Since arriving in Hobart six weeks ago, after becoming the first Irish cricketer to sign for a team in Australia's Women's National Cricket League (WNCL), Isobel Joyce has been savouring the new experience of being a full-time player and competing at such a high level.
The only disappointing aspect of her stay so far has been that stuff falling out of the sky. As she was moved to tweet a month after arriving:
“Tasmania, you’re great... but if you could stop the rain at some point that would be peachy. Kind Regards. Isobel.”
Joyce posted a video a few weeks ago of her Irish team-mates Laura Delany and Shauna Kavanagh visiting her from Sydney, where they are playing with the Gordon Cricket Club, the trio about to depart on a boat trip from Port Arthur.
Having come from the heat of Sydney, Delany and Kavanagh had the look of women suffering from hypothermia, concluding that weather-wise at least, they’d chosen a wiser Australian destination to further their cricketing careers.
They, unlike Joyce, hadn’t had days where they had to train indoors thanks to the precipitation. Little wonder Joyce has felt right at home.
“Tassie has been mostly cold and wet since I’ve been here, similar to an Irish spring, I guess,” says Joyce.
“It really does remind me of Ireland because it can go from cold and miserable to glorious sunshine in the space of an hour. But the scenery is incredibly beautiful and there is so much to see wherever you go. The people are very friendly as well, very like being in a small town, even though you’re in a city.”
It was back in March that Joyce stepped down as Irish captain having led her country on a record 62 occasions, winning 132 caps in all.
But while she acknowledged that at 33 she was in the “twilight” of her playing career there was no question of retiring from international cricket just yet, her target to play in another World Cup, 16 years after competing in her first.
In February Ireland will attempt to qualify for next June’s World Cup in England, the requirement a top-four finish in the qualifiers in Sri Lanka.
The opportunity to prepare for that challenge by playing in Australia arose through Tasmanian Roar coach Julia Price, with whom Joyce had played as a teenager with Merrion when Price had a spell in Ireland in 2000. The pair met up again when the former Australian international was added to Ireland's coaching staff for the World Twenty20 in India last March.
“We got talking in India and I mentioned that I regretted never having played a season abroad. A month or so later she asked if I would be interested in playing for the Roar and once Cricket Ireland were able to confirm we didn’t have any matches in the timeframe, I jumped at the chance.”
“When I was little I always wanted to be a professional cricketer, but I just didn’t think it was something that could happen in reality. When the opportunity to travel to Oz did come, it was about playing at the highest level, and also about opening doors for other Irish players.
“In the past, Irish players would not be considered in the same league as players from countries like England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies and so when this opportunity came up, I just couldn’t pass it up.
"Our younger players, like Lucy O'Reilly and Robyn Lewis, have played at a much higher standard than most their age in any other country and I believe if they get the exposure of playing abroad at a younger age, it could bring up the standard of the Ireland team hugely."
For now, four members of Ireland’s winter training squad are playing their cricket in Australia – Joyce,
, Kavanagh and
who is in her third season in Australia, joining Port Adelaide Cricket Club after playing for two years in Tasmania. (Waldron, who has also represented Ireland in football, recently became the first woman to umpire an Australian men’s Premier Cricket match in almost 40 years).
“We’re hoping that us playing 50-over cricket ahead of our World Cup qualifiers in February will be beneficial to the team,” says Joyce.
“I do think it’s tough for the girls at home training without us, but hopefully this will become the norm as the Ireland team becomes more and more professional and travelling to play seasons away becomes more financially viable.”
And the quality of cricket in the WNCL, a seven state competition, is “not far off international standard”, the current leaders New South Wales Breakers, she says, could hold their own in international competition.
While Joyce has been disappointed with her form in her last two matches, she began solidly with knocks of 29, 35 and 30 in her opening three innings, that 35 coming at The Gabba, one of cricket’s most famous grounds.
“It was amazing playing there – I never thought I would get to play on any of the big Australian grounds. Blundstone Arena here in Tasmania is pretty special as well and probably one of my favourite grounds I have ever played on.”
“I had preconceptions about how I would go on the bouncier wickets over here and I thought I might struggle with the short ball – and I think the opposition did too because they all have tested me out.
"I needn't have worried, though, because I have played a lot of men's cricket over the last few years and none of the bowlers here can bowl as fast as the likes of John Mooney, who I faced last season when I was player-coach for Trinity."
“But I didn’t contribute to the team at all in those last two matches and that is very hard when you don’t have your usual support network around you. I always thought it would be great to be able to focus solely on cricket, but working gives you something to take your mind off it. And I think it’s important to have a number of different things in your life, certainly for me anyway.”
Last month the Breakers became Australia’s first fully professional domestic women’s sporting team following a sponsorship deal with construction and real estate company Lendlease.
While it’s significant progress, Joyce points to the fact that only the club’s leading international players will earn enough to allow them focus comfortably on cricket, the rest guaranteed no more than a minimum wage of A$35,000 (around €24,000).
“It’s seen as a big step forward and I think it puts pressure on the other teams to find something similar for their teams,” she says.
“But while it has been hyped as fully professional, the players here have acknowledged that it’s not a living wage and that if you are not in the Australian squad and on a central contract, you definitely need at least a part-time job. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, though, and if you’re a young player without a mortgage or family, it’s a great time to be a cricketer.”
WNCL players earn a minimum of A$11,000 (€7,600), so Joyce won’t exactly be rich when she’s done in Australia, but her accommodation is provided and most of her expenses covered, Cricket Tasmania paying the cost of her flights there. Being able to devote all her time, though, to the sport without having to combine it with a job has been a novelty.
“It’s been strange getting used to feeling I have to earn my keep through cricket, rather than just playing it for the love of it. I don’t really see cricket as work. At home I’d be doing all the same training, but working my full-time job too.”
“Playing cricket has always cost me money, which I knew coming into the game. Back when I started we used to have to pay for trips and do fundraisers to travel to tournaments, pay for our kit too. It’s been a good few years since that stopped, but I am self-employed [Joyce coaches cricket and hockey and works as a personal trainer] so any time I take off for cricket costs me money because I have to either cancel classes or pay for other coaches or instructors to cover my work.”
“But there are pros and cons to working while playing. It would be great to get a certain level of financial support so that I could afford to work a little less and not miss gym or training sessions. That being said, I don’t think being a full-time cricketer would be for me, I need other things in my life so that cricket doesn’t become all-consuming.”
For now, though, that's largely what it is, Joyce having started playing with the South Hobart Sandy Bay Sharks as the Tasmanian Roar's WNCL campaign draws to a close.
She will remain in Australia until the World Cup qualifiers in Sri Lanka, her fiancé John Anderson, the South African-born Irish international, following her there soon to play in Sydney.
While he enjoys the sun, she’ll trust that her Tasmanian rain will have eased up. That would be peachy.