There is losing, and then there is being completely and totally outplayed. For the last three times that Ireland have played ODIs against Full Members, it has been the latter. They were beaten by 255 runs by Pakistan, and before that, by 136 runs and 76 runs by Sri Lanka, making for grim reading. However, William Porterfield, their captain, managed to find the positives.

"We've done a lot of things well for 80 to 85 overs in a lot of those games," Porterfield said. "Against Pakistan, we pretty much had an off day, and Sharjeel (Khan) had a very good day. He was the big difference in the game. If we kept him out of it, it would have been a decent enough contest. We probably lost the Sri Lanka game in seven or eight overs on the field. Those things can happen if you're not right on it."

Realistically, that is a generous analysis. Sharjeel's 152 off 86 balls accounted for almost half of Pakistan's total of 337, but even if he had been kept quiet, Ireland only managed 82 in response. Similarly, they were unable to muster strong replies against Sri Lanka after conceding heavily in both the matches they played in June.

The real reason for Ireland's recent struggles may lie a little deeper, and Porterfield was willing to acknowledge that. "The biggest thing for ourselves was that we had quite a few debutants in those games, especially with our bowling attack, and the experience they have taken from that is going to be key."

Against Sri Lanka, Barry McCarthy earned his first cap to join a young pace pack that included Andy McBrine, who has played 16 ODIs, and Max Sorensen, who has 13 ODIs to his name. Add that to new faces in the batting line-up such as Stuart Poynter and Sean Terry, and you have a team in a transition of sorts, which makes the dip in consistency understandable.

That makes it particularly important for Ireland's stalwarts like Porterfield and the O'Brien brothers to perform well in the two matches in South Africa, but even more important that Tim Murtagh provides influence and inspiration through his presence. Murtagh joined the squad early on Saturday morning after winning the county championship with Middlesex, and Ireland will see the value of having someone with that success.

Whether Murtagh plays the first game remains to be seen, especially as he would only have had little more than 24 hours of recovery time, but simply having him around will boost Irish spirits. "He is here today, training," Porterfield said, his tone notably lighter than when he was dissecting Ireland's last few performances. "He has got 20 years of experience behind him, so he knows what he needs to do and how his body is going to feel, and he will be pretty open and honest himself, how he is feeling."

How Ireland are feeling is also transparent. They are both nervous and excited at the possibilities that lie ahead in the next four days, and they are determined to make the most of them, so that they can be asked back to these shores in future. "Having the opportunity to come to South Africa and play them in their own backyard, and to play the world champions - Ireland play Australia in a one-off ODI after the South Africa match - in different conditions is what we have been building towards," Porterfield said. "We've got to keep improving and keep putting in performances to merit the games that we get. We're not here to just make up numbers for a couple of games, but we are here to win games of cricket."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent