It’s already half over but 2022 promises to be the biggest year yet for women’s cricket in Ireland. Already they have beaten South Africa at home, while they also stood toe-to-toe with the best side in the world, Australia, before eventually losing in Bready.

Pakistan also got a good game, which augurs well for November when Ireland head to Karachi  for their first full tour to Asia after they complete the T20 World Cup Qualifier next month with the prospect of a place in the World Cup in South Africa in February next year.

It all comes on the back of a €1.5million investment announced in March which has opened the door to women hoping to make a career in the game. Twenty players have been given contracts, seven of them full-time – making cricket only the second sport to do so after Rugby Sevens.

Laura Delany, Ireland Women’s captain, said: “As a squad we are truly excited and thankful for this opportunity – it is something that many of us never would have dreamed of when we started out playing the sport we love. While thankful, though, we also acknowledge the hard work, sacrifice and commitment shown by the players to achieve the honour of representing our country at the highest levels.

“And, as fortunate as the players here today are for having this opportunity, we know that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. For many years, legends of our Irish women’s cricket have fought hard to achieve successes on and off the field. To the generations of women who came before us, we say thank you. You have helped us get here today, and we hope we can do you proud.

Crucially, Cricket Ireland have also tied down Women’s Head Coach Ed Joyce for another three years, giving great continuity for a young side with whom he has already made great strides. The Lord’s Taverners Ireland ambassador took over the role, initially on a temporary basis, in 2019 and has seen the side develop and claim some notable scalps.

With the world champions Australia here for a televised series, Ed is keen to manage expectations with a young side. He explained: “We want to play competitive cricket and Laura’s and my job is to make sure the squad is ambitious but realistic.”

Speaking ahead of the Australia and South Africa visits he said: “There could be some tough days and with a lot of teenagers in the squad, we have to keep them on track and make sure those days don’t derail the team.”

There are no teenagers among the seven full-time contracts, which went to Laura Delany, Shauna Kavanagh, Sophie MacMahon, Cara Murray, Celeste Raack, Eimear Richardson, and Mary Waldron.

But the part-time contacts are tailored to those remaining in full-time education which includes the exciting young talents of Amy Hunter, Gaby Lewis and Orla Prendergast. Hunter made headlines last summer by becoming the youngest to score an ODI century – man or woman – when she made 121 not out against Zimbabwe on her 16th birthday.

Hunter was quick to thank her coaches, saying “I’ve worked pretty closely with Ed this season, primarily on game plans and mindset. I’ve always struggled with batting for long periods of time, but Ed has been invaluable to work with. The whole management team, particularly Ed and (Assistant Coach) Glenn Querl just told me to be really positive at the crease and back my skills. No one put pressure on me despite previous low scores, the girls and were so supportive and just kept reassuring me and backing me.”

Lewis has responded well to the new set-up, and has had a record-breaking summer. Some readers will remember a lot of fuss back in 1984 when a youngster called Alan Lewis scored four senior centuries in a summer, which was then a record. Well Alan’s youngest daughter, Gaby, has just scored her FIFTH, helping the Scorchers to do the double in the SuperSeries.

After the summer it is on to the T20 World Cup Qualifier and a tour of Pakistan, with more games in the ICC Women’s Championship.

Joyce is particularly excited by the prospect of games against all the world powers. He said: “Professional contracts is massive news and it is something that the women’s side has been working towards for a long time. I think the game-changer for the women’s game was getting into the Women’s Championship, and with that comes an increased fixture list and a knowledge that we are going to be playing the best teams in the world far more regularly and to actually compete. 

“We needed at least a core group of professional players and luckily Cricket Ireland and the ICA, the players association, got together and worked out a deal to make that happen.”

Skipper Delany has the final word, encouraging her young charges to make the most of the glorious opportunities they have been presented with.

She said: “To the squad I say simply, enjoy it. Enjoy this opportunity – be thankful, but know that you’ve earned the right to stand where you are. This is Day One of what I hope is an incredible journey we will take together – it may get tough at times, it may be challenging, but it should be an experience like no other. To travel the world playing cricket for Ireland – there’s no better feeling.”

Written by Lord’s Taverners Ireland President, Ger Siggins

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