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World Cup Diary

Filming a fairy tale run

Niall O'Brien cuts hard during his fifty against Pakistan, Ireland v Pakistan, Group D, Jamaica, March 17, 2007


By now you’ve heard the one about the Irish farmer who had to skip lambing season to open the bowling in the Super Eights of the cricket World Cup. Or, I’m sure, the one about the Irish teacher who needed permission from the education board because he had to roll some offbreaks in the Super Eights of the cricket World Cup. Stop me, though, if you’ve heard the one about the film-maker who, broke, was a few hours away from returning home when an Irish company put up some funds for him to stay another month to continue tracking the team in the Super Eights of the cricket World Cup.
It was in Sydney a year-and-a-half ago that Paul Davey saw Niall O’Brien, one of the heroes of Ireland’s current campaign, jogging in a park. “He had an Irish cricket jersey on. I went up I told him ‘I didn’t know Ireland had a cricket team’. He said, ‘We do, and we’re in the World Cup.’”
Davey, Irish, was then making short films in Australia, and this was the story he knew he wanted to do. He went back home, he watched Ireland play, he approached the Irish Cricket Union, told them he’d fund himself the entire project and all he wanted was access.
He was given it, full and free, and all through the tournament Davey has had an intimate view of one of the remarkable stories in World Cup history. He forged close friendships with the players, he sat with them in buses and hotels and bars, captured the moments of their greatest exultation and was by their side when they spoke of their insecurities. The opening bowler Dave Langford-Smith would refuse to come on camera because of his stammer. One night after a couple of beers he spoke so fluently that he could then barely be dragged off camera in the days after.
Within the first week the enormity, the range, of this thing had hit home. Having defeated Pakistan on an unforgettable day, the team left Kingston for Ocho Rios on the North Coast. It was a night of the grandest celebration, Irish style. Happy, hung-over, they returned the next morning to their Kingston team-hotel to the death of Bob Woolmer. “It was a real shock, a real downer, it all just seemed so unbelievable.”
Davey found in the story of the Irish cricket team greater resonances. A few days after they had qualified for the Super Eights the main Catholic and Protestant political parties home signed a historic power-sharing agreement. The team itself, leaving aside the foreigners, was six to five Catholic and Protestant. Davey was able to record emotional responses from them.
The story of non-Irish players itself was a reflection of a broader pattern. “The economy has been booming over the last 5-10 years, there has been some peace, it’s not seen as a place where bombs are going off all the time. For the first time we’ve had a lot of immigrants coming in. Ireland is changing very fast.”
Staying on, now, though Davey will be faced with another challenge: hundreds of hours more of footage to be compressed into a 52-minute film. Write him at for details.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care