Ireland's push for recognition at the highest level has continued with an increased investment in their playing squad. They now have eight full-time contracted players, with Andy McBrine and Peter Chase added to the top category, as part of a 24-man group for 2015.
This time last year, offspinner McBrine and seamer Chase had one cap between them. McBrine took part in the World T20 in Bangladesh and Chase made an impressive breakthrough with Durham at the end of the 2014 season. Both are members of Ireland's World Cup squad, alongside the six other category A players - although Max Sorensen did not make the original 15.
Nine players within category B also have contracts with English counties, including senior players such as captain William Porterfield, Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien.
Ireland were recently added to the ODI ranking system, potentially allowing them to qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup, and the 2015 season will contain challenges on several fronts, not least attempting to secure more fixtures against Full Members.
"With a new World Cup qualifying process commencing in April, the start of a new Intercontinental Cup four-day campaign - which has a new pathway to Test cricket on offer - and a World Twenty20 Qualifier this year, we were keen to increase our full-time central contracts," Cricket Ireland's performance director, Richard Holdsworth, said.
"Eight players will now be based in Ireland full-time on A-category contracts, nine players contracted to English counties but available in all formats for Ireland, and seven players on part-time B and C category contracts also based in Ireland. With the national selectors looking for succession planning in a number of key areas, Andrew McBrine and Peter Chase have both impressed and have agreed A-category full-time contracts."
Ireland's head coach, Phil Simmons, said that contracts had played "an integral role" in the team's success over recent years. "It makes such a difference having the guys available to us full-time, and particularly with such a vital period coming up over the next year or two," he said.
"It's heartening to see such a wide blend of experience in the 24, and great reward for the young players who have worked so hard on their game. They're learning all the time and will only improve by being full-time cricketers."