The flamboyant Kevin O’Brien talks about his cricket exploits and the future of the game in Ireland
Kevin O’Brien is back in the city where he scripted one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, and the visit brings back some great memories for the cricketer. “I’m really thrilled to be here. It’s nice to see that people still remember me, though that match happened about 18 months ago. People recognise me and stop me for autographs and photos when I walk around. It’s quite an honour,” O’Brien says.
O’Brien, who took Ireland to victory against England in Bangalore with a brutal 113 during last year’s World Cup, recalls the attention the team received when they returned home.
“We lived like kings for about two weeks. The Ireland team were on every television and radio station; we were in high demand back home. It was a great feeling to see how many people enjoyed our success. There is a lot of history between us and England, so it’s always good to put one over on them.” The 28-year-old adds that a lot has happened with Irish cricket since that famous victory, including its board’s goal to achieve Test status by 2020.
O’Brien is optimistic that the target can be met. “The Cricket Ireland (CI) directors and board members have laid out a bold strategy. If you look at our cricket, we have come a long way since our One-Day International debut in 2007. Now, we have 25 contracted players and 20 off-field staff as well. In 2007, it was just one professional cricketer and a head coach that was it.”
In 2010, O’Brien joined a select group of players to receive a professional contract from CI, a move which has helped him no end.
“In the last couple of years, I’ve improved both on and off the field. I’m able to focus on the game with consistent training,” he says, “If you are a youngster in Ireland, this is a great time to pursue cricket. You can make a great career in it, and the sooner younger guys realise this, the better.”
O’Brien, who is here as part of a delegation from Education Ireland to promote higher education in Ireland, mentions that cricketers in his country no longer need to migrate to England to find success. “There’s money to be had in Ireland. I don’t think younger guys need to go off and search of a career in England with a county team. We can earn a good living, and get top-class training which is as good, if not better than what England can offer.”
Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce are two examples of talented Irish cricketers who have shifted base to play for England.
O’Brien dismisses suggestions that players from Ireland are poached by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) once the big brother spots talent.
“I don’t think the ECB spots a player, brings them over and then tells him to play for England. I’d say that they do exactly the opposite. They bring Irish players to play county in England because it benefits the game in England. The ECB fully accepts how good Irish players are; there’s no pressure from them to play for England. It just happens when people get residency there. At the end of the day, these guys are superb cricketers, and they are good enough to get into the England team.”
An IPL contract eluded the burly all-rounder despite that breathtaking 113 off just 63 balls in Bangalore. O’Brien is hopeful that one of teams picks him for the upcoming season.
“With a bit of luck at the auction, hopefully a team can take a chance and bid for me. Ireland do not play much cricket from now to the auction date in January, which is a disadvantage. But I hope a team can remember what I have done in the last two or three years in international cricket.”