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End of an era as Niall O'Brien calls time on 16-year international career

The wicket-keeper/batsman played an integral role in Irish cricket’s success over the last decade.

ONE OF IRISH cricket’s trailblazers, Niall O’Brien, has called time on a storied and illustrious international career as another one of the golden generation at the heart of so much success bids farewell. 

The 36-year-old made his international debut in 2002 and went on to play 216 times for Ireland during a 16-year career, as he finishes as the country’s fourth highest run-scorer.

Niall and Kevin O'Brien celebrate beating Pakistan The O'Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, after Ireland's defeat of Pakistan in 2007. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

O’Brien, along with the likes of Trent Johnston, Ed Joyce, John Mooney and brother Kevin, were central and talismanic figures in the emergence of Irish cricket on the world stage, playing key parts in those indelible and seminal World Cup defeats of Pakistan, England and West Indies. 

The wicket-keeper/batsman scored 6,097 international runs at an average of 31.59, including eight centuries and 33 half-centuries, while also claiming 241 dismissals behind the stumps.

More than that, however, was O’Brien’s leadership on and off the field as he found himself at the heart of Irish cricket’s incredible rise since the 2007 World Cup, to the point of achieving Full Membership status of the International Cricket Council.

His highest score of 176 against the UAE in 2005 was almost eclipsed a few years later when he hit 174 against the same side in 2008, while his first ODI century came against New Zealand at Malahide a couple of summers ago.

His most memorable innings, though, came at Sabina Park on St Patrick’s Day 2007 as he constructed a match-winning 72 to help Phil Simmons’ side complete a stunning upset against Pakistan. 

O’Brien’s retirement, which he announced today with a ‘heavy heart’, marks the end of an era for Irish cricket, with one of the Dubliner’s last games for Ireland fittingly coming in last May’s inaugural Test match against Pakistan. 

“I have been blessed to have been lucky enough to have represented my country for 16 years with plenty more ups than downs and for this I look back with nothing but smiles and laughter,” he said in a statement. 

Niall O'Brien with Sarfraz Ahmed O'Brien made his Test debut last May. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I would like to thank all my coaches and teammates who along the way have helped me become the player I was. I have had too many coaches to mention them all but a special thanks must go to Adrian “Adi” Birrell who took a chance on me in 2002 and who arranged a trial at Kent from where I started my 14-year county career which was an absolute privilege and an honour.

“I always tried to play with a smile on my face and with an enjoyment that I think all people could see whether watching from the stands, standing with me in the field or coming up against me for the opposition. Hard work was always behind my performance and I will take this same ethos into the next phase of my career where I have been working in the Sports Agency business for the last 2 years alongside my playing commitments and will continue to pursue this avenue.

“I have always had a keen interest in working within the media and I am extremely keen to gain more opportunities moving forward and with Ireland having more exposure on the global stage I am hopeful to be working on plenty of Ireland games in the near future. I will also be looking to put my Level 3 coaching badge to good use and hope to work with some of the next generation moving forward.

“I would like to say a special thank you to Railway Union Cricket Club and all its members for helping me in the early years and especially Brian Donnelly who was an absolute hero to all young players in the club back in the day.

“To all at Cricket Ireland a sincere thank you for allowing me to wear the shamrock for 16 years. There are too many fond memories to mention so I just wish the team and the organisation all the very best for the future and I will be watching keenly from afar.

John Mooney and Niall O’Brien after the winning runs Two of Ireland's best: John Mooney and Niall O'Brien. Source: PHOTOSPORT/Chris Symes/INPHO

“From playing relatively small fixtures at the start of my career to competing and winning world cup matches to being there to play in our first Test match meant I have achieved more than I could have ever dreamt and for this I look back with nothing but fondness.

“Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my family for all the guidance and support down the years whether it was driving me to matches, throwing balls to me in the garden or travelling to the Caribbean to watch me play. Without you I would not have amounted to anything on the field so a huge thank you to all the O’Briens.

“Now is a time for myself and my wonderful wife Bex to welcome our new addition into the world and enjoy some family time together.”

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Ryan Bailey

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