Niall O’Brien: If we’re ever going to beat England in Ireland, Friday’s the day

Our new cricket ambassador on beating the English in 2011, and what the future holds for Ireland


It’s unfortunate that Ireland won’t be at this year’s Cricket World Cup. Ireland are a Test nation now, so in my opinion they should be automatically qualified for the tournament. To have a World Cup with just 10 teams seems ludicrous, especially when you see other sports’ World Cups expanding, as is the case with football.

I understand there are timescales to which tournaments must be confined, but I’m sure there’s a way of doing this with a competition containing 12 or 16 teams. If necessary, tweakscan be made to ensure it doesn’t drag on too long. So it’s very disappointing.

That aside, Ireland had numerous chances to qualify for this edition and we let them slip. We weren’t good enough over the three-week World Cup qualifying period in Zimbabwe during which we knew we had to finish in the top two to make it. So as much as Ireland players past and present can moan and complain about the allocation of places, we didn’t take our chances to get there.

Niall O'Brien

There are ongoing conversations to be had with the ICC about these issues, and they are usually open to it, but it seems as if they’re focused on expanding the T20 World Cup.

There are several teams around the world coming up, such as the USA, who’ve just gained ODI status. The game must expand, and Ireland must improve alongside that or risk being bypassed by these teams.

Ireland were the standard-bearers for “Associate” nations for a long time, but Afghanistan have surpassed us in that regard. Scotland are hot on Ireland’s heels and there’s also Nepal making strides; they have their own Premier League setup that attracts 20,000 people to domestic matches. So Ireland need to get better fast or risk being overtaken.

It’s been a tough 12 months or so for Graham Ford, Ireland’s coach, who’s very highly regarded and highly accomplished. But even he may not have realised how difficult a job it was going to be. Unfortunately the team aged and there were a number of key retirements over a two-or-three-year period, from which the side hasn’t yet recovered.

But now, there are a couple of young players coming through such as Lorcan Tucker and Josh Little. There’s talent out there and these youngsters need to be given opportunities toplay and learn on the job. That’s the quickest way to learn and the best way to improve. If they’re good enough, they’re old enough; get them in the team.

William Porterfield Eoin Morgan

England v Ireland in 2011

We should have beaten Bangladesh the previous game having had them on the ropes. Unfortunately we lost comfortably in the end, which really hurt the team. Myself and John Mooney found a watering hole in Dhaka just to go and drown our sorrows. We knew we had to do something special to make up for the result. To play England in the following match was an ideal scenario; it was great motivation.

Back in 2011, the 320-plus that England put up was a big score to chase. Now, if a side knocks up that kind of total, you’d think that’s probably par. But at half-time, we thought, “Wow, that’s a decent score.” We had 40,000 people from Bangalore on our side, which helped.

The lads really resolved to go for it. That was the mentality, and may have been why we initially got ourselves into a bad position at 120-5. We were in deep water at that point. To be fair to Kevin [O’Brien], he played the knock of a lifetime and had a career-defining innings.

It set him up all round the world to play in various different leagues. He was probably the only player in our team capable of that kind of thing at the time. It was wonderful and we celebrated hard – it was a great day for Irish sport, one of those days that will live long in the memory.

We dined out on it for a while – free taxis, free pints, free food. Happy days.

Has Ireland cricket plateaued?

Going back to the early 2000s, Adi Birrell, the then-Ireland coach, made waves by immediately dropping the wicket-keeper Andy Patterson in favour of me. He got a lot abuse for that: “Why’s this young O’Brien lad keeping wicket?” people asked.

Adi Birrell responded that he believed in me and backed me for the team. He did the same with William Porterfield and Kevin, picking young guys who were hungry for success ahead ofestablished guys. He invested time in the younger generation knowing that in a few years’ time the World Cup was coming around.

Graham Ford needs to do the same thing and invest in the future. The selectors may need to look past the old guard and get some of these young guys in. Let them fail and let them learn from their experiences – good or bad – because a couple of years down the line the team will be better for it. There’s no point keeping the same old team and making the same old mistakes.

The team isn’t winning, so why not change it up and see what happens? Who knows? The younger guys may bring something new to the team; liven up the dressing room, raise the team in the field and bring a different perspective.

Graham Ford Ireland cricket

Ireland’s chances?

When Ireland used to play their home internationals at Clontarf, we always had a good record there.

But Malahide isn’t a happy hunting ground for Ireland, despite it being a lovely venue. When the sun shines, there’ll be a great crowd there and a great atmosphere – but it’s not a ground at which Ireland win too many games. So that’s always in the back of your mind. The team need to get that monkey off their back.

England will have a much-changed side, with the IPL players not playing. They’ve had a bit of controversy in the camp, with Alex Hales banned, while Jason Roy is injured and Sam Billings is not playing due to a shoulder issue. So there are some new faces, which can work two ways: will the newcomers be nervous, or will they be determined to take their chance to impress?

It’ll be interesting to see how England come out and play. But they’re a very positive side led by a very positive leader, and he’ll try to stamp his authority on the game early by getting England on the front foot. If Ireland are ever going to beat England in Ireland, Friday’s the day.

Ireland 15/2 | England 1/16

What do you think?