Johnston's grand career ends quietly
In an ideal world, a battle-wearied Trent Johnston would have set off from his bowling mark one final time, with that familiar bounce and passion, to take the tenth Afghanistan wicket in glorious fanfare as Ireland won their fourth Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai before heading off into the desert sunset with another winners medal around his neck.
Instead, the 39-year-old got a taste of what retirement will bring as a decade of attritional endeavours finally took its toll, forcing him to watch his teammates' triumph from the sanctuary of the boundary. Although Johnston ended a seemingly eternal career with another title for a bulging associate CV, it was not the romantic swansong he must have fantasised about. As another Australian once said: "There are no fairy-tale endings in sport."
Even the most single-minded members of the Blarney Army will admit that Johnston will never be placed in the same bracket as Steve Waugh but through Irish eyes his legendary status is equally deserved. Although he will always be remembered for swatting Pakistan's Azhar Mahmood onto the grassy banks of the Kingston Oval - handing Ireland their most famous World Cup victory - his legacy runs a lot deeper than that single shot.
On the face of it, Johnston was a journeyman cricketer who failed to make the breakthrough back home. His first-class career with New South Wales was over before it started and despite rubbing shoulders with Australia's finest cricketers of that generation, he found himself in the shadows. His nagging line and length was penetrating but slow and his batting was nothing to write home about. In truth, he would struggle to hold his own in any superior side.
His debut for his adopted country came late but Johnston soon became a transformative figure in Ireland's rapid and vast cricketing explosion. TJ, as he's universally known, came to Ireland in 1995 as a professional in the then sub-standard Leinster League. Less than ten years later, he had married an Irish women and gained Irish citizenship - he has not looked back since.
Johnston played 67 ODIs, 33 first-class and 30 T20I matches for his adopted country as well as captaining Ireland to Intercontinental Cup titles in 2005 and 2006-07 as well as leading the side to the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
In fitting fashion, William Porterfield stepped aside at the ICC Global Academy in Dubai to let his esteemed teammate take centre stage for the final time. Johnston collected his fourth I-Cup winners' medal before lifting the trophy aloft.
"A big part of us over the last 10 years has been Trent Johnston. He has been a massive figure since a lot of this team started playing," an emotional Porterfield said.
"Obviously I made my debut under Trent. I have played some 160-170 times with him. There are a lot of young lads who have learnt a lot from him. There are a lot of lads now chomping at the bit to take his place.
"This was the perfect send-off for Trent. He is a traditionalist of the game, He loves this format. In the last 24 hours he has not been keeping well. He would have loved to have been out there taking those wickets, but there would have been no one more pleased than him to see some of the lads step up and take the wickets. It's the fitting way for Trent to sign off and pick up that trophy."
John Mooney's second five-wicket haul in the match gave Ireland a 122-run win, thus ensuring they became the first team to win three ICC tournaments across three different formats in the same calendar year. Ireland won the World Cricket League Championship title in the 50-over format in October and the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier tournament in November, to go with the Intercontinental Cup title in the longer format.
Victory over Afghanistan ensures Ireland's dominance of the associate ranks continues and solidifies their quest to become the eleventh Test-playing nation. Johnston has been as influential as anyone in Phil Simmons' side push for global recognition and although the void will be nigh impossible to fill, TJ has ensured he's left Irish cricket in good health.