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Building a Fortress: how Irish cricket got a new €500k home to match its ambition

Ireland lift the covers off their new international cricket ground in Malahide when England visit next week.

Malahide CC: the new ground will host its first international match when England visit for Tuesday's RSA Challenge.
Malahide CC: the new ground will host its first international match when England visit for Tuesday's RSA Challenge.
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

WHEN THE NEIGHBOURS call around, you want out to have the good silver out.

So when Eoin Morgan brings his English friends back home to Malahide Cricket Club for their one-day international against Ireland, the place will be looking its best.

An anticipated crowd of over 10,000 will make Tuesday’s RSA Challenge the biggest-ever attendance for a cricket match in this country. It will also be the first game played at Ireland’s newest international venue, dubbed “Fortress Malahide.”

Even Morgan, who lit up the old pitch with some fine displays during his teenage years, is likely to be bowled over by the complete transformation.

It is the latest milestone in a project to give Ireland the facilities to match its ambition to dine at the top table as a Test-playing nation by 2020. When the crowds pack out the stands, the Sky cameras switch on and the covers finally come off, what you will see is the culmination of over €500,000 in expenditure and almost six years of work.

“You have to go back to World Cup in 2007 when Ireland beat Pakistan on St Patrick’s Day and Bangladesh and put themselves on the world stage for the first time,” says Ian Talbot, the project manager, as he traces the story back to its roots.

“At the time there was a general acceptance that we didn’t have an international facility, particularly in the Republic.

“There is Stormont but the general sense was that if Ireland wanted to move on to the next stage or get on to the Test match map, we needed something with a greater capacity and something in the Republic as well.”

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John Mooney, Max Sorensen and Kevin O’Brien get used to their new international home out in Malahide (INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

By December Cricket Ireland had got the ball rolling, issuing a tender inviting all Dublin clubs to register their interest. From the very start, the plans were ambitious: the venue had to be big enough to meet the ICC’s international standards and also to house 10,000 fans.

Malahide was one of a handful of locations which met that criteria and, with the support of Fingal County Council, they put together a proposal. They won and now Talbot is standing in the club he has been a member of since the late 1960s, watching workers in high-vis jackets as they make the final adjustments.

Everything is on track, but this was a distant vision back in September 2009 when the club and council started to rip it all up and lay an international standard cricket square. At that point the government was interested and supportive but, with purse-strings tight, they had not signed off on any financial backing for the project.

Still, when Talbot looks back, he sees that autumn as a key moment.

“I really felt that once we put the new square in back in September/October 2009, it was going to happen. It would have been almost harder to stop it so that was the point of no return.

It was also a statement by us and the council that we were serious about this. We hadn’t got any formal support to that point but we were going ahead with it anyway.

“Having done that and put a bit of investment into it ourselves, I think that really made people sit up and take a bit of notice.”

The funding eventually arrived the following October in the form of a €450,000 grant from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport. That allowed Malahide to bring in consultants, including international sports surface company TTS, to lend the necessary expertise.

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The official sod-turning ceremony in April 2011: (l-r) Irish cricket international John Mooney, Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom, the then Mayor of Fingal Cllr Ken Farrell, and the then President of Malahide CC Norman (Brian Lawless / Sportsfile)

“After all we’re just a small club,” Talbot says as he races through a long list of upgrades and improvements, many of which are mandated by broadcasting companies: a sophisticated drainage system to ensure play resumes as quickly as possible in the event of rain; heavy duty covers and ‘Super Sopper’ machines; unseen essentials like wiring and cabling to support the TV stump cameras.

The bulk of the work was done in late 2011 and by the next summer, they had been set a target. England announced their post-Ashes schedule for autumn 2013 and pencilled in a return trip to Ireland: the perfect fixture for Malahide’s grand opening.

“A lot of the time you actually need a deadline to focus people’s attention. It kind of helped.

It got people focused on here’s what we need to do, here’s when we need to do it by, and the prize at the end of this is fantastic. You thought, ‘Oh god, will we be ready,’ but at the same time it gave everything the impetus.

The buzz and excitement around Tuesday is well-deserved but the project is still far from the finish line. The anticipated record crowd will pack into five temporary stands, as well as two corporate facilities and a tented village, but after the final ball it will all be packed up and taken away. For now flexibility is key, and while England in an Ashes summer might pull in a five-figure attendance, that won’t always be the case.

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The new set-up at Malahide (INPHO / Ryan Byrne)

“We were trying to think through both big and small. If we’ve got an England or an India in, we’re going to need this big infrastructure, but if it’s Bangladesh, we’ll probably tell people to bring a picnic basket and blanket and sit on the banks where they’ll have a nice view.

The next thing is to build a new clubhouse to ICC standards. The existing clubhouse, the core of it was built in 1974, and it didn’t envisage anything like what we’ve got going on here. I think one of the changing rooms in the new facility is nearly the size of our existing clubhouse.

But that talk is for another day. After working for almost six years to get to this point, Talbot and everyone involved is proud of what they have achieved and excited to present it to the Irish sporting public.

The final piece of the jigsaw, sadly, is out of their hands.

“At every stage we’ve gone through you don’t believe it’s actually going to happen until suddenly it’s there. It’s absolutely fantastic.

“Now I just want the weather to be half-decent on Tuesday. There’s no more we can do from here.”

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Niall Kelly

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