Irish cricket must go professional if it is to achieve its potential and prevent players from leaving the country after the lure of county contracts in England, according to Ireland coach Phil Simmons.

Speaking ahead of his side's ICC Intercontinental Cup final against Canada at Grace Road starting tomorrow (22-25 May) Simmons said there was no limit to the potential of the game in Ireland provided the right structures are put in place and winning another ICC Intercontinental Cup would be another step in the development of the team.

'It is all about the direction we are going in and we have some good young players coming through,' said Simmons.

'The next step is that Irish cricket has to go professional. They have to support their players and stop them from running away to counties all the time. If we can do that then we will be the force that we potentially can be. We must pay the players or we will continue to lose players like Ed Joyce.

'There is no barrier to the potential that Irish cricket can achieve. They can go as far as they want to go so long as all the structures are put in place.'

Having assumed the job as coach from Adrian Birrell following the remarkably successful ICC Cricket World Cup for Ireland, Simmons is determined to win his first piece of silverware and to do it at his old stomping ground of Grace Road, Leicester would be even more sweet.

'It's always great to be back in Grace Road - it's second home for me. The guys are really up for this match and as defending champions we are determined not to let go of the title. We have played Canada in a couple of one-day games but this is a four-day game and very different.

'The main difference is patience and trying to stay at the wicket a lot longer than you do in one-day cricket. That will be the hardest thing. Coming from one-day cricket to longer cricket is much harder than the other way around.'

Simmons' opposite number Andy Pick is on the way out as coach of Canada and is therefore anxious to finish his tenure in charge on a high note. But he knows that Ireland is a tough team to play against.

'It will be interesting to see what sort of team they put out,' said Pick. 'I understand they have a couple of guys struggling to get out of professional contracts and they have an injury as well so until we see their final eleven, it will not be easy to predict.

'They are potentially very dangerous in both batting and bowling and that is why they did so well at the World Cup. They are gutsy and they will fight no matter who they are playing and they will never give up. It will be a battle and we are looking forward to the challenge.

'With Henry (Osinde) and Umar (Bhatti) we have a very good opening attack when they are firing. Henry has a point to prove after he was a little disappointing during the World Cup. The problem we have is consistency.'

The new format in the ICC Intercontinental Cup means sides play a minimum of three four-day matches in this tournament. This increases to seven four-day matches in 2007 and 2008 when the event will be a full round-robin and global format.

That compares to a minimum of just two three-day matches per year under the previous structure which, until the semi-finals, was regionally based rather than global.

The ICC Intercontinental Cup began in 2004 to give the leading players from Associate sides the chance to improve by exposing them to a longer form of the game.