It's just as well that the European Championship took place last week rather than this, as so far the rain hasn't stopped! Even last week it wasn't easy - we got off to an awful start with no play possible on the first day. I spent it at Lisburn hoping to celebrate their first international but all I found were as many famous cricketers as had been at the Channel 4 Cricket Road Show. At one stage Mike Hendrick, Tim Lamb, Keith Fletcher and Derek Underwood were in the bar together.
The Saturday was better and Civil Service staged its first international, Ireland v Denmark, in great style. The ground with new sightscreen, scoreboard and covers looked tremendous, the wicket played well and even the catering arrangements (so disastrous on previous occasions) were satisfactory in the new dining room. The presence of Jerry Kelly, boss of the Civil Service Sports Association was a major factor and the occasion was graced by the further presence of Doug Insole, Chairman of the European Cricket Council. It also helped that Ireland won easily. The event organising committee led by Richard Johnston and Brian Milford overcame their first major obstacle - transferring the England Scotland game from Cliftonville to Larne and the Larne club are to be congratulated on putting on a great show at short notice. It was not their, or the wicket's, fault that Scotland, needing four to win off 10 balls, lost 6 wickets for I run.
Sunday saw Friday's games replayed. Lisburn's new ground drew acclaim from everyone even if the catering arrangements did not. Ireland won the toss and despite the wicket having been covered for 2 weeks chose to bat and were unsurprisingly bowled out for 103, losing by 8 wickets.
On Monday we were at Comber against Italy. Once again the ground and wicket (and catering arrangements) were excellent. At 106 for 5 off 30 overs, Ireland's final total of 236 didn't seem possible but Kyle McCallan and Derek Heasley batted excellently. Once again when Italy were 160 for 2 it looked ominous for Ireland. Only Gary Neely had bowled to his potential. However the introduction of Heasley as the seventh bowler proved the turning point and his 10 overs, 2 for 24 effectively won the match and Neely returned to clean up with his first '5 for' for Ireland.
On Tuesday the circus moved to the North West. I decided to go on Monday evening to join my friends Campbell Gardiner and Bill McKaig in the Karaoke Capital of Ulster - the Port Hotel in Portrush. Bill is the Scottish minister of religion who is famous as the only "15 to 1" contestant to have scored a maximum of 433 on the programme. I armed myself with a few questions before I set off but when he got 17 answers to my question "Name 16 world capital cities beginning with the letter P" I felt it was time to retire.
Due to overnight rain the game at Eglinton v Holland was reduced to 37 overs each. Ireland's 189 was above par and when Neely and Mooney reduced the Dutch to 16 for 5 the game was as good as over. The fact that they got 178 and gave us all a fright was down to good batting and a certain premature relaxation on our part.
So the scene was set for a great last game against unbeaten England at Waringstown. If Holland could beat Scotland (which they did by 3 runs) we could win the tournament with a victory. At last Jordan McGonagle was selected (in place of Richard McDaid who had done nothing wrong with limited opportunity). England's 226 set a tough target on another ground easily suitable for international cricket. For the first time Kyle McCallan bowled as well as he can and continued to bat beautifully before he was run out for 42, the turning point in Ireland's innings. Skipper Jason Molins, despite requiring a runner, scored a great 100, Niall O'Brien a feisty 33 before being adjudged run out with 4 needed off 3 balls - which meant we ended one short at 225 for 9. A nail-biting end to a great tournament.
The organising committee, the sponsors, the clubs and the many spectators are to be congratulated on making a great step forward in Irish cricket and putting Ulster's bid for the 2005 ICC Trophy at the head of affairs.
Robin Walsh, John Elder, John Boomer and Barry Chambers are to be congratulated on their handling of press matters from the media centre in their second floor office in the Europa. The fact that they were confined there spared the Ulster cricketing world, for once, the invigorating company of the candy-striped Mr Walsh.
The efforts of the new Irish coach are evident to all. The Irish fielding and running between the wickets have improved out of all recognition. However the consistency of the players leaves something to be desired. The captain played 2 good innings in the first and last games with nothing in between. Kyle McCallan only bowled well once but batted well throughout. Derek Heasley batted well only once but bowled well overall. Gary Neely and Andrew White had good tournaments but the rest played in bits and pieces. However to lose the tournament by one run is a much better result than anyone predicted.