Hundred up for Shillington
Clare Shillington will make Irish cricket history today by becoming the first woman to win 100 international caps when Ireland take on Bangladesh at Clontarf.
It’s been a long journey for 31-year-old Belfast-born Shillington who made her debut as a 16 year-old way back in 1997 against South Africa at Sydney Parade.
Her career has seen massive changes on and off the field with the women’s game taking on a higher profile under the guidance of Cricket Ireland and Shillington herself evolving from an off-spin bowler to an opening batter.
“Of course I remember my debut against South Africa when I was picked as a bowler,” she said. “On the strength of those performances I was selected for the World Cup in India that winter which was an incredible experience for a teenager.
“We played in front of a crowd of 10,000 in Delhi against Pakistan. The atmosphere was just incredible and I'll never forget the buzz from that game.”
After starting out in Belfast playing in boys’ teams, Shillington looked to Dublin for a better class of women’s cricket and after a spell with Railway Union, she has played most of her club cricket with Malahide.
“When I first started coming to ‘big bad Dublin’ in my school holidays I stayed with the O’Briens, and Camilla (mother to fellow 100-cappers Niall and Kevin) looked after me really well.
“I suppose my career was influenced by the players who were around when I first came into the Irish set-up. Miriam Grealey was the captain when I made my debut and I was a little in awe of her for the first two years.
“Catherine O’Neill was an off-spinner who did a massive amount of work with me in India and I greatly admired her as a cricketer. In more recent times Ciara Metcalfe who is a very close friend of mine has been an influence and also Catriona Beggs who was the reason I moved to play for Malahide.”
Shillington believes the introduction of Jeremy Bray as Ireland women’s coach has been a positive development in the past year and the former men’s international is a big fan of her attitude and application.
“Clare is as talented as anyone I’ve seen going around on the international circuit and she is incredibly hard-working,” Bray said. “She’s also a fantastic athlete and on her day is as destructive as any player in world cricket.”
Perhaps seeing something of himself in the way Shillington plays, Bray added: “She hits the ball very hard and likes to play shots all round the wicket - that can be her downfall as she can get too carried away at times and she has to learn to reign herself in.
“It’s a wonderful achievement for her to reach 100 caps and I'm convinced she’ll be an integral part of this Ireland side for years to come.”
Along with the highs there have been a few lows - Shillington suffered “the yips“ after a hand injury which forced her to give up bowling and she has suffered a few injuries too, notably a broken arm against England when she was hit by Katherine Brunt.
Although Shillington has played in three World Cups for Ireland - and captained her country in one of them - she still has a burning ambition to beat one of the major powers in the women’s game.
“We’ve never beaten a really top cricketing nation in my time despite being in a number of match winning positions,” she said.
“Even this year against England we had a genuine chance to create a major giantkilling but just fell short - that inability to kick on and claim a scalp rankles with me.”
Perhaps the closest she came to beating England was in 1999 when Ireland lost a low scoring game by two wickets, as current Ireland captain Isobel Joyce remembers well.
“My abiding memory of Clare would be from that game,” Joyce said.
“She was incredibly aggressive as we nearly defended a small total. She just refused to lay down and got a brilliant run out and two wickets.
“All these years later she’s still got that magnificent spirit and work ethic which is a wonderful testament to her character.”