ROMANCE is a moveable feast for an international sportsman. Francesca Georgiou-Harris knows that, which is why she had her Valentine’s night out on the 13th this year.

Her husband, Ed Joyce, spent the day for lovers on a trans-Atlantic flight to Jamaica where he joined his Ireland team-mates for a short series of games against the West Indies.

The two T20s and one ODI are a useful tune-up for the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh next month, but for Joyce they also mark a milestone in a remarkable Irish sporting career.

The 35-year-old needs to play in two of them to win his 100th cap, but that achievement has been a long time coming. Had he played every game since his debut, he would be this weekend celebrating his 356th cap.

Half-a-lifetime ago he stepped out on the West Bromwich ground to make his debut against Scotland in the old Triple Crown tournament. The 18-year-old made 60 but none of his teammates reached 30.

“I remember a lot about the game,” he said this week from the Sussex ground in Hove. “I remember being surprised that we couldn’t chase 220 in 50 overs. I was very nervous, playing alongside guys like Alan Lewis and Angus Dunlop who I’d looked up to, but I settled in quickly.”

He admits the next 20 or 30 games have faded in memory, but he can be excused that – they were back in the 20th century and Irish cricket was a different beast.

He played for Ireland until the summer of 2001, when his career with Middlesex took over, but returned to play a key role in the 2005 qualifiers for the Caribbean World Cup. Those three weeks were his only caps during his best years, a decade spent waiting for an England call-up and waiting to requalify for Ireland.

“In those days there was no formal way of ‘declaring’, you just had to live there for a certain number of years. I never thought it would happen to be honest.”

The old Irish Cricket Union had a limited fixture list and its ambition was far outstripped by its best player, but the 2007 World Cup changed that. Joyce spent that tournament in a blue and red shirt.

“A big part of me regrets that I wasn’t part of that World Cup”, he said. “It was such a huge moment in the history of Irish cricket and having been an integral part of helping Ireland to qualify, it was disappointing not to be part of it.

“Although I had a great time playing for England, I sometimes think that if I had been playing for Ireland in the West Indies I could have made a difference in a couple of games.” Although a handful of Irish youngsters had tried to make it in English cricket, Joyce was the first to show it was a viable career, and the number of Irish pros with counties is now in double figures.

“I suppose I broke the glass ceiling”, he mused, “myself and Niall O’Brien showed it could be done and it encouraged the counties to look at Irish players. We’ve always produced talent but now they get a chance to show it.”

Rejoining Ireland for the 2011 World Cup, Joyce was taken with the increased professionalism. Now, three years on, he notices how expectations have risen.

“I don’t think the playing standard has got much better, but the coach and CricketIreland expects us to win more games against the big teams. That’s a good thing – sitting in mediocrity never works – but it puts more pressure on the guys and the younger players coming into the team. Qualifying for a tournament isn’t enough in itself anymore, we have to win games at them.”

Despite losing Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston, Joyce has been impressed by the increased pool of playing strength. The recent developments at ICC have opened a route to test level, although it may be too late for him.

“It’s hard to know if the changes are good for the game, but it looks like we won’t be worse off and at least there’s now a pathway. Where we go from here is completely up to us, we’ve no lack of talent. It’s impossible to say how we could do at test level until we play it, but I think it would have suited myself and Nobby (O’Brien).

“The way is clear, but it’s not going to be easy to win the next I-Cup and then win home and away against a team with far more funding and experience. But we’d give them a run for their money.”

Despite a persisently “dodgy hip”, Joyce hopes to be Down Under for the World Cup, which kicks off next year…. on February 14th. I wonder does Francesca like kangaroo steak?