Ger Siggins is back with his weekly column on the Irishmen playing below first-class level in England

THERE is little doubt that Ireland is seriously blessed with wicket-keeper batsmen. While O’Brien v Wilson was cricket’s equivalent of Ward v Campbell, or O’Gara v Humphreys/Sexton, their era will come to an end in the next few years.

It may be even sooner if Stuart Poynter continues his rate of progress, and he too will face competition from Lorcan Tucker who has started 2016 with a bang.

Poynter could well be in the Irish side as a batsman alone this summer, as he has started this season with a stunning four centuries already. Three came in six days over the last week: 111no for Durham 2nd XI against Scotland A, 112 for Tynemouth against South Northumberland in the North-East Premier League, and 133 for Durham 2nds against Essex 2nds on Monday.

Poynter’s team-mate Barry McCarthy has also been in great nick, despite limited opportunities.

The Pembroke man had bowled just 22 overs before this week’s game in Billericay, but already had six wickets to his name. The Irishmen were prominent in last week’s trouncing of Scotland A, with Poynter adding 111no off 99 balls as the county lost just three wickets in racking up 654.

McCarthy took two wickets in each innings, including both openers in the second dig, Kyle Coetzer and Hamish Gardiner. The Irish pair were again to the fore against an Essex/Kent 2nd XI selection, McCarthy taking 10-1-27-1 before Poynter scored that brilliant 133 off 157 balls to lead his county to a 160 run lead.

McCarthy then took over, with figures of 12-4-18-5 blitzing the opposition for 198, with Poynter claiming three catches too.

Despite two fifties in the season opener against Loughborough, Gary Wilson hasn’t been able to squeeze his way into the stellar Surrey batting line-up, which also three keepers.

He’s keeping the pressure on though, making runs for the 2nd XI, where he’s also been keeping wicket. Against Sussex 2nds he made 45 and 14, while down on the nursery ground at the Ageas Bowl he made 96 and 90 against Hampshire.

One of Wilson’s catches in that game was Irish passport-holder Andy Gorvin, who made 10 and 16.

Gorvin wasn’t in the side when Craig Young made his debut for the county on an emergency loan from Cricket Ireland. The game ended in a rain-ruined draw, with Young making 5no and, coming on first change, 16-2-71-1.

Both he and Gorvin played in two T20s on Thursday, the Bready man taking 1-16 off 3 in the morning 12-run win. In the afternoon Hampshire made 151-5, with neither Irishman required to bat, and Young’s 2.2 overs went for 18 as Somerset evened up the series.

Former Hampshire man Sean Terry, soon to start with YMCA, was also called up to open the batting in Northamptonshire 2nds game against Leicestershire and made 106 off 207 balls.

Paul Stirling was in early action for Middlesex 2nds, making 0 and 19 in a pair of T20s against Essex, although he didn’t bowl in either. He made 121 and 3 in his first championship outing, winning a return to the first XI.

Rush’s exciting young Ireland U17 prospect Stephen Doheny made his debut for Nottinghamshire 2nd XI against Warwickshire at the Edgbaston Foundation Sports Ground last week.

Batting in the lower middle order, he scored 18 and 10 as his county hung on for a draw.

Mark Adair didn’t play in that game, but made 20 for Warwickshire 2nds v Kent/Northants 2nds, and also made an unbeaten 57 off 44 for Moseley in a friendly against Coventry & North Warwickshire.

Several Irish students have taken the English university route to a county career in recent years, and two more began that process this year. Jack Tector is at Cardiff MCCU but was unable to force his way into the side for the first-class games against the counties.

Fellow Ireland U19 James McCollum is with Durham MCCU, and played in their non-first class game against Derbyshire. He scored 11 against the county, and bowled 2-55 and 0-8.

McCollum has also been playing in the universities competitions, scoring 23 against Cambridge, and 6 against Loughborough, His debut scalps were the experienced Chesney Hughes and England U19 Shiv Thakor.

Former Merrion keeper Patrick Tice is also involved in Cambridge and has turned out for the Blues XI, scoring 20no v Cambridgeshire.

Bobby Gamble is back with Loughborough, for whom he had a long and successful 2015 season that ended with a tournament in India in October. He started as early as March, with two first-class games and also a non-first-class game against Leicestershire in which he took 3-80.

Gamble was wicketless against McCollum’s Durham MCCU in a one-day game, and took 2-56 in the two-day which followed. He also took 1-14 against Oxford MCCU. He also made a return to his club in Nottinghamshire, Plumtree last weekend, taking 10-2-31-0 and scoring 6no in a 203 run win over Hucknall, and 17 and 1-21 against West Indian Cavaliers.

At club level, former Ireland U19 Sonny Cott was back in action for Leatherhead, scoring 3 and taking 1-20 against Ashtead in a Surrey friendly.

Finally, former Ballymena and Cambridge University leg-spinner Michael Taylor is now with Didsbury, and took 2-6 in nine balls on his Cheshire League Division One debut as his side bowled Tattenhall out for 63.