Clare Shillington and the Irish Women's Cricket team have set off to join the Irish men’s team in Bangladesh for their T20 World Cup campaign!
This is the first World Cup the women's team has qualified for since 2005, and the first T20 Finals an Irish women's team has ever been involved in.
Ulster born, Clare Mary Alice Shillington now 33 is Ireland's highest capped women cricketer. She is currently on 120 caps and will have racked up a further seven by the end of the World Cup.
She is a determined batter on a mission and is relishing the chance to get another World Cup under her belt. A senior and very experienced player, Clare has been part of the Irish team for 17 years now.
In 2005, she was promoted to Ireland captain and took charge of the Irish side when Miriam Grealey stepped down. In the same year she led the Irish team to the World Cup in South Africa.
Clare is the opening batsman for the team and an ambassador for women and girls cricket. She is a competitive player, a veteran of three World Cups, and was the first woman to reach 100 caps for Ireland.
I managed to have a chat with her to ask her some questions about her experiences over the years and how she got involved with sport.
So Shiller’s why cricket?
No choice really, the competition started at home in Dromore Co.Down, in our garage between my brother Toddy and myself. He was a decent leg spinner and got me out far too much for my liking. Our rules were you batted until you were out, and so I spent a lot of time bowling!
From an early age my competitive edge kicked and I set the job to be better than him. I went to Headfort Prep School in Meath with my brother. There I started off playing girls cricket but my brother knew I could compete at a higher level and so fought hard for me to play in the boys team. Finally the coach gave in to him and in my first training game I scored a 50 but was then told that girls were not allowed play on the boys team!
The following year headmaster Linguard Goulding took over the cricket and brought me up into the boys team and gave me a chance. In my last year I actually captained the team. Back then I was an off spinner and middle order bat. In 1994 I started attending Methody College Belfast, a school not known for its cricket.
I played a bit of boys cricket and after a couple of years got a girls team together. In 1996 I received a call from Donna Armstrong asking me to come train with the Ulster squad. I went on to get my first cap for Ulster that summer and the following summer was brought up into the Irish senior set- up.
Did you know there were women’s cricket leagues?
I had no idea women's cricket even existed or knew anybody who played, and with no opportunities to play in the north it was arranged that I would head to Dublin to play club cricket. I was told to get the train to Connolly station where Camilla O'Brien would pick me up and I would play for a team called Railway Union. I'd never heard of Railway, had no idea where I was going or who this famous O'Brien family were!
I played there for the rest of the summer, 4 or 5 games, for Railway and pretty sure I kicked Kevin, possibly Niall, out of their room every time I came to stay.
When did your first cap come about?
I gained my first International cap for Ireland that summer. Playing against South Africa in Pembroke on the 8th of August 1997. I batted at no.9 and scored 3 runs not out, and bowled 3 overs for 14 runs. We posted a score of 138 off our 50 overs and they got it for none. Davina Pratt and Cliodhna Sharp also got their first caps on the same day.
And your first trip away with Ireland?
At the age of 16, in the December of the same year, I was selected for the World Cup in India. It was a relatively quick rise to playing at senior level and traveling to India was an eye opener and cricketing experience that I will never forget. I was lucky enough to play in four games and in one match, against Pakistan in Delhi we had a crowd of 10,000, most of whom we're supporting Ireland!
We travelled the length and breadth of India, playing in front of huge crowds, not the usual couple of parents and stragglers we were accustomed to at home. This was my first real introduction into international cricket and one that had me hooked on playing at this level from the start.
The following season I decided to move south permanently and I moved to Malahide Cricket Club after becoming good friends with Caitriona Beggs. Joan Beggs (Beggsie’s mom) kindly put me up and my 16 year stint with Malahide Cricket Club started from there.
How many World Cups have you been to and where?
Four 1997 - India 1999 - New Zealand 2005 - South Africa 2014 - Bangladesh
Who has been the toughest opponent so far in your career?
Team - Australia
Player - Katherine Fitzpatrick
What is the most memorable moment in your career?
There have been many. Playing in world cups, winning European championships, playing in test grounds, travelling the world, but it has to be last summer. Getting the chance to play a Qualifying tournament on home soil and managing qualification for the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
Who is your favourite male cricketer?
It's an obvious one but Sachin Tendulkar. I could watch him bat all day!
Who is your favourite female cricketer?
Charlotte Edwards, we actually got our first cap on the same tour in India in 1997. Also, today she continues to be a amazing cricketer and ambassador. She has been hugely influential in moving cricket to a place where we could only dream of. Recently the English girls have been offered full time contracts and I see her being a huge part of this and she has worked hard to progress women’s cricket globally.
What do you enjoy most about batting?
Obviously I enjoy scoring runs, but I also enjoy the challenge of facing the best bowlers and trying to dominate them. I like the fact that I can be an individual in a team sport.
How do you cope with match day nerves?
I see nerves as a positive thing. They are good as long as you can manage them and I've managed to do that over the years.
What is your Pre match routine like?
Like most cricketers I would be relatively superstitious! I'm pretty meticulous about my build up to games, which for me starts the night before. I have to pack my bag the previous night; it's always packed exactly the same way with two of everything. I have the same morning routine and then at the ground will alway head to the middle for a quiet shadow bat before anyone else gets out. I'll then get throw downs and then it's into the game. Trent jokes that the only time I get to things on time is when batting is involved!
What sort of music do you listen to?
Very varied! 1D, London Grammer, Miike Snow. The Nose… great band!
What do you like to do in your free time away from cricket?
Play other sports - hockey, golf, etc. Love going to gigs. I would like to travel more if I had more spare time and is certainly something I'll do when I retire.
What has been one of your biggest disappointments as an athlete?
Losing my bowling and getting dropped of the Irish team around the same time. Over the years, seeing the rate of progression by other countries and not keeping up - for example Pakistan and Bangladesh have leap-frogged us at the moment. Never having an opportunity to work within cricket, to develop women’s cricket. Although now It seems to be moving in the right direction and I see the young girls on the squad now having the potential to be professional or part professional cricketers which would be a huge step for Irish cricket.
What has been one of your greatest accomplishment as an athlete?
Winning player of the tournament, back in Denmark 1996. Scoring a ODI and T20 100. Playing in 3 World Cups and soon to be another. Playing with, and competing against some phenomenal cricketers.
What has been one of the best teams you have been on? and why?
I guess the team I started on with Miriam as captain. There were some big characters and exceptional players. It made me the cricketer I am to some extent.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome to become the player you are today?
Trying to train and play as a professional athlete but as an amateur. The time commitment has grown massively over the last number of years but if we are to compete at global competitions that's what's needed.
How much time do you take off work?
A lot, training 6 days a week - 2 mornings pre- work, 2 evenings fitness, 1 evening skills and full day on Sunday in North county
When are you the most nervous while you are competing?
I don't really get nervous, the only time I felt really really nervous was last summer playing against Japan in the T20 qualifiers, there was so much riding on the game and competition with the added pressure of playing at home. I knew it would be my last chance, and I wanted to play in one more World Cup.
Describe an embarrassing athletic moment?
Back in 2004 in England, walking out for throw downs at the change of the innings and had only put 1 pad on. Also playing against New Zealand in South Africa, I was fielding in close and trying to intimidate the Kiwi batter. She hit the ball to me and I went to throw it back to the keeper in her direction, and she caught the ball and threw it back at me. It was a funny and embarrassing moment.
What other sport would you like to compete in if you were not playing Cricket?
Track cyclist at the Olympics or a pole vaulter. After cricket I want to be a pro golfer or surfer
So you're a level 2 Coach now - how are you finding it?
I love coaching. There is so much about it that is rewarding, from introducing someone totally new to cricket and seeing the enjoyment they get from it to coaching and bringing forward some really exciting young talent which I am doing on a daily basis in YMCA.
With your talent scout hat on - have you names we should be looking out for in 2014? Gaby Lewis
I'm lucky I work within cricket and have set the foundations for post playing. I've recently moved to YMCA to further my coaching career. So with all this in place the transgression will hopefully be a relatively easy one.
I'm very competitive and I think the hardest thing post retirement will be not having the competitive environment but I'm sure I'll fill the void with another sport!
I have moved club to YMCA to further my coaching career after completing my level 2 this year. I coach hockey during the winter and cricket all year round. I also coach for the Dublin Cricket Academy and Dublin City Council. I am shifting to my post playing career, by taking the role in YMCA and becoming head of women's cricket in YMCA.
I see my future within coaching for which I have a huge passion. When you have played for as long as I have it becomes a natural progression to want to give something back to the sport. I have always felt that there is a huge untapped market in terms of those who are exposed to cricket and in particular within girls sport.
I would like to think that through the various avenues that I am currently coaching and potential new ones that I can introduce more and more people to cricket and aid in growing our sport. YMCA has given me a great platform to progress my coaching skills and working with the likes of Kamal Merchant, Rob O'Connor and Albert Van Der Merve have all helped me to grow as coach. I would like to think my future within coaching will be diverse, working with all levels and demographics. I am passionate about developing cricketers of all abilities but in particular I hope to be involved and influential in developing players that will go on to represent at international level.
No pressure... name your ‘Best 11 Irish’?
Among the highlights of her career are: