National Coach Phil Simmons blamed the tournament schedule after Ireland fell at the final hurdle in the World Twenty20 Qualifier in Dubai on Saturday night. Forced to play the final barely an hour after defeating the Netherlands to reach the finals in the West Indies in two months time, Ireland lost to Afghanistan by eight wickets with two and a half overs to spare.
"Six matches in five days was ridiculous," said Simmons in the post-final Press conference. "At the end of the day we have qualified but it's not healthy and it wouldn't be done for any other tournament, so I didn't think it was right. "We came out with the win we needed today and I'm sure the Afghans were happy with their win and we both go to the World Cup."
Ireland knew they would play in the second semi final after the opening game defeat to the tournament winners, but if that was their "punishment", their "reward' for losing the final is what should be the easier group in the Caribbean. While the Afghans head to the glamour locations of St Lucia and Barbados for games against India and South Africa - the top two in the world at Test level - Ireland must return to Guyana, where they spent 17 days at the 2007 World Cup, but face the much less frightening West Indies and England.
Ireland captain William Porterfield, however is taking nothing for granted. "It might look the easier group but both teams are full of match-winners. We played West Indies in the warm-up (to the World Twenty20) last year and you saw what Gayle can do (he scored 88 off 55 balls). It's not going to be easy but on paper some people might say it gives us a chance."
It also probably explains why the squad wasn't too disappointed at losing the final although it still doesn't answer the fundamental question of why Ireland have beaten Afghanistan in only one in the five meetings between the teams, since the first in the 2011 World Cup qualifying tournament in South Africa just 10 months ago.
It was too easy to say, as Simmons did, that "we just had played a game and were straight into another".
The fact was that their total in the final, 142 for eight, was a par score and they also had the advantage of batting first, giving their bowlers an extra 100 minutes rest. But, for the first time in the tournament, Ireland failed to take a wicket in the first two overs and although Trent Johnston struck in the fourth, the Afghans had already 37 on the board, Karim Sadiq hitting 34 off 17 balls.
It got worse in the next over as Peter Connell was hit for five successive fours and although Alex Cusack and Johnston reined it back and Kevin O'Brien made a second breakthrough in the 11th over with the total on 89, it was to be Ireland's last success as Afghanistan wicket-keeper Mohammad Shahzad finished 65 not out. Ireland's best effort in the final was 28 by Niall O'Brien and Alex Cusack who, to the delight of everyone in the squad, was named player of the tournament after finishing with 166 runs.
But, after those dismissals in successive overs, Ireland managed only 55 in the last nine overs and that was where the game was lost. It was all such a contrast to the semi final win when they scored 151 for six and backed it up with their best bowling and fielding display of the week to dismiss the Dutch for just 86.
At least Ireland proved they can still win when it matters.
- Niall O'Brien on his way to a fine 28.
- Alex Cusack scrapes home
- Ireland's Niall O'Brien run out for 28.
- Close call for Cusack as Afghanistan wicket keeper, Mohammad Shezad appeals
- Ireland's Alex Cusack dismissed for 28.
- Afghanistan celebrate the dismissal of Alex Cusack for 28
- John Mooney gets the ball in the face
- Afghanistan celebrate the dismissal of John Mooney for 5
- Outside Peter Connell's reach
- A close call for man of the match, Mohammad Shezad
- A close one for Shezad.
- Winning partnership develops
- Pulled through mid wicket
- Niall O'Brien appeals
- Half century for Mohammad Shehzad
- Afghanistan celebrate winning the final
- A lap of honour
- The victorious Afghanistan team
- Afghanistan captain, Nowroz Mangal, with the ICC World Twenty Qualifier trophy
- Man of the match, Mohammad Shezad, is congratulated by teammates
- Mohammad Nabi celebrates
- Man of the match, Mohammad Shezad