Cricket showing obvious but vital benefits of women’s professionalism

Relevant examples offered as debate on when to professionalise women’s sport rages

Laura Delany has been able to commit more time as a professional to injury recovery. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Cricket Ireland has been known to play the poor cousin card when compared to other sporting bodies on this island. On issues of funding and playing numbers - quite often fairly it has to be said - the deficit when compared to the likes of the GAA, FAI, and IRFU is regularly pointed out. Yet with the cricket season in its first few weeks and international fixtures looming, is there one way in which the runt of the litter is actually outdoing its sporting siblings?

Take the IRFU. The recent Six Nations campaign marked yet another focal point in the continuing calls to professionalise the women’s game. England and France continue to pull away from the pack with their structures, while a now semi-pro Welsh outfit threatens to create yet another tranche in the competition  after taking Ireland’s third spot in the final table. Understandably, a number of interested parties point to an uptick in performance since contracts were awarded to Welsh players in January.

Perhaps three months is still a surprisingly short interval in which the order of international rugby shifted; something other than contracts must have been at play in Wales overtaking Ireland. Regardless, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that being a full-time pro leads to better on-pitch performance.

Lurking away in the background of the wider debate on professionalism in women's sport, cricket offers itself as an example of its other tangible benefits. Take the Ireland captain, Laura Delany. At a launch event for the upcoming international summer, it was revealed that she has been suffering from a long term injury from the last time Ireland played in November.


"She probably shouldn't have played, I say shouldn't but we needed her," admits head coach Ed Joyce. The former Ireland batter references Ireland's World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe before Christmas. Delany scored 75 in a game against the Netherlands, a match-winning contribution that had a say in Ireland eventually securing a place in the ICC Women's Championship.

“She pretty much won us the game. She was injured but got through it. It was a serious injury but she’s recovering really well now. It’s a six month comeback which started when we got back. I’m not going to go into what it was but it was the hamstring area, hopefully she’ll be back for the South Africa series (in June).”

The new full-time contracts were signed by Ireland’s women cricketers in March. When Delany injured herself in 2021, she was not a professional. Now as she nears the end of her rehab, she is. There is an argument to be made that fully devoting herself to recovery could accelerate her comeback.

Ed Joyce with, from left, Cara Murray, Ireland captain Laura Delany and Gaby Lewis during the Ireland’s international cricket season launch. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“I think at the moment, and this sounds selfish, but that’s one of the massive benefits of being on a full-time contract,” explains Delany when asked about her rehab. “Before, you might have been working two long days, cricket Wednesday and Thursday and then back into the office on Friday. It’s really hard to recover from your sessions in between, to see the physio or to see my S&C.

“When you’re coming back from an injury it’s always a race against time because you’re looking at the next series or the next game, you don’t have as much time as you want. To go in and spend the time I need for recovery but also to get the most out of my training programme has been massive for me.

“Hopefully it means when the time comes and I get out there I’ll be stronger than I was in November.”

The majority of Joyce’s squad are from Dublin. Before full-time contracts came in the few that did have to travel for training, most often from north of the border, felt the financial cost of travel and time off work.

"A good example is Cara Murray from Belfast," says Joyce, bringing up Ireland's young leg-spinner. "She was trying to travel a lot to Dublin and also do her job, trying to get to the gym and stuff like that which was tricky because a lot of the women's focus is in Dublin because most of our players are from there.

“It isn’t ideal for her but she’s been able to get up and down now, she’s able to make a plan with S&C, she’s just come on leaps and bounds in that month. It’s huge for someone like her who was really struggling to actually make it to a lot of things.

“We’re excited about that and going forward hoping to get more players from Northern Ireland, hoping we can have some of those as professionals as well.”

Performance, accelerated recovery and less time spent travelling. They all seem fairly standard benefits to full-time sport, ones only worth mentioning if you don’t have them. Concrete examples within Irish sport just further reinforce the majority retort, so simple it baffles the mind that it bears repeating: professionalism is required to keep pace with the best.

Not that the cricket situation is perfect. Ireland have just returned from a Spanish training camp and it was noteworthy how often the benefit of finally training on grass wickets was mentioned: “It very handy to get out on grass, something we constantly talk about not having much of here,” was just one snippet, again from head coach Joyce.

Equally, there is a sense that the full-time deals only came in when Cricket Ireland absolutely had to offer them, the delay probably due to financial constraints. Now that Ireland has qualified for the Women’s Championship, their busier schedule demanded more player access and therefore paying them more. Continuing the parallels with rugby, England’s decision to be the first to offer their women contracts came with a more proactive attitude of ‘someone has to be first, why not us?’

Regardless, watching marked improvements in the quality of life of athletes on these shores is a good news story. The timeliness of introducing full-time contracts can be debated, but these are relevant examples to the sporting landscape across Ireland.

The question remains: which sport will wait until professionalism is a necessity, and which will find a way to overcome financial restraints and do the right thing?