Jon Coates (Irish Daily Mail)
Paul Stirling will become the first cricketer to put his Ireland career before English county interests when the national squad’s full-time quota swells from two to six this year.
Cricket Ireland have historically been powerless to prevent emerging players being lost to the professional counties and ultimately, in the case of Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan, to England.
But when Stirling begins his three-year deal with Middlesex this summer, he will only be available to the Lord’s outfit when Ireland coach Phil Simmons does not need him.
Stirling, the 19-year-old batsman from Belfast who already has 32 caps, might feel his Middlesex ambitions are compromised by such an arrangement but Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom stressed: ‘We will have first call on our six full-time players. ‘This is the way we would like to operate with all of our county professionals.
‘We have no idea how it is going to transpire with Paul should he become a regular fixture in the Middlesex team, but I hope it works out as well in reality as it does on paper.
‘Middlesex have been very co-operative with what we are trying to do.’
Last year’s first Ireland full- timers — Alex Cusack and Trent Johnston — take their places in the newly-formed ‘A’ group alongside newcomers Stirling, Kevin O’Brien, Andre Botha and John Mooney, with the squad departing this Saturday for a tour of Sri Lanka.
The contracts unveiled yesterday run up until the 2011 World Cup and contain three classifications. The ‘B’ group comprises first-choice players employed elsewhere — William Porterfield (Gloucestershire), Boyd Rankin (Warwickshire), Niall O’Brien (Northamptonshire) and Andrew White, a teacher — while there are 11 unnamed players in the ‘C’ group who are expected to be battling for the remaining World Cup places.
Deutrom said the overall investment in player remuneration now stands at between 400,000 and 450,000 Euro, and he paid tribute to the ICC and the sports councils on both sides of the border for providing the bulk of finance.
After an Intercontinental Cup clash with Afghanistan in Sri Lanka, Ireland play a series of warm-up games for next month’s World Twenty20 in the UAE. Stirling will join up with the squad for that tournament after Ireland’s Under 19 World Cup campaign in New Zealand, which begins tomorrow with a clash against South Africa.