Can it really be 30 years since Ireland took those first unsure steps on to the world stage, at the ICC Trophy in Nairobi?
My diary tells me it is. Thirty years to the day this Monday, apparently, that I ran into the Boys in Green for the first time, beginning a journey that has spanned three decades across five continents and countless friendships and enjoyable evenings.
The start of the Ireland’s ascent to the top table of world cricket can probably be traced back to the appointment of Mike Hendrick as national coach the following year, but the players he inherited had already had a taste of international cricket - albeit a naive and at times chaotic one.
The first player I met was Alan Lewis, future chairman of selectors and international rugby referee, his megawatt smile illuminating a pre-tournament barbecue when the power failed. Lewie assumed the captaincy on the eve of Ireland’s first game when incumbent Stephen Warke ran into a roller during practice, and broke a bone in his elbow.
The amateur nature of the set up was immediately obvious, as was the friendliness of the squad who were puzzled to know who this Englishman was who would be covering their exploits for Radio Ulster, RTE and the News Letter, among others.
The group were drawn from all over the island. Lewie was a Dubliner, most of the squad played for clubs in and around Belfast and then there was Desmond ‘Decker’ Curry from the north-west, who, I was told, but didn’t necessarily believe, strangled sheep for a living.
This was new territory for all of them. After a first capped match during the Crimea War, Ireland had bumbled along for more than a century playing half a dozen games, or so, a year against fellow amateurs without raising the consciousness that cricket was played to any great level on the island.
Yet it was, and some decent players were ready to embark on their first global tournament after being elected to Associate membership of the International Cricket Council the year before.
There was ambition among the squad to show what they could do and to measure themselves against the more established Associate sides like the Netherlands, as well as hosts Kenya who were expected to do well in familiar conditions.
The challenge of trying to qualify for the 1996 World Cup was one to be relished but if there was an enthusiasm to embrace this new world it was in a ‘this is how we do it in Ireland’ sort of way. They were very much innocents abroad, from Derek Scott, the Hon Sec of the Irish Cricket Union, in his knee-length trench coat and trilby, to journalist Philip Boylan using Perrier water to brush his teeth.
Aided by a dubious victory over Papua New Guinea, and canters against Gibraltar and Malaysia, Ireland reached the second round where their limitations in terms of ability and experience were exposed by the United Arab Emirates, Bermuda and Canada.
In their final game, one of the northern club pros played out a maiden 45th over, stroking five of the six deliveries firmly to short extra. “He didn’t give me anything to hit,” he explained.
Dave Houghton, hired to assist coach John Wills, managed to keep a straight face. The Zimbabwean batsman would have seen the quality in that group, though: Lewis, Warke, off-spinner Garfield Harrison and Alan Nelson, a whippy fast-medium bowler, could all have had careers in county cricket.
But it was noticeable how few young players there were in a squad packed with tried and tested old soldiers, set in their ways. It took the arrival of Hendrick to blood youngsters like Mark and Andy Patterson, Peter Gillespie, Ryan Eagleson and, of course, Ed Joyce.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Thirty years, eh? Ridiculous…
You can read more about DT's escapades following the Ireland team by reading his book "Do They Play Cricket In Ireland?", published by Pitch Publishing and available on Amazon.