THE county cricket circuit has been a rich source of employment and success for Irishmen since Ed Joyce made the breakthrough 15 years ago. More than 30 players have tested themselves over there, with the number who got a full-time living out of it well into double figures.

A chill wind has blown this year, however, and already three heroes of the 2015 World Cup – Andrew Balbirnie, George Dockrell and Niall O’Brien – have been shown the door by their counties and I understand there could be more to come. This week’s round of county championship games sees just three Irishmen in action – veterans Ed Joyce and Tim Murtagh, and tyro Barry McCarthy.

The opportunities are still coming outside the 1st XIs, and this year Tyrone Kane and Stephen Doheny have sampled the county scene at Trent Bridge. But the well seems to have dried up for some Irish players.

Open your 2016 Wisden at page 779 and you’ll find the 2015 Second XI averages. Sitting on top of the batting tables is Paul Stirling, while atop the bowling is Bobby Gamble – the first time two Irishmen have led these charts. They won't be there next year.

‘Stirlo’ has had a mixed 2016, starting on the 2nds but after making 121 v Essex 2s getting a good run in the 1st XI. He made two one-day centuries, but only one fifty in nine first-class games – albeit going in No7 in all bar two innings. His bowling also failed to spark and he has emerged wicket-less in eight innings, at a cost of 138 runs.

He has fallen out of favour recently and was this week turning out in the 2nd XI championship final when he might have preferred to be taking part in the Division 1 title run-in or Ireland v Hong Kong. His class at white-ball cricket will keep him fortified but he will find it hard to get back into that strong Middlesex batting line-up.

Ireland U19 seamer Gamble had a stunning first season at Somerset but was released in early June this year. His second year at Loughborough MCCU saw him take just five wickets in three county games, but 11 wickets in eight 2nd XI matches for Somerset saw them end their interest. He played a couple of games for Northants 2nds, but has been more successful when linking up with the MCC Universities XI who play in the county seconds league, taking 11 wickets in three games.

After he completes his finals at Loughborough next June, Gamble says he will be back playing in Ireland and is keen to make progress in the game here.

While Gamble will hope to fight for a place in the Leinster Lightning side, there were also places for their Unions this term for both William Porterfield and Gary Wilson.

The Irish captain has had two runs in the first XI – for most of June, and the last week of July – when he was only used in white-ball competitions. He made three 50s, averaging 44 in T20s and 27 in the 50-over games. For the 2nd XI he has made just one 50 and 137no against MCCU, scoring 309 at an average of 26.

Wilson has been on the fringes at Surrey most of the summer, although he won a 1st XI call-up in all formats for most of June but made just 83 runs in 12 innings. Dropped back to the 2nds he made 103no against Essex but despite totalling over 1,000 runs in all cricket it has been a disappointing summer for the CSNI man.

Tyrone Kane had a couple of games with Nottinghamshire 2nds in July. In his first game he made 5no and 1-16 against Durham, taking the wicket of Stuart Poynter. In a three-day game against the same opposition he made 36, but failed to take a wicket.

Stephen Doheny had a record breaking summer for Rush, but he started the season in April playing for Nottinghamshire against Warwickshire. Batting No.7, he made 18 off 32 balls (four 4s) and 10 in the second innings.

Irish-qualified Andy Gorvin lost his wicket for the first time in 2016 to a catch by Gary Wilson. He was a regular at Hampshire 2nds until mid-June, and made one fifty for the county against MCC Young Cricketers. He also scored several 50s for his club, Havant.

Durham has been a hotbed of Irish cricket these last few years, and recent weeks have seen Stuart Poynter and Barry McCarthy getting a run on the 1st XI.

Poynter has been prolific with the bat, racking up 1,781 runs in all cricket this summer, with four 100s and nine 50s. Two of the tons came for Durham 2nds, who he captained for long stretches and are in this week’s championship final. The other two centuries came for Tynemouth, who finished 3rd in the North-East Premier League.

McCarthy started well on the 2nd XI and despite a few niggles was a regular wicket-taker. His best return was 12-3-18-5 against Essex/Kent which won him a call up to the 1sts against Lancashire when he took 5-70.

Since then he has cemented his place, and has shown a knack for picking up quality scalps – his last six victims were all test cricketers: Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott, Tim Ambrose, Rikki Clarke, Brendon Taylor and Gary Ballance.

In all cricket this summer he has taken 67 wickets at an average of 22.

The third Irish Geordie is Peter Chase, who is now based in Malahide but was released by Cricket Ireland when Durham had a bit of an injury crisis. In a 50 over game against Yorkshire he took 0-43 off 10, while in the three-day game he took two top-order wickets for 52 but Durham followed on and he didn’t bowl again.

Another who answered a brief call was George Dockrell, who played once for MCC Young Cricketers against Glamorgan, taking 3-20 in 12 overs. And Seán Terry, having given up a Hampshire contract to play for YMCA, returned to England to play a 2nds game for Northants – making 106 v Leicester -- which earned him a couple of games on the 1sts.

Mark Adair was called up by Warwickshire for six Twenty20s, including a memorable TV debut, and also played a championship game when he made 32. For the Bears’ 2nd XI Adair made seven appearances, with a best of 4-34 against Durham, and 56 against a Northants attack including Monty Panesar. He has had a few niggles and hasn’t bowled since July 1st but played as a batsman for Moseley who finished 4th in the Birmingham and District Premier League.

In the Universities sector, Jamie McCollum started his summer at Durham, and although he missed out on the two first-class games, he made 11 against Derbyshire and 92 against Oxford in the uni’s championship. On his return to Waringstown he won representative honours for Northern Knights and Ireland “A”.

Robert McKinley was also omitted for Loughborough MCCU’s first-class games but made a dozen appearances in other competitions, taking 14 wickets. On his return home he was a Hanley Interpro’s regular for the Knights.

Patrick Tice ended his season with an Irish Senior Cup winners’ medal, but was on the losing side as Cambridge went down to Oxford in the Varsity Match. He made his highest first-class score of 41 in that game, his best of the summer.