish of 8th, beating a NZ team for the first time at any level – quite an achievement. Anyone who thinks that this is the best team produced at the age group level is deluded though. Certainly, there are some fine cricketers in Pete Johnston’s side, but they are well short of the quality of the 2004 squad and indeed the 2010 one.
As a side note, keep an eye out for a RTE documentary on Eoin Morgan - due out later this year.
It will be interesting to watch who gets elevated to higher honours in the years ahead. None of them are included in the Wolves squad for Nepal, so it seems that the Academy and interpro routes will be their first call. There are of course important examinations in the pipeline for many of them, so it may be a case for study first, cricket second over the next five months. We wish them well in those.
It was surprising that Senior Head Coach Heinrich Malan didn’t take the opportunity to watch the team in action during the competition – especially as the senior side only had two weeks competitive action during five months between the end of September and the Afghanistan games at the end of the month. He did manage to get to Antigua to watch the Academy, so it’s a bit strange for him not to take in the next generation in his country of birth.
There is certainly a feel good factor around with the displays of not only the 19’s, but also the Women, who came within one ball of completing an 8-0 perfect whitewash of their series’ against Zimbabwe.
It has to be said that the hosts were pretty horrific in all aspects of the games, only really possessing 3-4 players of international quality, and using the series to give debuts to a number of 15 year-olds.
Ireland though looked lean and mean, never taking the foot off the throat of their opponents. One interesting aspect that caught my eye was the power hitting aspect from the top-order. For example, skipper Laura Delany had only hit two sixes in 194 matches, but matched that by clearing the ropes twice in the T20 games. Orla Prendergast was the biggest hitter, clearing the ropes six times to take her international tally to 18, one behind Gaby Lewis, while Amy Hunter has 15 to her name. It won't be long you feel efore the trio pass the record of 21 set by Clare Shillington.
There’s no doubt that full-time contracts has helped with power and fitness, and hopefully this will continue in the sterner challenges that await Ed Joyce’s side.
DEAD CERT ‘A’
I conducted a bit of market research last week. I asked 40 Irish media, players, officials and fans if they could tell me who was the current main shirt sponsor of the men and women.
A very encouraging 32 of the 40 knew that Certa were the women’s sponsors, but only 1 of the 40 knew that Prozeal were the sponsor during the December series in Zimbabwe.
Interestingly, while Prozeal were on the T20 shirts, there were none on the ODI shirt, so maybe 39 of the 40 got it right…
I’m guessing by the number of different sponsors the men have, the revolving door policy is due to the fact that we have sold the shirt rights and they then sell on to the highest bidders for various series.It must make for a terrible waste of shirts having all different brands?
GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM
The return of the Stormont government could mean excellent news for the development of the cricket ground a mile down the road.
There are major plans for the CSNI venue, with a multi-million development well past the planning stage and just waiting the green light. Proposals were lodged two years ago for a major redevelopment of the Pavilion Complex.
The £25m project will see a major revamp of the facility within the Stormont Estate creating a centre of excellence for sport.
That would be a major boost for the sport in the NCU area. There are also hopes in the NW for a tie-in with Institute FC’s new ground at Clooney and the adjacent Beechgrove ground of Brigade.
There have been whispers too but nothing concrete as of yet around the Abbotstown project that Cricket Ireland hope will be ready for the T20 World Cup in 2030.
Given that CEO Warren Deutrom, and Chairman Brian MacNeice met with Minister Jack Chambers (no relation..) and Micheál O’Conaire back in December 2022, there appeared to be an urgency that to date hasn’t materialized or been reciprocated.
Writing to the minister at the time, Deutrom stated: “Brian and I were greatly encouraged by the Minister’s support for the development of the playing surfaces of the new National Cricket Stadium, and recognition of the urgency around ensuring these are laid early enough to satisfy the ICC timelines around ensuring fit-for-purpose facilities to host a World Cup.
“We were also encouraged by the undertaking to restore the second ground harmonized with the main complex. This will be essential to facilitate playing/training for both high performance and community usage moving forward. We also believe it will further promote cross-sport usage, for example by archery (which was the combination used at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London during the 2012 Olympics).
“We share the Minister’s prudent approach around ensuring that the playing surfaces are prioritised at this juncture, bearing in mind their urgency, and the preference to avoid any protracted discussions around planning and cost considerations of more substantial physical infrastructure, which might have the effect of delaying the priority of laying the playing surfaces.
“However, we strongly believe that this should not prevent the commencement of work behind-the-scenes with the architects to develop our vision for what the physical infrastructure might look like by the World Cup in 2030. It is essential we build with a plan for the finished product in mind, rather than adopt a piecemeal approach which might necessitate undoing anything unanticipated at the start of the process.
“In particular, the construction of all associated infrastructure (HP centre, 2nd oval) should be harmonised with not just the permanent physical infrastructure, but also any temporary overlay required by ICC to host the event. …….there is a clear synergy between the Government’sown Vision for the Campus of ‘world-class’ infrastructure and the ICC’s own requirements of a ‘world-class’ platform for its pinnacle event.”
Given that work only started last month on the USA stadium that will be converted to host games in the World Cup this June, maybe there is no rush with the tournament Ireland is co-hosting six years, rather than months away.
The last minute nature of the stadium in the USA reminded me of the opening of the Lance Gibbs stand in Guyana – as the ceremony was starting, the brickies were still cementing the final bricks in place…No rush, man. Plenty of time…