Ireland's women will be offered professional contracts for the first time after Cricket Ireland accepted a recommendation at its most recent board meeting. The move will initially see a small number of players given part-time contracts for 2019, Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom said, with further financial support planned in coming years.
The issue was touched upon during the recent Women's World T20, when captain Laura Delany came close to tears while discussing her team's defeat to Pakistan. "It's so incredibly frustrating, because if we were professional, I wonder what the score out there would have been out there today," she said. "To lose by 40 runs in a game that we genuinely believed that we could win. It's very disappointing."
Cricket Ireland has also confirmed 19 men's contracts for 2019, a period which will see Ireland play a Test at Lord's, host a tri-series featuring West Indies and Bangladesh, and compete in the qualification tournament for the 2020 World T20.
"We are delighted to become one of a very select number of sports in Ireland to offer professional contracts to women players," Deutrom said. "It has been an ambition of ours for a number of years, and we now find ourselves in the position to push ahead with this much-needed improvement to our sport.
"The professionalism shown by our senior women's team during preparation, qualification and performance at the recent ICC T20 World Cup was a demonstration that this side of our sport is ready to progress and grow.
"Like we did with the men's side a number of years ago, we will now bring a measured approach to player contracts. A small number of part-time contracts will be offered in early 2019, with the plan to expand this programme over subsequent years."
With the retirements of Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien and John Anderson, and Jacob Mulder returning to pursue opportunities in Australia, Cricket Ireland have promoted Tyrone Kane, James McCollum and 19-year-old Harry Tector to their list of centrally contracted players.
Three players - Tim Murtagh, Stuart Poynter and Paul Stirling - have been given part-time contracts, due to their involvement in county cricket, where they will now be classed as overseas players as a result of Ireland receiving Test status.
Richard Holdsworth, Cricket Ireland's performance director, said: "We are pleased to have finalised the contracts ahead of 2019 - a year that will be one of the biggest in Irish cricket history. Not only will we be playing our first men's Test match away from home [against Afghanistan], but we host five Full Member nations during our summer, and following this we make a trip to Lord's to play our inaugural Test match against England. The international year will then conclude with a T20 World Cup Qualifier in October.
"There is no secret that Irish men's cricket is coming to the end of a cycle, partly signified in 2018 with the retirement of Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien and John Anderson. Through this year's central contracts - combined with the forthcoming Emerging Player contracts that will be announced in early 2019 - you will start to see a clear direction that we are heading in our succession planning for the future.
"Now is the time for emerging players looking to press for higher honours to step up and show their credentials, just like Tyrone Kane, James McCollum and Harry Tector have in joining the central contracts list this year. These players have earned their place through their performances and showing the necessary dedication and commitment to improving their games."
Cricket Ireland men's central contracts: Andy Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Tyrone Kane, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, James McCollum, Tim Murtagh*, Kevin O'Brien, William Porterfield, Stuart Poynter*, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling*, Harry Tector, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young
*Part-time contracts