Eoin Morgan: The Irishman leading England into the Cricket World Cup final
Our English neighbours often turn to Irish leadership at its times of greatest crisis
England’s cricket captain, Ireland’s Eoin Morgan, sings the anthem during the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. Photograph: Getty Images
If the England captain gets to lift the ICC World Cup trophy above his head on Sunday evening, cricketers all over north Dublin will nod their heads sagely and mutter ‘I told you so.’
Eoin Morgan’s rise to the pinnacle of the game has appeared almost inevitable since he first buckled on pads at Kenure Park, Rush one summer in the early 1990s. “From an early age he showed signs of great talent, and the combativeness he needed to make it as a cricketer,” recalls Matt Sheridan, former president of the club where he played until he was 11.
That talent, and combativeness, has carried him through an international career that has occupied half his 32 years. Now, as he prepares for the biggest game of his life, the spotlight is coming on the Irishman leading England into their first final since 1992.
Our neighbours often turn to Irish leadership at its times of greatest crisis, such as Waterloo and El Alamein, and Morgan isn’t even the first Dubliner to captain England. Tim O’Brien led England in one Test in South Africa in 1896. Reinforcing the notion that captaining England is more than a sporting job, O’Brien visited prison to play cards and drink whiskey with the leaders of the botched Jameson Raid, organised by Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Beit in the hope of provoking war with the Boers.
Unless Boris Johnston has some notion of involving Morgan in Brexit talks - and he’d do worse - the Irishman’s main role in English history will be delivering its first World Cup.
He captained England first in 2013 as a stand-in at Malahide against his former team-mates. He irked local supporters that day, openly talking of how he would like to get Irish batsman Paul Stirling into the England team.
He got the job just in time for the 2015 World Cup, where England won just two games out of six (Ireland won three). Afterwards he insisted on changes in personnel and approach and led his adopted country to No.1 in the world rankings. He has now captained England 149 times, more than anyone else, and won 306 caps to add to his 63 for Ireland.
Collecting that World Cup won’t be his first, as he got plenty of trophy-lifting practice as a boy growing up in Fingal. Although he was small for his age, Eoin always played two or three years ahead of his age group and captained the Rush side that won the Under 11 Leinster Cup.
He won a scholarship to the Catholic University School and sparked a revival there, collecting three junior and three senior cup winners’ medals. “I don’t think he ever got out,” recalls team-mate Fintan McAllister. “He made tons and tons of runs for the school. He knew himself from an early age that all he wanted to be was a professional cricketer.”
In 2003, when he was first capped aged 16, Ireland hadn’t even qualified for a World Cup. Morgan always made it clear where he saw his future, telling successive teachers and coaches “I’m going to play for England.”
He played a key role in Ireland reaching the 2007 World Cup, and although he did poorly there, his talent emerged in county cricket. He last played for Ireland at the 2009 qualifiers, but his perceived lack of focus - he was keen to get back to Middlesex - irritated his team-mates and coaches and he was dropped for the final game. Seven weeks later he made his debut for England.
Stephen Tonge, deputy principal at CUS, sees little change in the boy he taught. “Even now as England captain he handles himself in the same way as he did as a student. He’s very self-contained, and confident without being arrogant.
“He was always very mentally strong. Whenever he hit a stumbling block he would take it on and work out a way to overcome it.”
On Sunday, he faces the biggest stumbling block of his career. No-one in Irish cricket would back against him overcoming it.
World Cup final: England v New Zealand, 10.45am Sunday (TV: Sky Sports Cricket, Sky Sport Main Event, Channel 4/More 4. Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live, Radio 4 LW).