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Joyce, Niall O'Brien given Cricket Ireland contracts

Niall O'Brien will return to play in Ireland's inter-provincial tournament in 2017 International Cricket Council

Cricket Ireland has announced its list of centrally contracted players for 2017, with the return of Ed Joyce and a specialist wicketkeeping role for Niall O'Brien among the most significant developments as Ireland target a promotion to Test status over the next two years.

O'Brien is no longer contracted to a county, while Joyce has pared back his Sussex commitments in order to take part in Ireland's inter-provincial tournament, which was recently given first-class status.

"It is great news for the Inter-Provincial series that Niall will be joining Ed Joyce in our new first-class competition, but also playing a key part in developing our young wicketkeepers in the national pathway," Cricket Ireland's performance director, Richard Holdsworth, said.

"We shall be announcing more specialist coaches over the coming months in a plan to identify and develop key skill areas for Ireland-based coaches."

Joyce is one of ten players to have been given a Category A contract. John Anderson, Andrew Balbirnie - who was released by Middlesex earlier this year - and young legspinner Jacob Mulder were awarded their first full-time contracts. Mulder, who was born in Perth, Australia made his international debut against Hong Kong in September.

Allrounder Stuart Thompson, who announced during the summer that he would be taking an indefinite break from the game to deal with performance anxiety issues, has retained his Category A contract.

As well as targeting Test status via the Intercontinental Cup - they currently top the table with four wins from four - Ireland have a busy 2017 lined up, with two ODIs in England, a tri-series with New Zealand and Bangladesh and a one-off ODI against West Indies at home. They are also set to play in the Desert T20, an eight-team Associate tournament, in January.

Holdsworth said that the move to bring Joyce back was part of a concerted plan for the future development of the game in Ireland, and would involve him coaching at the academy and mentoring young players.

"It has been one of our strategic objectives to bring players back home from England and for Ed to be the first is very appropriate," Holdsworth said.

"Ed will not only be based here in Ireland training with the national squad, but will also help our next generation of international cricketers in a specialist batting and leadership coaching role, working with the Shapoorji Pallonji National Academy and Ireland youth squads as well as mentoring some national performance squad players."

Nine others players have agreed Category B contracts, including several who still play county cricket in England such as the captain, William Porterfield, seam bowlers Tim Murtagh, Boyd Rankin and Barry McCarthy, wicketkeeper Gary Wilson and allrounder Paul Stirling.