LONDON // It is that time again for Ireland's cricketers. Reality is about to bite and all this - the life as an international cricketer, the phone calls from the prime minister, the playing in front of 25,000 people at Lord's with a bunch of your mates - will be someone else's dream again. Next week they will be back on the commute to work, back in the classroom or back to the studies.
Two years ago, in the final stages of the World Cup odyssey which first propelled them into the public eye, a few of their players just could not let it go, judging by the amount of time they were spending in the nets. A couple of them, William Porterfield and Kevin O'Brien, were working hard with good reason, as they were aspiring professionals searching for a break in county cricket. Porterfield got his. He now opens the batting for Gloucestershire when he is not captaining his country.
O'Brien was less sanguine about his chances. "It'll probably be it from me for professional cricket," he said in the nets at Grenada, as the days ticked down until the end of their stay in the Caribbean. He was good to his word. When they landed back in Ireland, he went back to university in Dublin, and enrolled in a part-time course in advertising and marketing. It lasted for a year. Then cricket came calling again - and, more pertinently, Twenty20 cricket.
At the age of 25 years, the hard-hitting all-rounder has landed a summer deal with Nottinghamshire to play this format. Impress and he could even be in line to replace the county's stalwart all-rounder, the former England player Mark Ealham, when he retires at the end of the summer, on a permanent deal. "If I can get in and do well, hopefully I can get a chance," he said. Twenty20 is already providing a new avenue to stardom for modern cricketers.
Earlier in the tournament, when the idea was put to the skipper Porterfield that an Ireland player might earn a lucrative Indian Premier League deal on the back of their performances here, he immediately forwarded O'Brien as a likely candidate. The idea appeals to the man himself. "At the moment, Twenty20 is where all the money is, especially in terms if the IPL," added O'Brien, whose six-hitting was a feature of the pool stage upset over Bangladesh. "There is massive interest in it, in terms of advertising and marketing. Cricket Ireland could really target Twenty20, host a tournament or something like that.
"To play Test cricket we would need a domestic first-class structure and I can't see that happening for some time." The O'Brien family - of whom Kevin and Niall play for the Irish national team - could probably field a more than useful family side in Twenty20. Having played professional football, their dad captained Ireland in cricket 18 times. Their sister is an international hockey player, while three other brothers are tidy club cricketers.
"Niall played in the ICL for one year and he said it was brilliant," said Kevin. "If the chance came up I would take it with both hands. "Playing with world-class players for six or seven weeks, and training with them and talking cricket with some of the greats from around the world would be brilliant, not just for myself but for Irish cricket, in terms of what I could bring back to the squad." Even without the boost that would come with having a player in the IPL, Irish cricket is going places.
"It is not fully professional, but we have two guys on full-time contracts now [Trent Johnston and Alex Cusack]" said O'Brien. Both did well against Sri Lanka yesterday. Johnston finished with 1-18 while Cusack broke open the middle order with a spell of 4-18 in three overs. "Things are changing. There is a lot more sponsorship coming in. There is a lot more cricket, hopefully the ICC can put a bit more money in to ourselves," added O'Brien. "We have shown that we are better than every other Associate nation out there, and that we can compete with the likes of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
"It is unfortunate they get 10 times what we get per year. If we got the money a little more evenly spread, I am pretty sure we could get a few more people on long term contracts." firstname.lastname@example.org