The Irish women’s hockey team—during the Women’s Hockey World Cup earlier this year—made history by fetching the country its first ever silver medal at any Hockey World Cup event.
With the sixth edition of the ICC Women’s World T20 scheduled to begin on November 9, the Ireland women’s cricket team—that has made it to the main draw of the tournament by virtue of finishing second in the Qualifier held in the Netherlands in July—would look to draw inspiration from their hockey compatriots and make a strong statement in the tournament, even if they do not make the podium.
Leading the Irish troop in the tournament will be seam-bowling all-rounder Laura Delany, who has been captaining the Irish women’s team since April 2016 and has appeared in over hundred matches for her country since making her international debut against New Zealand Women in July 2010.
Confident and buoyed by Ireland’s surge in the women’s game lately and having a squad which has a good mix of youth and experience at her disposal, Delany is hopeful that her team will put up a spirited show in the West Indies, and to quote George Bernard Shaw, ‘’create the definitive work that cannot be surpassed’’.
Our correspondent Ritam Basu recently had the privilege of interviewing the upbeat Irish skipper in the midst of Ireland’s training camp in Spain and getting acquainted with her articulacy—one of the foremost qualities which qualify her as a revered leader.
Q: As a child, what kindled in you a passion for cricket?
Delany: I grew up in a sporting household – I have relatives, including a brother, who have played for Irish underage teams in cricket and in other sports. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive family who have always encouraged me to put my sporting commitments first. The person who inspired me the most with cricket was my dad and the way he approached the game. Although he never played international cricket, he trained with the same mindset as that of an international cricketer and would never miss a session. He’s probably the most dedicated player I’ve met and without a shadow of a doubt, the most competitive as well.
Q: What were your feelings on being handed the captaincy of Ireland a couple of years ago, at the age of twenty-four?
Delany: It was a great honour to be given the captaincy in 2016. I have been a part of the national squad since 2010. I was part of a close-knit group, which made captaincy an easier transition. I have also had a very supportive friend as my vice-captain, Kim Garth, who made her debut in the same match as me in 2010.
Q: Have you settled into the role now?
Delany: Captaincy has made me a lot more assertive and decisive – I feel I’m growing with every game and feeling more comfortable. There have been times when I have felt as though I need to prove myself as a worthy captain, which probably led to a lot of self-doubt. I still have a huge amount to learn tactically, but what I’ve learnt is that you can’t please or impress everyone. At the end of the day, it’s what the other fourteen players think that really matters and I am so fortunate for the support the girls have given me, especially over the last eight to ten months.
Q: Captaincy at times can be a double-edged sword, given that it is organically related to both the captain’s individual form as well as the team’s performance on the whole. On a personal front, how big a motivation has captaincy been for you and what are the challenges associated with it that you have faced during your stint so far?
Delany: It is an enormous personal motivator, and I certainly don’t take the role for granted. All teams have their challenges, and the levels of success are often cyclical. We have had a relatively steady core group for a few years now, but we have had a number of series recently where we took a younger, less experienced squad onto the field. The New Zealand White Ferns series in June this year, for example, was a tough experience for our young team (four of our leading bowlers in that series were less than twenty years of age). However, to go through that series and then bounce back in subsequent weeks against Bangladesh and qualifying for the World T20s, ended our season on a high. The personal challenge through this period has been trying to keep perspective in adversity, and look for the positives in what we achieve. At the end of the day, we’re heading to the World T20 on merit; we deserve to be there. We have to carry this confident attitude into the tournament.
Q: Talk us through Ireland’s journey in the ICC Women’s World T20 Qualifier…
Delany: It was one of those tournaments where we set plans and executed those plans on the field. We are delighted to have qualified so convincingly. The only downside was that last match – the loss in the final to Bangladesh. We really wanted to go through unbeaten and claim the trophy, but that wasn’t to be. What was most pleasing, as a captain, was the team success. Yes, we had the Player of the Tournament in our ranks (Clare Shillington), but every match and every victory was down to teamwork and sticking to the plan. It has been a challenging season but we are fortunate to have the support of Aaron Hamilton, our Head Coach along with the rest of our support staff.
Q: Was it difficult to keep your emotions in check after you defeated Papua New Guinea to secure a berth in the main draw of the World T20?
Delany: We were happy for sure but to be honest, we wanted to go one step more. We went to the Netherlands to win the tournament. Qualification was our first objective, and we achieved that in style. The final wasn’t our best performance but I think we learnt a lot from that experience and we’ll take those learnings forward into the main tournament.
Q: Qualifying for the Women’s World T20—is it the highest point of your cricketing career so far?
Delany: Playing in the World T20 tournament—particularly as captain—will certainly be up there for me personally. However, every time I step onto the field for the national side it is a privilege, so I will enjoy the moment but at the same time, be quite focused that our team is there on merit and that we’re there to be competitive. We’re not just there to make up the numbers. We’re ready to take on the world’s best sides and show the world that Irish cricket is on the rise.
Q: How are Ireland’s preparations going on in Spain? Have you had the time to embark on any sightseeing tour?
Delany: Everyone is working hard and pushing each other at this stage. We have had a great preparation period, which included a four-day warm-weather training camp in Spain. Sightseeing? No, no time. The training facility is situated in a lovely part of Spain, but there has been no time for any sightseeing.
Q: Laura, what are the areas according to you in which the team needs improvement?
Delany: While our batting has certainly adopted a more aggressive and attacking approach in recent times, our focus will be on backing up that performance with the ball in the same game.
Q: The team has been provided with a comprehensive support staff this time around. How is it helping the preparations?
Delany: We will have our largest support staff travelling with us on this occasion, which is a positive step forward to the squad.
The members of the support staff are:
- Aaron Hamilton: Head Coach
- Andrew Poynter: Assistant Coach
- Tim Simmonite: Team Manager
- Catherine Simpson: Physiotherapist
- Rob Burge: Strength and Conditioning Coach
- Fintan McAllister: Fielding and Batting Coach
- Anne Marie Kennedy: Sports Psychologist
Q: Do you consult William Portefield—the captain of the men’s team of Ireland—regarding the intricacies of captaincy?
Delany: Yes, at the start of my captaincy I met Porty and he was very generous with his time and advice. I certainly admire the way he has led the men’s team for so long. He’s definitely a role-model for anyone who has a leadership role or leadership ambitions.
Q: Your coach, Aaron Hamilton, said in a recent interview that the timing of the tournament is not ideal for Ireland since the domestic season in Ireland normally ends in August-September. What are your views on this?
Delany: We played our last international fixture in July and our last Super 3’s game was in early September. We knew this and we had planned for it accordingly, and I believe have used the time between the end of our season and the tournament well. We’ll walk out on 11th November being confident that we have prepared as well as we could have.
Q: Coming back to the topic of captaincy, as a captain, do you modify your approach while interacting with seniors like Clare Shillington, Isobel Joyce and Ciara Metcalfe vis-à-vis the juniors in the dressing room?
Delany: There is no difference in the way we interact as a team. We are a team and everyone in the team is there on merit. However, having Isobel, Ciara, Cecelia and Clare around is a bonus for me as a captain. We have a great tight-knit senior leadership team and I rely on them to use their experience and judgment on helping the younger members of the team along. We have played together for many years now and are fortunate to have a very harmonious team.
Q: Apart from cricket, are you engaged in any other profession?
Delany: We are not professionally-contracted players in Ireland. Each of us juggles our cricket commitments with either work or study. I work in an insurance company and am thankful to my employers for providing me the flexibility to keep my cricket responsibilities a priority. It is always a challenge though to find the right balance between work and sport.
Q: What, in your opinion, could be done to remedy this issue?
Delany: It is a challenge, certainly. The trajectory of women’s cricket in Ireland is upward, and perhaps someday, soon, a young girl in Ireland will be able to see cricket as an achievable career path. That vision drives many of us playing today – to push the women’s game forward and create a legacy for future generations to enjoy. In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying every opportunity the sport offers us because we just love playing cricket!
Q: Suzie Bates, I believe, is one of your cricketing idols. You played against her earlier this year and would be facing her again in the World T20. Would it be an added incentive for you—to perform well in front of your idol—against New Zealand in the competition? Have you had the opportunity to discuss your game with her?
Delany: Suzie is a fantastic player and a role model for many! She has also been very generous with her encouragement over time. Having said that, when we step on the field, our focus remains on executing our plans and working hard as a team. We are a competitive bunch of players and very much enjoy pitting ourselves against the world’s best. The incentive to perform comes from our own ambition and self-drive. We want to play at our best to make ourselves proud and show those watching what we are capable of.
Q: Ireland is placed in Group B alongside Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan for the competition. Without divulging any specific stratagem to us, what would your basic game plan be against the higher-ranked opponents?
Delany: While I certainly won’t divulge specific strategies, T20 cricket is a game where you need to ensure that you get your own game right before focusing on the opponent. We have batting firepower in the squad and our bowling unit has shown that we can compete with the best. We just need to ensure at this level that we put both aspects of our game together in the same match. Saying that, our two home series this year against New Zealand and Bangladesh taught us a lot and we will be taking these learnings into the tournament. We just need to remind ourselves that we are here on merit and should have the confidence to express ourselves on the field regardless of the ranking of our opponent.
Q: What would Ireland’s first goal be in the competition?
Delany: We have set our own team and individual goals for the tournament and all fifteen players in the squad will be concentrating on achieving their individual and the team goals. We want to show the world that just like the Irish women’s Hockey team, Irish cricket is worthy of paying attention to.