Joanne O’Riordan: Delany and Irish women’s cricket on an upward curve

The move to professional contracts for players comes in tandem with increased expectations

For Laura Delany, Irish women's cricket captain, the journey to a state of professionalism has been a long time coming. Punching above their weight regularly and competing to a very high standard, Delany has seen first-hand how you go from amateur to professional.

In 2019, Ireland headed over to the West Indies for the World Cup and immediately stood out as the only team who weren't professional.

“We found it incredibly difficult to compete against sides that were just ahead of us,” Delany explains.

“Especially given the fact that they’re able to train and play in series before they went away to the World Cup. So, at that stage, we had a few warm-up games, but every other team had been playing series against each other in the three or four-month period leading up to it. So I think that’s when things started to change. When we got back from that World Cup, there was a review, and a few months later, part-time contracts were brought in.”


From then, the Irish team kicked on, having the ICC Championship and the ODI World Cup qualifiers in November.

“For us, that was the tournament that we really needed to make our mark. Because following that tournament, teams would then qualify for the ICC championship, and that is a four-year cycle, and it consists of the top 10 teams in the world.

“But once you make it into that tournament, you really need to become fully professional to be able to compete and complete all the fixtures that are presented to you. So you’re guaranteed a minimum number of international fixtures against every other side that competes in it.”

The pressure was on, Delany admits, but knowing the impact of succeeding in this tournament and knowing the impact this would have on future generations of cricketers, there was an extra incentive to play well, as well as trying to extend their lead over teams like Thailand and Zimbabwe who sit behind them in terms of rankings.

Spoiler alert – the women’s team were successful and conversations began between players, the players’ representatives and Cricket Ireland on how best this could work.

“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes, our ICA, which our player group and Cricket Ireland have been working really hard to find out, I suppose what we would consider is manageable and reasonable. And then finally, over the last couple of months, they’ve actually offered contracts. And I’ve signed mine, I can’t speak for everyone else. But we definitely do have a large group though that have signed their contracts, which is brilliant.”

The excitement and enthusiasm on Delany’s face is hard to ignore during our Zoom call. Now, she explains, she can focus on having a more balanced lifestyle, focusing on cricket and training, her non-cricket life and not be stressed about how it’ll all fit together.

“We even noticed it a couple days ago because it was raining during training. Usually, if it’s raining, we either try and train indoors. But now that we have access to Sport Ireland Campus, we were able to go and use one of the meeting rooms and just go through our player plans, which is quite time-consuming when you’re doing it for the group. But when you’re a professional athlete, you’re not really under that time constraint in comparison to other athletes that are not when you’re trying to rush off after training to get home to put your washing on or make your food for the next day.

Tough going

“Before I signed the contract, I was on a two-day contract with Cricket Ireland, which meant Monday and Friday were my designated days with Cricket Ireland. And then I was working for a company called FCE Scan.

“But like other athletes, my days were pretty long, so it’d be in from quarter past eight to nine, training at night, and by the time you get home, it’s like 9 or 10 o’clock, and then you’re preparing stuff for a session at six o’clock in the morning. And so it was tough going, but now our days are very different.”

Support around players is another huge facet of sport that may be overlooked when discussions pop up about professionalism, but Delany agrees that while it is fantastic, supports need to complement that.

“I think it’s only once you start to get involved you realise how important the support around the game is. And I think Cricket Ireland have done it the right way. So even going back to a few years ago, we didn’t have a full-time S&C. We didn’t have a full-time physio. Now they’re all full-time and even prior to us signing the full-time contracts, there was flexibility around sessions, and that’s because we had people employed on a full-time basis.

"We have access to Laura Mahony, who is the nutritionist at Sport Ireland. Anne Marie Kennedy, who's our sports psychologist. They're all really important factors in helping you become a better athlete.

“It’s not all about the money or being available for series or tournaments. It’s being in the best condition that you can be and priming yourself to be available for all of them physically and mentally”.

But with that new contract comes new expectations. For coach Ed Joyce, who also signed on for an additional three years, and his team, the T20 World Cup in South Africa next year is the big one, with qualifiers coming this summer.

“I think if we can maintain our number nine ranking position, and just trying to improve that each year, and that’s going be a tough ask. And it’s not just about winning one or two games, it’s about being consistent across the 12 months, and your points are then divvied up. So yeah, I think that for me they would be our two main goals, the T20 qualifiers World Cup and maintaining our number nine ranking position”.

Pressure for this team is something they’re more used to than they’d care to admit, but with Laura Delany, Ed Joyce at the helm, along with some incredible young talent, the future for this team is bright.

The results off the ground were fantastic, but all eyes will look towards the summer, with a six-match series against South Africa starting June 3rd. Following on, Australia and Pakistan will travel to Bready, Tyrone, for a T20 tri-series starting July 16th. Exciting times.