Archive for the 'Sunday Tribune columns' Category

WHEN Jeremy Bray and Dave Langford-Smith flew out to the Caribbean in early March the last thing they would have expected to see in their futures was carrying Ruby Wax onto the set of the ‘Late Late Show’… and have the ‘comedienne’ describe them as “stud muffins”.

But that was just the latest reward for the team in a week they arrived home after more than seven weeks away.

The ‘Late Late’ appearance wasn’t half as embarrassing as these things can be. The text messages sent in by the public were positive, although one from ‘Mike’ thought that Parnell would be spinning in his grave at the suggestion cricket be played in Croke Park. Besides the fact that no-one has actually seriously suggested this, Charles Stewart Parnell was a keen cricketer and played alongside his father for many years for his own team, Avondale.

Saying a final farewell on Friday was Adi Birrell, rightly described by ICU president Tom Prior as “the best thing to happen to Irish cricket in years”. The ICU acknowledged Birrell’s enormous contribution with a five-figure golden handshake, a gesture that none can quibble with.

The Bank of Ireland also presented the departing coach with a Robert Ballagh print to mark his achievements.

An early indicator of the new standing of the team that Birrell built came with the approach to the ICU from New Zealand last week. The possibility of Ireland filling the third place in a tri-series tournament with the Kiwis and another top nation next winter has been suggested.

One lasting souvenir of the Caribbean adventure is sure to be the documentary produced by Sligoman Paul Davey. Out jogging in a Sydney park 15 months ago, he saw an Irish jersey and stopped to chat with its wearer. That it happened to be Niall O’Brien was one of those little flukes that change lives.

Davey was unaware of Ireland’s cricket team and was even more surprised to hear they were in the forthcoming World Cup. A plan hatched in his head and the young filmmaker headed for Jamaica for what he thought would be a fortnight.

Instead his short film turned into an epic seven week tale of Daithi beating… and tieing with… Goliaths.

With unprecedented access to the team, and physio Iain Knox taking the camera into places where film-makers aren’t allowed, he recorded the highs and lows of the whole trip. When Ireland were due to fly to Guyana for the Super Eights he was tearing his hair out because he simply didn’t have the cash to get there. Denis O’Brien, whose Digicel firm have big interests in the region, heard of his plight and offered him funding for flights and accommodation for the rest of the adventure, allowing him to complete his project.

Davey returns to Ireland in July, when he will complete the film and tie up deals to have it shown. With RTE’s Ed Leahy working on a wider ranging documentary on the sport, there could well be a couple of fine DVDs in cricketers’ Christmas stockings this year.

If there’s any room left after Trent Johnston’s book has fitted in of course!

THE Irish Cricket Union suffered a blow yesterday when Boyd Rankin was told that Derbyshire need him next weekend. The ICU had made strenuous efforts to secure the release of the county-contracted players for the homecoming game against Kent at Stormont next Sunday.

As of last night there was still doubts about Niall O’Brien (Northamptonshire) and Eoin Morgan (Middlesex). With the retirement of Paul Mooney… and at least one other highly likely… places are opening up in the squad and the likes of Kenny Carroll, Roger Whelan and Gary Kidd will be eyeing a place in the brave new world.

The one-day series between India and South Africa arranged for Stormont in June could now be moved to Dublin with the two test nations games against Ireland moving north. There is speculation that the upsurge in interest in the south… and the larger South Asian community there… would make a switch prudent. A decision is expected in the next few days.

There should be an enormous welcome for the Irish team from those who enjoyed their performances over the last five weeks. So far there is no plan for an open-topped bus, but it is likely plenty of supporters will converge on Dublin Airport on Tuesday when BD127 touches down at 2.45pm. There won’t be much free time for the players either: the sponsors host a reception for the team the following evening and the ultimate accolade of a grateful nation… an appearance on the ‘Late Late Show’… awaits on Friday night.

With the north’s First and Deputy First Minister also keen to meet the players, Phil Simmons mightn’t see an awful lot of them before they turn up at Stormont.

The prolonged stay in Grenada gave them a chance to take the ‘Crossbar Challenge’ for Sky’s Soccer AM show. Our mole reports the players attempts were “rubbish”… the point of the game is to hit the crossbar from the halfway line… with only Man O’War’s left-half forward Johnny Mooney coming close. Boyd Rankin did hit the crossbar, but only on the second bounce.

The man-of-the-match awards won by Jeremy Bray, Niall O’Brien and Will Porterfield count on a points table towards a man of the tournament prize. Each award earns three points, but there are also two and one points to the ‘runners-up’ in the poll of commentators that decides the prize. O’Brien is still in the top 10 of this table with five points, ahead of such stars as Gibbs, Oram, Fleming and Chanderpaul. Bray and Porterfield have three points each, but several other Irishmen are ranked:

Andre Botha and Trent Johnston have two each and Boyd Rankin, Andrew White and Kevin O’Brien one.

ashe.jpgA great cricket supporter died at his home in Dublin last week. Peter Ashe (left) was an Englishman who brought wit, passion and knowledge to his support of the various club sides he watched, primarily Trinity.

He worked on the staff of the university and was a conspicuous presence in College Park for most of the 1980s and 1990s where he barracked for the cricket and rugby sides with his trademark ‘TRINIT-EEEEE’. He was also to be found at times in Pembroke and Clontarf where his support was welcomed. Ashe was never a mere ‘fan’: he saw his role as ’supporter’ and his duty to offer support, particularly to struggling sides. “Asher was unique in many respects, ” said former Trinity captain Michael Rea, “and at his best in College Park.”

The suspicion that non-test sides get the rough end of the umpiring may be borne out by new statistics compiled by Brian O’Sullivan for the CricketEurope website.

Counting leg-before-wicket calls in games between test and associate nations, he has come up with a serious imbalance of how these were awarded. In warm-up games there were 12 given to test sides and none given in return. In the group stage the test teams ‘won’ by 22-5, while in the Super Eight phase Ireland had nine lbws against and a solitary one given (McCallan trapped Fulton of New Zealand). The imbalance is 43-6 in the 26 games, a gulf that cannot be explained away easily.

THE Irish squad got a nice bonus from their trip to Guyana… the freedom of the city of Georgetown. The Irish have impressed the locals with their friendliness and when a large contingent of them turned up at the renaming of Almond Street as Lance Gibbs Street on Tuesday night, the honour was bestowed.

Gibbs’s 309 scalps held the world record for wickets in a test career for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Now living in the US, local officials and cricketers were keen to honour him on his visit to the country to coincide with the World Cup.

His old Demerara club, which also produced Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks and Roger Harper, was filled with old friends and dignitaries, including the Guyanese prime minister and the Lord Mayor of Georgetown.

The photos on the wall brought back memories of a former CYM professional Will White, now in the US, and Mark Harper, who once scored 1,000 runs in a month in the North-West.

The West Indian spin king took time out to impart a few tricks to Ireland spinners Kyle McCallan and Andrew White, while assistant coach Matt Dwyer… himself a tweaker of renown… looked on in awe.

Gibbs showed them the grotesquely enlarged knuckle where he gripped the ball and told how it would bleed during long spells.

How long can it be before we have a Matt Dwyer Street in Skerries?

The ICC have been strict on logos of companies that don’t pay for the privilege of being Global Partners to the organisation. RTE reporter Robbie Irwin came across their tough stance when he was trying to film some Irish supporters outside Sabina Park for a piece last week.

The supporters were clustered around the competition’s mascot Mello, an eight-foot-tall meerkat, but a stroppy official spotted one fan wearing an Ireland international soccer shirt and objected to Umbro manufacturers’ logo.

The indefatigable Irwin dodged the ICC crew again this week when he got out to the middle of the Providence stadium to film a rare interview with top umpire Steve Bucknor.

Bucknor was delighted to meet and talk to some Irish people and revealed to Inside Edge that he absolutely loved the song ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’, which he learned back in school in Jamaica.

There won’t have been many eyes smiling at one leading Irish firm these past few weeks. The company was offered the opportunity to have their name on the Irish players’ sleeves, a prime spot facing down the wicket.

As little as £5,000 would have given them nine games in front of the world with a total audience of billions. However, the firm preferred to sponsor a different sporting event.

No disrespect to another minority sport, but I suspect a junior rowing event won’t quite draw that audience.

THE Irish players were a bit unhappy with their lodgings here in Georgetown when they first arrived.

The Cara Lodge is a fine boutique hotel, but it does not possess a pool or exercise room which is a must for modern sports teams.

The hotel is owned by a pair of Irishmen, Shaun McGrath, from Letterkenny, Co Donegal and Dubliner Paul Stephenson, and they have laid on a great welcome for the squad complete with a ‘Cead Mile Failte’ banner.

The Pakistan advance party selected the Cara Lodge because it was in a Muslim district and close to a mosque, and Ireland inherited their booking.

The small travelling party of reporters have been glad to have the services of a reliable local taxi driver, who glories in the name of Kenroy Jupiter.

‘Redman’, as he prefers to be known, is a third cousin of a former Trinity and Civil Service fast bowler, Dave Daniels, who left Guyana 20 years ago and now lives in New York.

IRELAND’s heroic cricket squad will receive all the prize money they earn in the World Cup.

“The team have earned every penny, ” Irish Cricket Union (ICU) honorary secretary John Wright told the Sunday Tribune yesterday.

The sum to be divided will be a minimum of US$72,500 ( 54,536), or around 4,000 a head.

The team earned $22,500 for the results in the group stage, where they beat Pakistan, tied with Zimbabwe and lost to the West Indies.

The prize money in the Super Eight stages is staggered, with the team finishing last collecting $50,000. The seventh-place team picks up $100,000 and winnings rise by $50,000 per place up to fourth when it accelerates.

The winners earn $2,400,000.

The Irish Cricket Union stands to reap huge benefits from the performances of its players in Jamaica. The commercial profile of the sport has received a huge boost, and according to an ICU source, six or seven large companies are eager to get in on the act.

The Irish team is sponsored by Bank of Ireland, but the bank has been forced to take a back seat at the tournament as one of the World Cup’s commercial partners is Scotiabank. The team usually wear the bank’s logo on their kit but have had to wear the word ‘IRELAND’ across their shirts here. A consolation for the bank is the large number of appearances of supporters wearing its name and logos in the worldwide media.

The ICU is in negotiations with some of the biggest names in Irish business about getting their names on the shirts. Irish mobile phone company Digicell… enormously successful here in the Caribbean… is precluded from involvement because Cable & Wireless is a World Cup sponsor.

The ICU was also delighted to hear that the bill for the Magee suits worn by the team at official functions here has been torn up by the firm. Suddenly everyone wants a piece of these cricketers.

The commitment shown by the mostly amateur squad has been extraordinary.

Every weekend since last summer, players have travelled from as far as Strabane and Kilkenny to their training centre in north county Dublin. Others spent six weeks at an International Cricket Council-funded High Performance Training Camp in South Africa.

Besides ten days at home in March, the squad has been on the road since early January at training and competition in South Africa, Kenya, Abu Dhabi and Trinidad. They have travelled 28,100 miles, more than the circumference of the planet.

The Northern Ireland sports council has been paying the salaries of the five players from the North since last September, all of whom have been granted sabbaticals from their jobs. The Republic-based players have had their salaries paid by the ICU since they went into fulltime training in early January.

The ICU’s John Wright flies home today for a short break and meetings with the two sports councils, but has already been told by sports minister John O’Donoghue that any requests for increased funding will be looked upon favourably.

Clubs around Ireland are also keen to benefit from the increased interest with the local season due to start in three weeks’ time.

“Many of the clubs hold camps during the Easter holidays, ” said Wright, “I urge any boys and girls who’d like to sample the game to come along to those. They’ll be sure of a warm welcome.”

Clubs in the Dublin area that have confirmed Easter camps include Railway Union in Sandymount and Malahide.

The legion of Irish fans that have travelled to the Caribbean will return home with extraordinary memories. Some many even return with broken bones.

We’re not suggesting that there will be anything but a sporting encounter in the Cayman Islands versus Jamaica Gaelic football match that takes place in Ocho Rios today.

But there may be a bit of spice at the Melbourne CC ground in Kingston when the locals turn up at noon today for a game against an Irish side. The Melbourne Invitation XI is a strong one, including in its ranks eight former West Indies players, including such greats as Courtney Walsh and Laurence Rowe.

They may prove a bit strong for the Dublin side, the Terenure Taverners.

We sense a little bit of a communications breakdown here, as the taverners side is essentially a group of drinkers who like to throw the bat in 20-over games on summer Friday evenings.

Facing the eponymous great at the Courtney Walsh Drive ground - even in retirement - is probably still a bit quicker than they are used to. The Irishmen responsible for this fixture were hard to find in Kingston yesterday.

Presumably they were practicing. Or buying helmets.

The TV cameras have been zooming in on a 6′8″ inch leprechaun who has an extraordinary amount of energy. The man in question is Adrian Raftery and he has travelled here from Sydney. Kylie, his wife of six days, is here too and smiles indulgently at his antics. Raftery’s parents are from Galway and he visited Ireland last year as a member of the Australia over-35s team that played a three-test series of International Rules against Ireland.

There was a nice bonus for the Irish Cricket Union from Thursday’s tie with Zimbabwe. Winners of each pool match receive $10,000 and the losers $5,000. The extra $2,500 that Niall O’Brien secured off the last ball will come in handy when the bills come in for this trip.

Ireland opener Will Porterfield has a burning ambition to make a career of cricket with an English county side.

He told Inside Edge over the course of this weekend that he has had talks with both Kent and Gloucestershire but is likely to opt for the latter. “They want me to go over after the World Cup, ” he said. That’s not likely to endear him to his teammates as Gloucestershire are Ireland’s first opponents in the one-day Friends Provident League on 22 April. That game at Clontarf will be the first chance for the Irish public to salute its World Cup heroes.

A year ago Porterfield was way down the pecking order in the Ireland squad but a conversation with Adi Birrell set him on the road to Sabina. “He thought it would be beneficial for me to play cricket in Ireland again, so I joined Rush.

Playing in Dublin was the best option - it’s a better league, playing better cricket. I thought I’d get a bit more exposure too, so it worked out well for me.” It’s been a busy few years for the 22-year-old from the Donemana club in Derry.

He spent three years studying at Bradford-Leeds UCCE, which gave him three games a year against county teams, and he also spent four summers on the MCC Young Cricketers programme.

With a couple of retirements expected and the prospect of county deals taking others away, it may be a very different Ireland team that defends its ICC Intercontinental Cup next month. The game will be held on the County Ground in Chelmsford, Essex on 21-24 May.