Ger Siggins (Sunday Independent)
Having missed out on the last two Men’s T20 World Cups, there is a certain urgency about Ireland as they kick off the qualifying tournament against Hong Kong in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
The shortest format has not been their strongest suit in recent years – defeats to Oman, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong saw their ranking plummet to 18th, and seven months ago they shipped the highest score in history, 278-3, to Afghanistan.
But the pessimism hanging over Irish supporters has started to lift after a string of good results and, more importantly, the belated arrival of a talented crop of players.
One of those, David Delany, has been pounding the pavements around Maynooth this week as his team-mates tuned up in Oman, only flying out on Friday to join them.
A final-year science student, Delany has been juggling books and 5¾oz balls for some time. While his contemporaries were off shaping their game by wintering in Australia or South Africa, the 21-year old has been beavering in labs and lecture halls.
“Maynooth have been a lot more flexible this year,” Delany explains. “But I’ll be bringing books with me, and I’m getting lectures recorded and sent out, so I’ll keep up.
“Graham Ford’s been great, he’s been very flexible and that’s been great for my confidence.”
Ford has every reason to be flexible, as Delany possesses a rare talent, one that every side in the world is crying out for: raw pace. England bent over backwards to get Jofra Archer into their World Cup squad this summer, and that worked out well for them.
Delany’s speed impressed Rob Cassell, Ford’s assistant and specialist bowling coach, soon after he arrived in Ireland two years ago.
“I first saw some footage of him whilst I was on my first Wolves tour in Bangladesh when I was chatting with our Analyst, Scott Irvine, about all of our bowlers and those with potential to play for Ireland.
"I was immediately impressed with Della’s air speed and his power at the crease.”
Cassell began working with the teenager who enjoyed the opportunity to bring his game on.
“Rob has been brilliant,” Delany says. “It’s a new way of thinking for me. Previously I’d just run up and bowl the ball, not really thinking about what I want to do with it.
“Rob would say, ‘we need this ball now’, or ‘we need to get your yorker landing right here’, and he’d put a small target down and you have to hit it.
“He’s always in touch, texting me what I did right or wrong in a game, or suggesting things to work on. “Our bowling’s a lot better than it was two years ago when he arrived.”
Cassell recognised the raw material he had to work with.
“He already had a powerful bowling action so the only thing from a technical point of view we talk about is getting everything lined up to the target and being balanced and explosive at the crease.
“He has strong legs which is crucial for fast bowlers and he loads up very well. We mainly talk about strategy and learning to read the batsman. Setting the right fields for the scenario, tactics etcetera which I think is more important at this level.”
Delany is part of a bumper crop of Dubliners who came up together from Under 9s, including his cousin Gareth, Harry Tector and Lorcan Tucker.
“It was nice to arrive in the Irish dressing room and find lots of guys I’d played with or against before – I think only Stirlo was the only one I’d never played against”, says Delany.
“The interpros helped, that standard helped me move up – its intensity is greater. When you’re bowling to the likes of Andy Balbirnie you know if you bowl a bad ball it’s going for four, even some of the good ones go too.”
Delany – and Tector – came into the Ireland T20 team just last month.
“My first game I was a bit nervous, but the next two it came out well and I enjoyed the responsibility.”
He impressed everyone in that series, keeping the runs down and not bowling a single no-ball or wide in his 12 overs. In the one-run win over Scotland he was hit for just two boundaries in 24 balls.
“I knew the bowling was going to be tough, but the first game the intensity on the field was incredible”, he recalls.
“I’ve never been so cooked after a game and it was only 20 overs.
“Lorcan Tucker and I were saying we’re never as tired as after an Ireland game. You’re always on the go, running around and being totally switched on for every ball.”
Delany enjoyed the new level of analysis that comes with the international step-up.
“I’d never seen analysis before – spreadsheets of hot zones, where players are strong or weak. Where we should be bowling to them, and not bowling. Scottie Irvine does it and he’s brilliant.
“We get videos sent to us on an app, so before the tri-series I downloaded the images or the guys I was going to come up against and knew where to attack them. Like [Scotland’s] Richie Berrington, we know not to bowl short to him, don’t bowl wide to him, keep it on his stumps.
“Rob Cassell is great, he’ll keep you on your toes with having plans and how the batter might respond to you, so we’ve always got three or four plans. Gary’s always at you in the field too, asking ‘what are you thinking?’”
And off he went to the gym, dreaming of his team-mates in sunnier fields. He’ll be with them soon enough.
IRELAND’S QUALIFIER FIXTURES
18 October: v Hong Kong (11.10am) * 19 October: v UAE (4.30pm) * 21 October: v Oman (11.10am) 23 October: v Canada (11.10am) 25 October: v Jersey (7am) 26 October: v Nigeria (7am) * LIVE on Sky Sports Cricket