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Toasting a future with no limits, Ireland celebrate reaching the promised land in style

‘Our goal is not just to have Ireland being a major force in cricket, but cricket being a major force in Ireland.’

A LITTLE OVER five years ago, Warren Deutrom, the Cricket Ireland chief executive, sat at the top of a conference room in a Dublin hotel and revealed an ambitious, and bold, vision for the future of cricket in this country.

Cricket Ireland Test Status Press Conference Andrew Balbirnie and Ed Joyce celebrate with a glass of champagne. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

The pieces of the jigsaw were starting to fall into place but the holy grail of Test cricket, and of full membership of the ICC, was still a fanciful prospect. Ireland had outgrown their Associate status, but were nowhere near meeting the criteria, on or off the field, for ascension.

This afternoon, Warren Deutrom, the Cricket Ireland chief executive, sat at the top of a conference room at the Irish Aviation Authority in Dublin city centre and, with a beaming smile, proudly delivered on that vision.

“By becoming a Test-playing nation and full member of the ICC — let me say that again, a Test-playing nation and full member of the ICC — we have completed one stage of a journey that has taken Irish cricket from marginal and mostly ignored to one of the premier nations in the world’s second biggest sport,” he said.

“And it is a journey that has been travelled with remarkable speed.”

Less than twenty fours after Ireland had been anointed as the eleventh full member nation of the ICC, and the first to be bestowed with such an honour in nearly two decades, the enormity and gravity of the news and achievement was beginning to sink it.

It has taken an immeasurable amount of work to get to this point and the overriding emotion on an afternoon when Ireland’s Test future was officially toasted was pride and relief.

Pride at how far the organisation, team and sport has come in such a short period of time but also pride because of the setbacks and obstacles that have had to be overcome on this remarkable 10-year quest for recognition.

For so long, Deutrom and Cricket Ireland’s chairman Ross McCollum were ignored in the corridors of the ICC and for so long the door was being shut despite the on-field successes. For so long, Ireland was disregarded as a cricket-playing nation, seen as a drain on resources, and for so long days like yesterday and today never felt like they’d ever arrive.

Cricket Ireland Test Status Press Conference Warren Deutrom and Minister of State for Transport, Tourism and Sport Brendan Griffin were jumped by members of the Irish men's and women's teams. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

With the recently-appointed Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport Brendan Griffin and Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy in attendance as well as a room full of media, players, commercial partners and volunteers, Deutrom stood on stage and spoke with typical conviction but also with a degree of emotion.

“They said we wouldn’t repeat our World Cup heroics, but we did. Twice more in 2011 and 2015,” he continued.

“They also told us we wouldn’t get 10,000 people to watch a game of cricket in Ireland. But we did.

“They also said we wouldn’t get cricket into schools, but we have and it’s now played in 60 primary schools alone.

“They said we would struggle to attract major partners, well our men’s team is now sponsored by one of the world’s major carriers in Turkish Airlines.

“And they said we wouldn’t become a Test nation. We did,” he finished, with a wry smile and a wink before the occasion was marked with a glass of bubbly for everyone in the audience.

Indeed Deutrom, McCollum, performance director Richard Holdsworth and the 30 full-time Cricket Ireland staff, as well as the wider Irish cricketing community, can allow themselves a few days to enjoy the moment — but the hard work is only just beginning.

The message from Deutrom has always been clear: the goal is to make cricket mainstream in Ireland and achieving Test status is just one part, albeit a pretty significant one, of the process.

The Irish sporting landscape is dominated by the ‘big three’ of GAA, rugby and football but Deutrom wants cricket to be in there too. He wants perceptions of cricket as an elitist, exclusive sport to change and it to be visible, accessible, affordable and inspiring to the public.

And one decision is not going to change that overnight, nor have Cricket Ireland suddenly become a full member organisation. The foundations have been laid, now they need to be built on.

Deutrom added: ”Every time we set ourselves a mountain to climb, we do so. We have always believed that the shame is not in failing to reach an ambitious target, but rather being afraid to try.

Warren Deutrom Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom at today's press conference. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“And having proven our credentials to the world cricket community, we now have the opportunity to achieve an even bigger goal, which is to make cricket a mainstream sport in Ireland.

“In the last four years, we have rapidly realised that producing a competitive Test team is in fact only one part of a much bigger whole – that instead our goal needs to be broader and further reaching – that it needs to envision Ireland not just being a major force in cricket, but cricket being a major force in Ireland.

“Everywhere I look in Irish cricket, I see people with the talent and desire to succeed on the field of play, and off it. I see accomplished players, talented youngsters, dedicated volunteers, passionate administrators, generous sponsors and a growing profile.

“I see a desire for success, a burning self-belief and a willingness to innovate and embrace best practice.  With all this in place, and the game finally ready to embrace change, where might we be in the next 10 years?”

The future is certainly one with no limits for Cricket Ireland, and with Deutrom at the helm, there is no doubt there is huge potential for the sport to grow, expand and flourish on this island.

The guests in attendance at today’s press conference were shown tributes from President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and some of the biggest names in sport from both home and abroad. The reaction, according to Deutrom, has been overwhelming.

His hope will be that goodwill and interest translates into bums on seats, into TV viewing figures, increased media coverage, increased commercial revenue and heights never previously scaled.

It remains to be seen when Ireland will play their maiden Test match, and who it will be against, but Deutrom and his staff aren’t rushing into hastily arranging fixtures or working through a shopping list with the windfall in funding.

“We’ve made strides but we’re not there yet and it will take years of patience and investment to fulfil the potential the ICC see in it,” he warned, tempering expectations after a giddy 48 hours.

Cricket Ireland Test Status Press Conference Guests in attendance at this afternoon's event. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Ireland will not go to Lord’s next summer and beat England inside three days, nor will they face Australia in Melbourne on Boxing Day. Those days will hopefully come but that’s for further down the line.

For now, a lot of hard work needs to happen behind the scenes on facilities, structures and underage systems before those dreams can be realised. History has shown us that the transition into the Test arena can be a steep learning curve.

It’s another mountain for Deutrom and Cricket Ireland to climb but there is no better individual or organisation to tackle those challenges en route to the top.

It’s onwards and very much upwards for Irish cricket.

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As one remarkable journey for Irish cricket ends, this is the beginning of an even greater one

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Ryan Bailey

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