It’s the day that most people who have ever been involved in Irish cricket never thought they would see and while the annals of time have dictated that a great many of them won’t, around 10,000 will converge on the village of Malahide this weekend to watch Ireland play their first ever men’s Test match.
It is the culmination of decades of work throughout the sport on this island and there will be a distinct North West flavour in the home dressing room too with no fewer than five of the Warriors team who gave Leinster Lightning a huge scare last week, named in the 14-man panel.
Niall O’Brien has been an honorary “local” for the past few seasons however the other four; William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Stuart Thompson and Andy McBrine are all born and bred. As far as sporting honours go there can be few bigger than this, and none in cricket- Rankin’s 2014 Ashes appearance in England colours notwithstanding.
This though is different. A first for everything and an opportunity for Irish cricket to show the world just how far it has come. Porterfield has seen most things in his time as Ireland captain and having spent several years on the English County scene he won’t be unnecessarily fazed by this.
The Donemana-born batsman will relish the occasion and there will be no-one prouder at the chance to lead his country out on the biggest stage of all. Big Boyd is in the same boat but would never have imagined when he left to play for England that he would one day play Test cricket in Ireland and for Ireland.
He becomes the first cricketer for 25 years to play Tests for two different countries and looked back to his best in Pembroke with the Warriors last week.
Stuart Thompson has been around the Ireland set-up for several years without totally fulfilling his huge potential. The Eglinton man was another to impress in that recent Interprovincial- scoring 148 in a record stand with Niall O’Brien- and on his day can be a handful even at the highest level.
If selected in the starting eleven, and there is no reason why he wouldn’t, he has the opportunity to make a real statement. As for Andy McBrine, he was appointed skipper of the Warriors aged just 21- a big shout from the coaching staff as he wasn’t even captaining his club side at the time. The all-rounder however has shown a real aptitude for the role- happy to be his own man in terms of big decisions but never afraid to look for advice when he feels the need.
The Donemana player turned down several highly lucrative offers to stay in the North West over the past couple of seasons and he has been instrumental in seeing his Warriors team emerge as genuine challengers at that level. Andy can bat too, a lot of people never see that side, but with no George Dockrell in the squad for the Test, he too may well get the nod to start.
And as all good North Westers should we will also lay claim to Niall O’Brien too after the Dubliner made the Interprovincial switch from Leinster to here at the start of 2017. The wicketkeeper/batsman isn’t the type of player to give 99% at any time and he has made a colossal difference to our Interprovincial side in that time. O’Brien is a Warrior in every sense of the word.
During that Lightning game last week he was taken clean off his feet by a virus at the end of the first day. He couldn’t lift his head for 24 hours but was the first man waiting for his lift to the ground at the start of the third and final day. As stonewall certainties go, “Nobby” is nailed on to start on Friday.
Of course, along with the playing staff there are several others for whom this represents the end of a very long road and the start of another altogether more pleasant journey. Chief among these in my book is Ross McCollum, Chairman of Cricket Ireland and a guy who has spent much of the past decade hammering on ICC doors until they could ignore him no longer.
Ross is far from the only one of course and there’s one closer to home (sometimes at least) in the form of Barry Chambers. It is fitting that the former Ireland Media Manager who although now spends a big part of his life with his family in Thailand, will be there in person to watch the action unfold at Malahide.
Former manager and player Roy Torrens was an instrumental figure in the dressing room, and his personality and relationship with Phil Simmons brought Ireland great success over the past decade.
Chief Executive Warren Deutrom has spearheaded the campaign started by John Wright many years ago, and others sadly no longer with us have played a major role, including John Caldwell and Bob Kerr.
For one and all these are truly historic times for the sport in Ireland. Hopefully this will be a week that will be remembered for a lifetime- with maybe even an against-the-form-book victory to put the icing on top of the huge cake.
Mind you, the one thing we don’t want to hold its form is our weather.