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Ireland aim high

Ireland are aiming high at next month's Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka according to their coach Brian O'Rourke

Brian Murgatroyd
Ireland are aiming high at next month's Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka according to their coach Brian O'Rourke.
"Our aim is to make it through to the Super League stages of the tournament which would be a first for an Irish team," he said. "We are also looking to repeat the very good performances of our team at the last World Cup in Bangladesh in 2004 and establish our position as the top associate nation in the world. We aim to beat a Test nation at this World Cup."
Those goals might sound ambitious but close examination of the Ireland squad, their results in that previous tournament and the draw for this one, shows why O'Rourke is so positive.
To start with, Ireland have been drawn in Group D, a group that looks, on paper at least, to be wide open. It does contain England, semi-finalists two years ago, but they are hardly brimming with confidence after losing all 11 matches on their tour of Bangladesh before Christmas.
And with Zimbabwe, something of an unknown quantity at this level after their recent internal strife, and Nepal, which was hardly stretched in winning the Asian Cricket Council U-19 Cup last November to complete the line-up, it is a very tough group to predict.
If that draw is enough to convince Ireland they can achieve something special at this tournament, then the fact they also have an experienced side is another reason for optimism. They have retained five of the players that took part in the tournament in Bangladesh two years ago and the form of one of them, the captain Eoin Morgan, could be crucial to their chances.
Morgan, a left-handed top-order batsman and right-arm seam bowler, gave a glimpse of his talents in 2004 when, as a 17-year-old, he scored 65 in 69 balls against Australia in the Plate semi-final, an innings that followed 117 against Uganda.
Since then he has played a key role in the Irish senior side's qualification for next year's World Cup in West Indies, made his first team debut for Middlesex in county cricket and scored a brilliant 151 against the United Arab Emirates in the semi-final of last year's Intercontinental Cup.
If that is not enough, he also spent two months late last year at the ICC's winter training camp in Pretoria, South Africa honing his skills in readiness for this tournament.
So Morgan will be a key figure for Ireland but they are far from being a one-man team with the other survivors from the 2004 line-up also capable of making substantial contributions.
There is the legspinner Greg Thompson, who has played second team cricket with English county Lancashire, wicketkeeper-batsman Gary Wilson, opener Gareth McKee, who made 129 against the Netherlands last July, and left-arm spinner Gary Kidd.
Thompson, who took 5 for 49 against West Indies two years ago, Kidd and the offspinner James Hall mean that Ireland are well-blessed with spinning options and that style of bowling is always likely to play a role in Sri Lanka.
In the seam bowling department they have right-armers Neil Gill, Richard Keaveney and Niall McDarby with all of them playing in the European U-19 Championships last year, when the side finished as runners-up to Scotland.
Morgan's talents with the bat will be supplemented by Wilson, together with Andrew Poynter, who was born in London but qualifies to play through his Irish mother, David Rankin (whose brothers Boyd and Rob played in 2004) and the left-handed Fintan McAllister.
If Ireland are searching for further encouragement then they are likely to find it by looking back at several of their performances from two years ago, which was their third time in the tournament after previous appearances in 1998 and 2000.
In that previous event in Bangladesh they lost by only six runs to the eventual runners-up, West Indies, when chasing 266 for victory and in the Plate competition they thrashed Uganda and Canada to book a semi-final spot. Although they lost to Australia, conceding 340 for 5 in 50 overs, they showed plenty of spirit to respond with 291 for 9.
O'Rourke thinks performances like that, or even something better, are what Ireland are after in this World Cup. "We are looking to further bridge the gap in playing standards between the leading associate countries like ourselves and the Test-playing nations."
"Realistically we are not looking to win this World Cup but rather to establish ourselves as the leading associate country in world cricket. A win against a Test-playing nation at this World Cup would help us achieve this aim."
The team will arrive in Colombo on 28th January for three days of acclimatisation before they join the tournament on 31st January. They will then play two practice matches on February 1, against Scotland and February 2, against Uganda.
Ireland squad Eoin Morgan (capt), Gary Wilson, Neil Gill, James Hall, Richard Keaveney, Gary Kidd, Fintan McAllister, Niall McDarby, Gareth McKee, Gavin McKenna, Andrew Poynter, David Rankin, Richard Stirling and Greg Thompson.