|European Championships: Northern Ireland, July 2002|
Ireland v England: 25 July
HOLLAND kept their side of the bargain but Ireland failed gloriously in an epic European Championship finale at The Lawn. About an hour after Scotland had collapsed to defeat for the second time in the tournament, losing by three runs to the Dutch, ECB England beat Ireland by one run.
Ireland, chasing a victory target of 227 lost captain Jason Molins for a magnificent 106 with the total on 203. There were just 17 balls remaining when Conor Armstrong joined Niall O'Brien for an eight wicket partnership which threatened to win the game.
From the last over, Ireland needed seven. They scrambled a leg bye off the first ball, took a single off the second and then, much to O'Brien's horror, the young wicket-keeper was given run out when it looked to everyone else in the ground, bar the Israeli umpire, that he had completed the second. Four to win off three balls and new batsman Gary Neely took a single off his first ball. Armstrong then got into a tangle over a full pitch ball from English captain Steve Foster and before he realised where the ball was, he had been run out by the wicket-keeper.
It was left to Jordan McGonigle, in his first game of the tournament, to hit the last ball for at least three but he could manage only the single and, for the second time, ECB England had beaten Ireland by one run, the same margin of victory which denied the hosts the Triple Crown at Comber in 1995.
Ireland though, can hold their heads up high. They lost nothing in defeat, except a trophy, and more than played their part in the match of the tournament. A fitting finale to a marvellous event.
Molins had won the toss at the start of the day and, with a good wicket drying out all the time, took the local advice and inserted the unbeaten tournament leaders. Gary Neely gifted them a fast start, with four wides and two boundaries in his opening over, but the Irish bowlers clawed back the situation with the slow bowlers particularly effective.
Kyle McCallan found an accurate line and length and conceded just 28 runs in his 10 overs, McGonigle - playing instead of Adrian McCoubrey who failed a morning fitness test - bowled better than his final figures of nought for 41 from eight and Andrew White bowled the last six overs from the car park end and finished with three wickets. At the other end, Molins opted for pace but Neely's first two comeback overs both went for 13 and Ireland were chasing a total in excess even of their impressive average in the tournament.
The Irish captain had very little choice in the end, however, as Derek Heasely was off the field with a swollen ankle and Paul Mooney was feeling ill - Molins had already been off the field himself with a dodgy tummy. The best English batsman was Richard Howitt, who made 83.
The Ireland batting, however, was another excellent team effort. Andrew White was caught in the fifth over for eight and Dom Joyce and Peter Davy failed again but Kyle McCallan then joined his captain for a fourth wicket stand which set up the thrilling conclusion and was probably only another few overs away from being a match-winning one. For the second half of the partnership there were three Ireland batsmen in the middle because Molins injured his leg when going for a quick single and, after a 15-minute hold-up, Joyce returned to run for his captain. A big bonus for Ireland - or so we thought.
The end, unfortunately, ruined everything that had gone before. McCallan had just played two wonderful shots to the boundary, the first a back foot cut and the second, probably the shot of the day, through extra cover. Then he called for a single, Joyce immediately said "no" but Kyle kept coming. With Joyce not moving, the English fielders were able to fumble the ball and still have time to take off the bails.
When Mooney and Heasley followed McCallan back to the pavilion in the space of six balls, ECB England were big favourites. But while Niall O'Brien's keeping may have been under the microscope this week, his has impressed everyone with his batting. Another 33 yesterday off just 41 balls kept Ireland in the hunt right to the end and with Joyce running for Molins, Jason has rarely reached a hundred with so little effort. His movement was visibily restricted but he became the first Irish captain to score a century on home soil since Angus Dunlop's 101 against South Africa at Clontarf four years ago. In all he faced 136 balls and hit nine fours, only three of them after his injury.
His end was another "third umpire decision" but without recourse to an video evidence, Molins had to accept the Israeli umpire's verdict that he was stumped. He could not believe it. When O'Brien followed in similar, dubious, circumstances, it was one decision too far for this heroic Ireland team.