Defending champion Ireland launches its campaign for an unprecedented fourth ICC Intercontinental Cup title when it takes on Kenya at Woodvale Road, Eglinton from Friday.

After failing to reach the final of the inaugural event in 2004, Ireland has won three successive events. And such is the dominance of Ireland in the ICC Intercontinental Cup that it has won 12 of its 18 matches in the history of the four-day first-class event.

In addition to this, the Irish have undoubtedly been the best and most consistent non-Test playing side having won Associate tournaments in all the three formats of the game, including the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in South Africa in April.

While Kenya watched the ICC World Twenty20 2009 on television, Ireland was in action and accounted for Bangladesh in the first stage to qualify for the Super Eights where it lost to New Zealand and eventual finalists Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Captain William Porterfield, fast bowler Boyd Rankin and wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien, who were key members of the side in April as well as last month, will miss the opener against Kenya. Porterfield and Rankin are on county duties with Gloucestershire and Warwickshire while O'Brien is recovering from an ankle injury which is expected to keep him out for up to six weeks.

Ireland has named an uncapped fast bowler Andrew Britton for its opening match in the tournament. The 21-year-old has earned a call-up after an impressive performance with Ireland ĎA' in Yorkshire during the week. He has also represented Ireland in the ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup in Malaysia where he was his country's most successful bowler with nine wickets from six matches.

In Porterfield's absence, experienced off-spinner Kyle McCallan will lead the home side in what he expects to be an exciting contest. 'It has all the makings of being a great game. We've had some great tussles with Kenya over the years, and our victory over them to win our first ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2005, stands out as one of the best performances by an Irish cricket team,' said McCallan, who has taken 50 wickets in 23 first-class matches.

In that nail-biting final in Windhoek, Ireland outsmarted Kenya by six wickets. Batting first, Kenya rode on Steve Tikolo's 177 and Hitesh Modi's 106 to declare its first innings at 401-8. In reply, powered by Niall O'Brien's 106 Ireland made a brave declaration at 313-4 to concede a 88-run first innings. Kenya, in its second outing, was bowled out for 156 with McCallan taking 4-34 and Andrew White picking up 3-24. But Ireland successfully achieved the victory target of 245 with six wickets to spare to leave Kenya shell-shocked.

'In my eyes, it (victory in Windhoek) is up there with our wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh. That game was perhaps the defining moment for the current squad, and you can trace the current success back to that win. It gave us a sense of belief and the confidence to go on and dominate Associate cricket,' McCallan said.

McCallan added that Ireland's cricketers are fond of four-day cricket. 'The four-day format of the game is the one which I personally, and all the team enjoy. You can experiment with different field settings and the bowlers get a chance to operate in long spells.

'We have a great record in this format of the game, and haven't been beaten since 2004 (when Scotland beat Ireland by eight wickets in Dublin), a game that I missed! We've won the last three ICC Intercontinental Cups, and we are still hungry for more titles. We want to continue our magnificent run.'

Ireland coach Phil Simmons is also keen to carry recent success into the ICC Intercontinental Cup. 'We've had a good 2009 so far, winning the World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa, and beating Bangladesh in the ICC World Twenty20. I want to keep that winning momentum, and I think we can do that with the current squad,' said Simmons, a former West Indies all-rounder.

Simmons said Kenya had named a very strong side for the match but expected the African side to be rusty, having not played any top level cricket since the April event. 'Kenya has named a very experienced squad, and has some very talented cricketers in their midst.

'It may find it difficult to adjust to Irish conditions, although it has been warm here in the past few weeks. Kenya may be a bit rusty as it hasn't played a lot of cricket since the event in South Africa in April. That will be a big advantage for us, but it certainly won't be easy.'

Kenya has named a side that includes a new captain in 26-year-old wicketkeeper Maurice Ouma who takes over from 38-year-old Steve Tikolo who has been a role model for many Kenyan cricketers, including Ouma. 'I have learned a lot from Tikolo's leadership for the time that I have played alongside him. I liked his leadership qualities like in psyching up players and game plan,' he said.

Kenya and Ireland, besides the 2005 final, also met in the previous event at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi where Ireland won by an innings and 65 runs. Overall, Kenya has played 17 matches in the ICC Intercontinental Cup, winning six and losing four.

Rudi Koertzen of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Umpires will stand in the four-day match along with Paul Baldwin of the Associate and Affiliate International Umpires Panel.

Teams (to be selected from):

Ireland: Kyle McCallan (captain), Andre Botha, Jeremy Bray, Andrew Britton, Peter Connell, Alex Cusack, Trent Johnston, Kevin O'Brien, Andrew Poynter, Paul Stirling, Regan West, Andrew White, Gary Wilson.

Kenya: Ouma (captain), Jimmy Kamande (vice-captain), Kennedy Obuya, Alex Obanda, Steve Tikolo, Collins Obuya, Thomas Odoyo, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Lameck Ngoche, Peter Ongondo, Hiren Varaiya, Rakep Patel, Elijah Otieno, Seren Waters, David Obuya

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen and Paul Baldwin