Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Ireland happy to confound the critics

AP , GEORGETOWN, GUYANA

Ireland's cricketing brothers John, left, and Paul Mooney, center, look over to teammate Andre Botha while he prepares to bowl in the nets during training at Guyana National Stadium in Georgetown, Guyana, on Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

Ireland's team at the Cricket World Cup is considered an amateur side by nearly everybody -- except their coach.

Adrian Birrell, the former Eastern Province coach who came to Ireland from South Africa, has seen the changes since he arrived.

"I came from a professional background as a provincial coach. When I came to Ireland the fixture list was Denmark, the Three Foresters, The Duchess of Norfolk XI and the MCC," said Birrell.

"It was a friendly sort of cricket. We've developed since then and now it's South Africa, Australia and New Zealand," Birrell told a news conference.

Birrell has been helped by being able to call on Australians Jeremy Bray and Trent Johnston, who have played state cricket, as well as South African Andre Botha. All have discovered their Irish roots in recent years and have now settled there.

But Birrell also has been able to locate local talent, such as wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien and Boyd Rankin, who have been impressive in helping Ireland into the Super 8s of the World Cup, including a victory over Pakistan.

Birrell will leave Ireland after the World Cup, when Trinidadian Phil Simmons, briefly in charge of Zimbabwe, will take over.

The South African thinks the foundation has been laid for Ireland to become the top non-test playing nation in the world as an associate member of the International Cricket Council.

The Irish team has been fulltime since January, taking part in a tour of South Africa to sharpen their game.

"They've been put through their paces like a professional team," Birrell said.

The Ireland team admits to being annoyed at suggestions -- mainly in the media -- that it has been the spoiler of the World Cup by knocking out Pakistan.

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