Fitting stage set for Irish cricket’s biggest test
Malahide will host an attendance of 10,000 as Ireland host England in eagerly-awaited clash
Ian Talbot remembers the phone call which was to start the process leading to the staging of next Tuesday’s RSA Challenge One-Day International between Ireland and England at the new international ground in Malahide.
It came from Talbot’s fellow Malahide Cricket Club member John Wright, the late secretary of the Irish Cricket Union, and one of the prime movers in getting the new ground built at the club he always referred to as ‘The Village’.
“I’ve been involved from the start,” says Talbot, whose day job is as chief executive of Chambers Ireland. “John Wright rang me one day and said ‘we’ve a job to do Ian’ and I said ‘what’s that?’. So he explained, but unfortunately six months later poor old John didn’t make it.”
The death of Wright at the age of 65 was a huge loss for Irish cricket and Malahide, but his vision has been carried through by Talbot and his fellow club members, along with Cricket Ireland and Fingal County Council.
It will come to fruition next Tuesday morning in what is arguably the most remarkable piece of sporting infrastructure ever constructed in this country – a pop-up cricket stadium comprising 10,000 temporary seats, a corporate hospitality pavilion hosting 650 guests, a clubhouse for players, officials, sponsors and guests, a 100-seater press box and separate Sky Sports studios, two giant screens and a food and drink village.
It’s been a logistical feat on some scale, built up from the ground in the space of three and-a-half weeks and leaving little change out of €250,000.
And it will be beamed live around the world to over a billion people with ESPN stepping in to secure the global rights to the telecast, with the high camera positions showing off the beauty of the site within the grounds of Malahide Castle.
The local economy has rowed in behind the project also, while passengers coming from the north will be able to step off the Enterprise service at nearby Malahide station instead of having to travel in to the city centre.
The game always represented a huge financial risk for Cricket Ireland with the costs of building a stadium for just one game, but it is expected to be a 10,000 sell-out, far and away the biggest attendance at a match in this country.
For Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom, it was never about how much money could be made from game, but what staging an event of this calibre says about the growth of the game here both on and off the field.
“It is an incredible amount of effort just for one match,” admits Deutrom, pointing out as an example the two-storey hospitality pavilion that was last used at the British Open at Muirfield. “The hospitality marquee is usually used for multi-day events such as horse racing and golf, so to use it just for one day might be construed as a waste, but I don’t think it will be because it has paid for itself through the fact that corporate hospitality sold out incredibly early. In fact, I think there are going to be something in the region of 600-650 corporate hospitality guests and we could have sold 1,000 . . . .
“There’s an extraordinary level of interest in this game and for me it crystallises the vision we all have for Irish cricket, which is that you have the best teams in the world playing in front of 10,000 people, in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Effectively, everyone is going to get their view of what we believe is the future of Irish cricket.”
The process that led to this started in the warm afterglow of Ireland’s performances at the 2007 World Cup and the huge growth in interest in the game that came from the performances of Adrian Birrell’s side in the Caribbean.
The issue of a permanent home for Irish cricket was at the top of the agenda and the politicians were quick to add their support from the back of the bandwagon at a welcome home party hosted by the Irish Sports Council at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.
Moving into 2008, though, the dark clouds of the economic downturn were started to drift in and it quickly became obvious that time was of the essence in getting the funding in place for the new ground.
Malahide made the bold move of going ahead with the installation of a new square that would fit international regulations, with the limitations of the ground having been shown up after an Intercontinental Cup match against Canada in the summer of 2008 ended after a downpour flooded the ground .
A few months earlier their joint bid with Fingal County Council had been picked from the three proposals made to Cricket Ireland, but it wasn’t until October 2009 that work commenced on the new square following approval from the Council for redevelopment of the ground that included the granting of a sporting lease on a significant parcel of land.
With the new square installed, the key matter of the grant for the full redevelopment of the ground would come in October 2010 when the Department of Art, Sport and Tourism approved funds of €450,000.
Talbot was the project manager on behalf of Malahide and points out how important an issue drainage was in the plan.
“We knew we had to do a good job, the big cost was first of all there was a lot of levelling, but the second thing is to get the drainage system in. And that’s really key, because if Sky are coming over and bringing their 15 to 18 cameras and 85 people, they want to be as sure as they can, unless it’s actually raining, that you are going to get play in.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing as two wet summers hindered the full bedding in of the outfield and banking around the boundary, but this past summer has seen the ground come into its own, with last weekend’s staging of the Irish Senior Cup final showing it off in its full glory.
The appointment of former Somerset groundsman Philip Forest, a five-time winner of the ECB pitches award, was one of the last pieces in the jigsaw and the wickets have received plenty of praise from players.
It’s been all hands on deck at Malahide for the last couple of weeks, but Talbot is confident everything will be right on the day, with a little help from the weather gods.
“There’s always panic moments, no matter how much you plan there’s always things falling together at the last minute and you’d have your fingers crossed,” he says, before looking forward to the end of a successful staging. “There’ll be relief and celebration eventually, at the moment it’s fear factor, fear of the unknown.”
And Deutrom knows the man that many people’s thought will turn to on the day. “John Wright was a massive part of Malahide being the venue, he was a huge inspiration not just behind Malahide but also behind Irish cricket. I know there’s going to be an awful lot of people who are going to have a few wistful thoughts about John when the day comes.”