Niall O'Brien, one of the pillars of Irish cricket in their rise to Test status over the last 15 years, has announced his retirement from the game. O'Brien follows his team-mate Ed Joyce in deciding to call time shortly after playing in Ireland's inaugural Test, against Pakistan at Malahide in May.
A talkative wicketkeeper and feisty batsman, O'Brien, 36, made his final international appearances during the ODI series with Afghanistan in August. He played in three World Cups for Ireland, memorably paving the way for their famous triumph over Pakistan at the 2007 tournament with 72 in a three-wicket win at Sabina Park.
"It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from international and professional cricket," he said. "I have been blessed to have been lucky enough to have represented my country for 16 years with plenty more ups than downs and for this I look back with nothing but smiles and laughter.
"I would like to thank all my coaches and team-mates who along the way have helped me become the player I was. I have had too many coaches to mention them all but a special thanks must go to Adrian 'Adi' Birrell who took a chance on me in 2002 and who arranged a trial at Kent from where I started my 14-year county career, which was an absolute privilege and an honour.
"I always tried to play with a smile on my face and with an enjoyment that I think all people could see whether watching from the stands, standing with me in the field or coming up against me for the opposition. Hard work was always behind my performance and I will take this same ethos into the next phase of my career where I have been working in the sports agency business for the last 2 years alongside my playing commitments and will continue to pursue this avenue."
Alongside Joyce, William Porterfield, Trent Johnston, and his brother, Kevin, Niall O'Brien was one of the key figures among a generation of Irish players who lifted the game to previously unimagined heights. In all, he played 216 times for Ireland, including 103 ODIs, 30 T20Is and a single Test, scoring more than 6000 runs across the formats.
As well as his role in the upset of Pakistan, he was part of the teams that beat England in Bangalore at the 2011 World Cup - thanks to Kevin O'Brien's record-breaking hundred - and West Indies in 2015, victories over Full Member nations that boosted Ireland's case for Test status, finally granted last year.
O'Brien also spent several years on the county circuit in England, representing Kent, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. He returned to play in Ireland's interprovincial tournaments in 2017, and plans to try his hand at coaching and media work post-retirement.
"To all at Cricket Ireland a sincere thank you for allowing me to wear the shamrock for 16 years," he said. "There are too many fond memories to mention so I just wish the team and the organisation all the very best for the future and I will be watching keenly from afar. From playing relatively small fixtures at the start of my career to competing and winning World Cup matches to being there to play in our first Test match meant I have achieved more than I could have ever dreamt and for this I look back with nothing but fondness.
"Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my family for all the guidance and support down the years whether it was driving me to matches, throwing balls to me in the garden or travelling to the Caribbean to watch me play. Without you I would not have amounted to anything on the field so a huge thank you to all the O'Briens.
"Now is a time for myself and my wonderful wife Bex to welcome our new addition into the world and enjoy some family time together."
Ireland's coach, South African Graham Ford, recalled first meeting O'Brien in 2005, when he was coming through at Kent, and praised the "fine example" he set as a player.
"He can be well proud of what he has achieved on the field but he can be equally proud of how he has operated as a professional cricketer and the manner in which he has played the game," Ford said. "He was an extremely tough competitor and played it very, very hard. At the same time he always showed respect for the game and the opposition. After a tough day he was always happy to have a chat and a laugh with his teammates and the opposition.
"It will be tough for Niall to walk away after so many years, but it is nice to know that he walks away having gained many special and lasting friendships from his time in the game."
O'Brien finishes as Ireland's most successful wicketkeeper, with 241 dismissals, and one of only four players to represent the country in 100 ODIs. In addition to his World Cup exploits, he played in four World T20s, and helped Ireland lift the ICC's Intercontinental Cup - the main first-class competition for Associate nations - on four occasions.
"It's always a sad time when someone who has had a great career and played such a big part in the evolution of Irish cricket goes," Porterfield, Ireland's Test and ODI captain, said. "Niall, along with the likes of Ed Joyce, showed what was possible at the time for young Irish cricketers, in forging a great career in the county game."
"Alongside that he had a great international career. Niall would have been involved when we only had a couple of games a year, and I'm sure he will sit back and reflect with great pride when he sees where he has helped get Ireland to. From his Man-of-the-Match innings in the 2007 World Cup that helped put Ireland on the global map, to walking out in Ireland's inaugural Test match.
"He can be immensely proud of that and everything else he achieved in his career and fully deserves all the plaudits I'm sure he will get. I would personally like to wish him all the very best for a successful future."