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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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How one of Dublin's historic sites has been transformed into an international stadium

For the second time in two years, a 10,000 seater venue has been built from scratch for Ireland’s game against England.

The ground takes four weeks to build before being dismantled again.
The ground takes four weeks to build before being dismantled again.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A LITTLE OVER four years ago the Chief Executive of Cricket Ireland, Warren Deutrom, and the now former head coach Phil Simmons sat at the top of a conference room in a Dublin hotel to flaunt an ambitious vision for the sport in this country.

It was a bold but venturesome master plan that accentuated Ireland’s purposeful bid to bridge the gap and advance to the next level. 2020 was the year earmarked for it all to come to a head with the holy grail of Test cricket acting as the end goal.

But Cricket Ireland continue to trump their own objectives as the sport has reached unprecedented popularity and participation levels on the back of sustained success.

The foundations have been rigidly laid in such a short space of time and Ireland have outgrown their Associate nation status – both on and off the field – but the road to further recognition remains a never-ending and bumpy one.

After another imposing performance at the World Cup in February, Ireland return to action this Friday as a new era, following the departure of Simmons, begins with the visit of near neighbours England to Dublin for the Royal London One-Day International (10.45am).

The sport’s standing continues to soar here and there is now a tangible sense of excitement surrounding cricket and the national team on these shores. This week will provide more irrefutable evidence of that.

A crowd of 10,000 spectators – the largest for a cricket match in this country – is expected to descend on Malahide, a venue which has been central to the strategic plan.

A general view from Malahide Cricket Ground 3/9/2013 10,000 fans packed into Malahide two years ago for the ground's official opening Source: Rowland White/Presseye

The procurement of a €450,000 Government grant in 2010 allowed the governing body, in collaboration with Fingal County Council, to proceed with the project and design a ground appropriate for international cricket.

“This project had been on the agenda for a number of years,” Deutrom told The42 this week. “What gave it momentum however was when we beat England at the World Cup in 2011. We played them again in Clontarf a few months after and it was then we realised we could sell out two or three times over.

“We then had to find a suitable venue to accommodate this number of people and Malahide just fit the bill in terms of accessibility, amenities and infrastructure. It helps that the area is also of outstanding natural beauty.”

For all intents and purposes, the first game at the new home of Irish cricket in September 2013 was a monumental day. The capacity crowd were given a game, and the weather, befitting of the occasion as Ireland stood up and showed off.

Ireland England Cricket Never has a game of cricket in Ireland been witness to such theatre than the atmosphere during England’s win two years ago. Source: AP/Press Association Images

President Michael D Higgins and Brian Cowen were among the dignitaries in attendance as Cricket Ireland received an award from the International Cricket Council for the staging of a faultless event.

Now, less than two years on, an almost identical purpose built stadium – with a players pavilion, hospitality facilities, a media centre and a food and entertainment village – has been constructed from scratch in the space of four short weeks.

As many as 7,000 tickets have had to be pre-sold in order for Cricket Ireland to break even but the potential rewards far outweigh the associated risks. With less than a week until a year’s worth of hard work and planning comes to fruition, there are just a handful of tickets remaining with organisers expecting the sold-out signs to be in place come Friday morning.

With Sky Sports broadcasting the match to over 120 countries around the world, it’s another invaluable opportunity for Irish cricket to showcase itself to a global audience.

Cricket Ireland anticipate they will come out the other end with just €100,000 in surplus but this is a game which presents boundless possibilities for the governing body to sell its product.

“It’s an opportunity for us to stick our chest out once again and show off the sport and product we offer to the wider sporting public,” Deutrom continued. “We have to make sure the game pays for itself and while that’s ultimately the bottom line, there is so much more to it.

“All the fans who sampled the sport for the first time in 2013 had an absolutely fantastic time and the aim is to keep them coming back. We’re providing a platform for the Irish public to support their national team but this will be another terrific sporting event.”

Certainly, the nature of cricket accommodates for far more than what’s happening on the field. The steep and imposing stands which overlook the playing area aside, a vast food and drink quarter, a big screen and games area are in place to ensure there is no shortage of entertainment for those spending a day at the cricket.

How one of Dublin's historic sites has been transformed into an international stadium
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  • Malahide Cricket Ground

    Source: Cricket Ireland
  • Malahide Cricket Ground

    Source: Cricket Ireland
  • Malahide Cricket Ground

    Source: Cricket Ireland
  • Malahide Cricket Ground

    Source: Cricket Ireland
  • Malahide Cricket Ground

    Source: Cricket Ireland
  • Malahide Cricket Ground

    Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But as soon as the final ball is bowled, attention will then turn to dismantling it all and packing up for another two years.

It’s illustrative of the situation Ireland currently find themselves in as the ICC continue to disregard the countries trying to break through the glass ceiling. At present, building a permanent stadium simply wouldn’t be viable as the paucity of major international fixtures means it would sit idle for most of the year.

Therefore, the significance of showcase fixtures games such as Friday cannot be understated. While meeting the on-field targets remains at the forefront of the agenda – the appointment of experienced New Zealander John Bracewell as the new head coach last week underlines that – there is also an emphasis on building for the future.

“We’re working with the Government for assistance to fund the construction of the major infrastructure such as permanent seating and facilities,” Deutrom explains. “Because the less we spend building the ground each time we have a big game, the more we can spend on grass roots cricket.”

“The key part of that is asking ourselves what the worth of such a game is to the local economy? Well, we can sell out the venue and bring in fans who will be using the public transport as well as local bars, restaurants and hotels.

“If that’s the case, and we firmly believe it is, then it’s worth the while for public funding bodies to invest in this venue because the Government and exchequer make money from it.”

President Michael D. Higgins in attendance President Higgins enjoying the cricket the last time England were on these shores Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It’s estimated each game generates something in the region of €1.5 million for the local economy but more importantly the sport is turning heads.

There’s an assumption that cricket is played to a backdrop of deferential silence and a smattering of well-mannered applause by the appreciative crowd as they purr at a perfectly executed cover-drive.

But, times have changed and Ireland now have a home and support base which matches their lofty ambitions. Now all that’s needed is some favourable weather.

“Unfortunately it’s one of those desperately, difficult, uncontrollable things,” Deutrom adds. “The only thing we can do is take out rain insurance.”

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