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As with almost every country in which the game is played, the English brought cricket to Ireland. The game was introduced to the Garrison towns of Kilkenny and Ballinasloe in the early 1800s and from there slowly spread; many of the clubs in existence today were founded in the early days.
In 1855 the first Ireland side took the field in Dublin when they took on the Gentlemen of England, and the game took further root thanks to visits by professional touring teams in the 1850s and 1860s. Charles Lawrence, an Englishman, was in Dublin playing, coaching and developing the game in Ireland in the 1850s. He went to Australia with H.H. Stevenson's team in 1861 and stayed to coach the ever growing numbers playing there.
Cricket suffered a major setback in the 1880s. Battles between landlords and tenants resulted in difficulties, but the real damage was done when the Gaelic Athletic Association, the guardians of the native Irish games of hurling and Gaelic football, imposed a ban on what it labelled "foreign games". What that meant was anyone who participated in one of the barred sports was immediately banned from playing any traditional Gaelic sports. This had a marked impact on cricket's popularity, and while over the years this eased, the ban was not officially lifted until 1970.
Ireland still managed to send regular touring sides to mainland Britain and the USA, and to host visits as well. In 1902 Ireland played their first first-class matches while on a short tour of southern England, and in 1907 they staged home first-class games. In 1909 the annual game against Scotland was accorded first-class status.
Another setback came in 1921 when Southern Ireland became an independent state - out went the Lord Lieutenant and his court, the army and the civil servants and cricket lost many fine players. Three years later the Irish Cricket Union was formed, replacing an original an ineffective body founded in 1890.
In the inter-war period visits from the touring side to England started to become more a feature, and in 1928 Ireland beat West Indians.
After the war the profile increased with games against counties as well as regular tours to and from Ireland, and visits from touring teams. In 1969, the match that has gone down in history they bowled out West Indies for 25.
In 1980 one-day cricket arrived with Ireland's inclusion in the Gillette Cup, and that was followed by the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1994. The move to one-day cricket proved a major boost to the game's profile. Until the first one-day match in 1980, no previous official Ireland games (305 of them) had limited overs. Since then, almost all have.
In this format, Ireland established themselves as the leading Associate, winning the ICC Trophy in 2005 and dominating the first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup. In 2006 they made their full ODI debut at hoe to England. That Ed Joyce, a mainstay of the Ireland side until then, was able to make his international debut playing against them in underlined a major concern for Ireland in terms of them struggling to hold on to their better players. A further issue was the availability of essentially amateurs to fulfil increasingly demanding schedules.
In 2007 Ireland squeezed into the World Cup, taking the last Associate qualifying berth, but once there provided the on-field story of the tournament. They beat Pakistan and tied with Ireland to reach the Super Eights, and then defeated Bangladesh to prove they had arrived.
Thereafter they struggled to build on their success, finding it hard to arrange high-profile fixtures and, even when they did, to lure crowds and the media to the matches. But under an ambitious chief executive, Warren Deutrom, they maintained their push to be allowed to join cricket's top table, aided by a move towards at least semi-professionalism, and continued to punch well above their weight.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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