Irish World Cup stars head for Cork
Top class cricket returns to the Mardyke in Cork for the first time in a decade this Sunday when The North takes on The South in the first of the new Inter-Regional Series of matches.
Andrew White, the second most capped Ireland player, will lead out The North while The South boasts six of the squad which won the recent ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers in Dubai.
In all, no fewer than 12 full internationals will be on view, along with a further 12 players who have represented Ireland A, while the remaining two selected in the squads of 13 have both played for Ireland at Under 19 level.
As Ireland pushes for Test match status these new regional contests are seen as the first step towards a first-class cricket structure on the island.
Ireland coach Phil Simmons backs the initiative and is certain that Sunday will be a great occasion. "Both line-ups will feature six of the national side and it’s sure to be a high quality encounter," he said.
"There’s places to be earned for the forthcoming games with Australia and Afghanistan, so everyone knows that the stakes are high. I’m sure the Munster public will come out in force and support the game."
White, who captains the Northern squad, is one of three Instonians players in the line-up, along with his vice captain James Shannon and Rory McCann the wicket-keeper. Limavady all-rounder Stuart Thompson is included as well as the Waringstown pairing of James Hall and Lee Nelson, while Sussex-based opening bowler Craig Young is the only county player available to either side.
The South looks the more experienced squad, captained by World Cup record holder Kevin O'Brien, with John Mooney returning from his trial at Sussex as his deputy.
Trent Johnston, the assistant coach for The South, plays alongside his YMCA colleague Albert van der Merwe, while the others selected include Andrew Poynter of Clontarf and The Hills seam bowler Max Sorensen, the leading wicket taker in top flight Leinster cricket this season.
Cricket Ireland have genuine ambitions to be the next Test playing nation, and for Performance Director Richard Holdsworth, the game is a pre-cursor of things to come.
"One of the conditions to gaining Full Member status is a first-class domestic structure and we see this as a stepping stone towards that, helping players bridge the gap between club and international cricket.
"We are delighted that Cork County Cricket Club has supported the hosting of this first match, and we hope it will help promote the game in Munster and complement the good work being undertaken in schools and clubs there.
"These are two very strong North and South squads, the game is sure to be a very competitive and high level match, and will allow Phil Simmons and the national selectors to further look at our talented players ahead of a busy international summer."
Robert Duggan from host club Cork County said: "The Mardyke has undergone considerable renovation off the pitch over the past two years and so it is very gratifying for the club to host such a prestigious event.
"It will be the first senior representative match at the Mardyke since Ireland took on the MCC in 2002. Last season saw the club successfully host the ICC European U/17 Challenge Series between Ireland and Scotland and it is hoped that such calibre of matches can become a regular occurrence at the Mardyke over the coming years.
"The interest in cricket in Munster, particularly at youth level, has really taken off over the past few years with the success of the Irish team so to have some of those international players such as Kevin O’Brien, Andrew White, John Mooney and Trent Johnston competing at the home of cricket in Munster is very exciting for the club."
The game starts at 12 o’clock and will have free admission.
The North: Andrew White (captain) (Instonians), James Shannon (vice-captain) (Instonians), Andrew Britton (Limavady), Scott Campbell (Coleraine), Chris Dougherty (CIYMS), Phil Eaglestone (Strabane), James Hall (Waringstown), Nigel Jones (CSNI), Andrew McBrine (Donemana), Rory McCann (Instonians), Lee Nelson (Waringstown), Stuart Thompson (Limavady), Craig Young (Sussex/Bready), Coach: Eugene Moleon, Manager: Roy Torrens.
The South: Kevin O'Brien (captain) (Railway Union), John Mooney (vice-captain) (North County), Ben Ackland (Merrion), John Anderson (Merrion), Andrew Balbirnie (Pembroke), Adam Coughlan (North County), Tom Fisher (Railway Union), Shane Getkate (North County), Trent Johnston (YMCA), Barry McCarthy (Pembroke), Andrew Poynter (Clontarf), Max Sorensen (The Hills), Albert van der Merwe (YMCA). Coach: Peter Johnston, Managers: John Hoey and Mark Jones.