AS Ireland and Scotland prepare to create full-time cricketers on central funds for the first time, Cricket Europe has conducted an exclusive interview with the man charged with making sure they spend the money wisely. And his message is loud and clear.

Both Celtic nations are expected to announce before Christmas exactly what they intend to do with unprecedented levels of funding from the ICC in terms of establishing a professional structure. But which players will get the contracts?

Richard Done, the ICC's high performance manager, gathered officials from the six second-tier nations together last month and made it clear that when they come to pick players to professionalise, there had better be a firm emphasis on potential rather than on past deeds.

Many questions remain unanswered about this new era for associate cricket. Chiefly, the governing bodies themselves are still waiting to hear exactly how much they will receive from the ICC after the postponement of the Champions Trophy in Pakistan ran a scythe through the HPP budget.

It is understood that Cricket Scotland were hoping to make four players full-time, with the promise of expanding the group if Ryan Watson's team qualify for the 2011 World Cup, but they have since pared back the core figure to three.

Everyone seems to be playing a guessing game; except, that is, the three youngsters who are abroad on Terry Racionzer scholarships. Ross Lyons, Richie Berrington and Qasim Sheikh have all been told they won't be included in the first full-time draft, and will have to pin their hopes on the team getting over the line in South Africa in April.

So what about the Irish? Cricket Ireland already have a history of being rather less prudent than their neighbours but it's unlikely they will be able to give Phil Simmons more than half a team to work with on a daily basis again with the rider that qualification for 2011 would improve the picture.

Here, Richard Done outlines the contracts conundrum faced by the cricket world's second-tier nations as they seek to take advantage of an unprecedented window of opportunity.

Q: How should the likes of Scotland and Ireland be approaching this chance to make players professional?

A: "The full-time professionalisation of a cricket country, particularly in Europe, is an expensive issue. So in terms of how we look to professionalise, and what the effects are, what I've been saying to countries is that we need to be looking forward towards 2011 and the World Cup.

"The players we should be looking at targeting in terms of professional contracts are the players in the younger bracket, I suppose the developing bracket, who we can be quite certain will be the players who will actually go to the World Cup 2011. If you can pick a core of six to eight or ten young players who are going to impact on 2011, they're the ones we should be contracting.

"They are the ones who are going to be benefiting most, as well, from being in a full-time professional environment.

"One of the issues we have in the associate world is about availability for the amount of cricket that they have to play, so people in full-time employment and who have other jobs and commitments with their families and all the rest, it becomes quite a difficult task to take them out of it and ask them to complete a full international season.

"So by doing this we are targeting 2011 as a World Cup and we are also targeting what you would call the next generation of players, to give them the best opportunity to be as good as they can be.

"I wouldn't use the term young and hungry, because I'm hoping the other blokes are hungry as well, but it's about identifying younger guys who are going to make an impact. And this doesn't mean we are going to pick 16-year-olds who might just be half a chance. I'd be targeting the ones who are expecting to be key performers in 2011, and the hope is that within two years they make a significant improvement."

Q: How much can these nations improve when a group of key players don't need to work outside cricket and can spend almost every day with their national coach?

"It's not just full-time training, it's full-time playing. The expectation would be that these guys would form the core in the majority of games that Scotland or Ireland, for example, will play.

"What it does is provide a consistent environment across both training and playing, so that as a group of people they grow together as well, learning together in a competitive environment."

Q: This is a big step but in one sense only a baby step, because the top nations, Kenya included, already have an entire squad on professional contracts. Can Scotland and Ireland ever hope to get to that level?

A: "That depends, because it's a funding issue. What we are trying to do here is provide the core of the funding to enable that process to start, and that's a bit of a long-term thing. As organisations develop and start getting more of their own in-country funding streams coming on board, and perhaps as performances improve their Government start getting behind them, then that's when the money has the potential to make a full-time professional team a reality.

"Obviously countries have different standards of living so there are differing abilities to contract people full-time, and some countries have more issues in terms of Government regulations and on-costs and things that have to be paid which add further to the cost, so there are a bunch of things in there that limit it. But there's no reason why, from the starting point I have just mentioned, we can't develop into full-time cricket nations. You need the first step to be in place to get there, which is the main thing."

Q: How much of a return does the ICC expect to see on this investment, in terms of better performances at the 2011 World Cup?

A: "We certainly would like to see all the countries improving over the next two or three years to the next World Cup. There were some good performances at the last one but consistency has to improve and they need to step up another level.

"We'd like to see them go that way and I'm sure if you ask the countries, they'd like to improve their performances as well. To do that I think we've done about as much as we can do in an amateur environment.

"We're pushing pretty much to the limit in a lot of areas, and the next step now that there is a little more funding available is to give the players the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with other members."

Q: In the past, failure to reach the World Cup has meant extrication from any meaningful international cricket. How will the countries that fail to reach the subcontinent in 2011 be treated?

A: "So far there have been six High Performance countries in the main part of the programme and we've had four others who have been added but that has been a lesser effort, if you like.

"The core effort has been with six, and what will happen obviously is there will be a concentration on the top four who qualify [for 2011], and the fifth and sixth countries will get ODI status. There will be a continued effort with those two countries as well. Beyond that, there will be two others who will be Intercontinental Cup countries, who will get a deal of attention.

"Obviously Kenya already have a pro structure in place, and I'm certainly talking to all of the top six countries currently about professionalising. They are all at different stages."