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Cricket was introduced into Ireland by the English in the later stages of the 18th Century. The first record of a cricket match being played is in Phoenix Park in 1792 between a Colonel Lennox XI and an All Ireland team under the guidance of Major Hobart. The first native Irish club, Ballinsloe, was formed in 1825, and the majority of Irish clubs were set up in the next 50 years - among the most famous are Phoenix (1830), Waringstown (1851), Sion Mills (1864) and Cork County (1874).
Ireland played its first international game in 1855 when it beat The Gentlemen of England by 107 runs, and three years later it beat the MCC by an innings and 10 runs. In 1879, Ireland drew with Surrey, its first game against a county, and in the same year embarked on a tour of the USA and Canada. In 1888, Ireland began a series of games against Scotland, and the two teams have met each other on over 100 occasions since. An embryonic Irish Cricket Union was set up in 1890, although it was 1923 before it really became representative. A new streamlined Cricket Ireland board was set up in 2008 to govern the game more effectively.
Ireland became an Associate Member of the ICC in 1993, and played in its first ICC Trophy in 1994. Mike Hendrick became the first full-time Irish coach in 1995; his successors include Ken Rutherford, Adrian Birrell and Phil Simmons. A Chief Executive was appointed for the first time in 2003, and the post is currently held by Warren Deutrom.
Ireland has gained a number of international scalps over the years, defeating the West Indies on no fewer than three occasions in 1928, 1969 and 2004. The 1969 win saw the mighty West Indies dismissed for just 25, as Ireland recorded a nine-wicket win. Ireland's first win over international opposition had seen South Africa beaten in 1909. In more recent times, the side won the 2009 ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, defeating Canada by nine wickets, which retains its ODI status and a place in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup.
The 2007 World Cup competition saw Ireland tie with Zimbabwe, and then famously defeat Pakistan to qualify for the Super Eights phase, where it comfortably beat Bangladesh. Ireland has also won the Intercontinental Cup three times, beating Kenya, Canada, and Namibia. In 2009, Ireland qualified for the Super Eights phase of the ICC World Twenty20, by defeating Bangladesh, and came within four runs of defeating England in an ODI in Belfast just after England's Ashes win in the same year.
Its consistent progress continued in 2010 when it once again reached the ICC World Twenty20 and won the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division One in emphatic style in the Netherlands.
In 2008, Ireland produced an unprecedented clean sweep of all European Championships from U13 through to senior level. Ireland's U19 side has competed in six World Cups, including the most recent - in New Zealand in 2010 - where it managed one victory after finishing first in the qualifying competition.
Ireland's most famous players include Jimmy Boucher, Dermot Monteith, Garfield Harrison, Ivan Anderson, EDR Shearer, Eddie Ingram, Alec O, Riordan, Ossie Colhoun, Stephen Warke, and in more recent times, Ed Joyce, Kyle McCallan, Eoin Morgan, Peter Gillespie, Boyd Rankin, William Porterfield, Niall and Kevin O'Brien, and Trent Johnston.
There are four separate provincial unions - Northern Cricket Union, North West Cricket Union, Leinster Cricket Union and Munster. These all play their own individual league and cup competitions from senior right down to junior level. There have been senior interprovincial games in the past, but these haven't taken place over the past few years due to fixture congestion. There are interprovincial competitions at youth level, and these are used to select national representative youth sides. The Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup is played by the senior sides from all four regions. It has taken place since 1982 - the balance of power has shifted in recent years from the northern clubs who dominated in the early years, to Leinster-based clubs in more recent times.
Ireland's success in the 2007 World Cup gave a great boost to the popularity of the sport in the country. The exposure afforded by prime time television coverage of eight games found the sport becoming a major talking point in pubs and clubs throughout Ireland. Whereas previously many wouldn't have been aware of the existence of an Irish side, that now is no longer the case. After Ireland's win over Pakistan on St Patrick's Day, cricket occupied a prominent place not just on the back pages, but also the front pages.
There has been an incredible surge in youngsters playing and participating in the sport following the World Cup. Clubs right across the country are reporting a dramatic upsurge in numbers, typically by 100-300 per cent. This increased demand has meant many clubs running special sessions and camps. This of course has led to many seeking coaching qualifications to meet this demand. In Northern Ireland, the upgrading of the two development officers posts to full-time has enabled a massive increase in the development work in the region. An extra five - ICC Introduction to Cricket - courses have been held for school leavers, college students and teachers, adding greatly to the coaching pool.
Girls' representative cricket has also re-emerged, after a number of years - absence where it was not possible to do so. Over 30 new schools have been included in the Extended Schools Programme and sessions for the visually impaired and special needs groups offered for the first time. All have been a great success and requests for further and wider ranging sessions have been received. It is a similar story in the south, where youth development officer Brian O'Rourke has coordinated a wide-ranging programme.
The Northern and Southern Sports Councils have been very supportive in the past few years, and cricket is now one of the main beneficiaries of government funding. This has seen an improvement in facilities at clubs throughout the country. One exciting project which has been completed in recent times is at Bready Cricket Club in the North West, who have built an international standard ground and indoor training centre, which has drew universal praise from all who have used it.
Women's cricket was amalgamated into the Irish Cricket Union in 2003 and the game has grown from strength to strength. The Irish senior side competes in the Leinster men's league, and has gained promotion on a regular basis. It also competed in the ECB LV County Championships for the first time in 2009. It has been very successful in attracting sponsorship, and major nations such as India, Australia and South Africa have toured Ireland in recent years.
While the game is primarily strong in the Dublin area, there has been an upturn in popularity in the north, and the game is now played in a wide number of schools. This resurgence is evident in quite a number of youngsters from the north being included in youth representative sides.
The national women's side has played in five ICC Women's World Cups to date - the most recent of which was in 2005 - and they have twice won the European Championships - in 2005 and 2009.