Adrian BirrellAdrian Birrell will be collecting his P45 shortly. Ten more days is all he has in his current job as Ireland coach. Ten more days to shake the world. Today they face New Zealand, and then finish the Super Eights with games against Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka: not a bad way to bow out. That fixture programme alone is not a bad measure of how far Irish cricket has come since the South African arrived in the spring of 2002. His first tour in charge saw fixtures against MCC, Free Foresters, the Duke of Norfolk's XI and the Club Cricket Conference.

"It was a bit dispiriting in the beginning," he explained. "Cricket was never in the press. It was a really low-key affair. The biggest challenge was embracing the amateur status of the game. The challenge was to try and broaden the horizons of a lot of those in the ICU. I'm not having a go at that but Irish cricket was capable of a lot more. Now you look at our fixture list and its quite significant compared to what it was five years ago."

Of course, those plum fixtures, and those last week against England and South Africa, were not just secured by nods and winks over the port and cigars at Lord's. They were won in the white heat of Sabina Park by Birrell's charges.

"That was quite the best feeling I ever had in my life in coaching. We had a fantastic bus ride to Ocho Rios where the guys sang the whole way. I gave them a talk a few days later about how proud I was of them."

That magical journey to Ocho Rios began on the first day he arrived here.

"The goal when I arrived was to get to the World Cup. Obviously we had to get through 2005. But it was all about getting the right players.

"I was always keen on Will Porterfield, he was one of those who came through. Kevin O'Brien was another. I was keen on Greg Thompson but he didn't quite put the performances together and didn't quite make it. All the time you're looking at new players because the team is ever-evolving."

We talked in the foyer of the dressing room area in the National Stadium in Georgetown as Ireland whittled away at England's batsmen last week. Birrell is a notoriously bad watcher and seemed happy to find something else to keep him occupied. Are there are any other international managers in any sport who will find half an hour for a pressman during a game?

We met just after Boyd Rankin had dismissed the England openers. The Bready giant has captured the public imagination - and that of many experienced commentators. But just four weeks ago Birrell described him in these pages as "a fringe player but could be a main player if he bowls well he's potentially our best bowler". So when exactly did he realise that Rankin had what it takes?

"I didn't. I just knew he had potential. It's only very recently, after his selection for this. He was selected on promise but never quite delivered, but you always hoped he would deliver because he's the type of bowler who can perform at this level. He did in the game today when he got two very good players out. We needed an opening attack that can get wickets against good players. For that you need pace or you need swing. And Boyd gives us something different."

The Ireland squad in the Caribbean is very different to the 14 men that got them there. Six men were left behind - including Ed Joyce - but none more controversially than the captain in 2005, Jason Molins.

"I was unhappy with Jason's attitude to training", Birrell says, "he was always being injured. I lost patience. I started thinking about it during the ICC Trophy. Jason's obviously a very good player, but he never completed a full tournament for us. He kept getting non-impact injuries, pulling groins etc. He wasn't fit enough and he wasn't prepared to get fit. I wanted someone who was prepared to lead in all aspects."

Does he regret losing Molins as a player? "No. All our success has come post-Jason. We won the Intercontinental Cup post-Jason. We won European championships that we never won with Jason. Alan Lewis was a good player but he's of the past. So was Angus Dunlop. They were good players, but they had their time."

Having discarded Molins, he turned to Trent Johnston.

"What I look for most in a player is attitude. Obviously talent is important but I need to know that if we get into a scrap they're there for you. Trent brought that. He's a fighter on the field. He leads on the field and he leads off the field. He leads in training. The guys needed to be pushed. You don't get any glory without hard work. And we needed the hard work.

"South Africans like fighters. They pride themselves on never giving up. Cricket's not always an easy game and you've got to have guys who dig deep in certain situations."

The player he is most proud of bringing on is Niall O'Brien.

"It wasn't a very difficult decision to select Niall, but it was a brave decision. At the time he wasn't even playing for his province. But I'd seen enough of him to know. He had the attitude."

And when he finally leaves the crease, he has plans to get his golf handicap down, and to do some coach education with the England and Wales cricket board. He will also coach the European team on their short tour of England in June. He will stay in Dublin, helping to look after his two sons Luke and Christopher with his wife Susan, who sacrificed a career in South Africa to allow him to coach Ireland.

Does he really believe he has finished with cricket at the top level?

"I think so. I know my time in Ireland has been successful but somehow the judging of a coach at a top level is all about winning and losing and I sometimes feel disillusioned with that. There's more to cricket than just winning and losing. I derive more satisfaction by getting success out of a young player. The top level also takes me away from my family and we can't afford that as a family with Susan also being the main bread winner."

But with almost all the top nations having vacancies, or likely to have in the next month, he will surely be in line for a big job. Would he consider it?

"We're not going to close the door on any big job," he says, "but my first priority is the family and I'll have to make sure the family are okay before accepting any other job. Right now any big job in world cricket involves a huge amount of travel and that's just not on for me."

He also hopes that his experience will be useful to other Irish teams. "I'm hoping other sports will use me in speaking about team-building and team play. I think I have got something to offer businesses and sporting bodies."

And what will he say to Phil Simmons, whose first game as coach comes 10 days after Birrell steps down?

"I think it's a good situation that most of these players will continue, which gives him a good nucleus. There's also a good bunch of younger players ready to jump in.

"I've probably taken it as far as I can take it. I think they're capable of better and bigger things. With his experience he's better placed than me to take them forward. The team of [ICU chief executive] Warren Deutrom and Phil Simmons will continue the momentum forward. The guys are in good hands."