Hannah Grieve leads the charge for Ulster inclusion in Irish cricket squad
The Women's World Cup qualifying tournament got under way in Dublin yesterday without any Northern Ireland club interest – but we are getting closer.
Lurgan's Hannah Grieve was named in the original Ireland squad for the eight-team tournament, which concludes next Thursday, but injury ruled her out of the final 14. The fact that an Ulster player made the provisional squad, however, underlines the strides that girls cricket is taking in the northern province and especially the NCU.
While the North West have an established women's league of six teams, the NCU is holding its first official league this season with four teams involved.
At the end of May, Waringstown, Lurgan, Civil Service North and North Down took part in a Twenty20 competition at Comber, each side playing two games, and the third game in the round robin tournament is due to take place at Muckamore next month with the top two in the league contesting a final to give the NCU its first women's league champions.
And as the NCU's Regional Development Manager, Nigel Jones confirmed there are some talented players in the area and being recognised at national level.
"Naomi Matthews (Waringstown) and Samantha Benn (Lurgan) have both been selected for the Ireland Women's Performance squad and Jessica Wilson (Waringstown) and Vicky Lyons (North Down) are among the leading lights in the Ireland girls' Under-17 squad. Indeed, Naomi is a regular with Donacloney III in Men's Junior League 8 and this year she took five wickets including a hat-trick in the side's Minor Qualifying Cup game against CSN VI.
"The league has now sparked interest from other clubs, CIYMS, Templepatrick and girls in Armagh so we are hoping to have an eight-team league next year and get the fixtures in the NCU book, which was missed this season.
"All the girls love it and the feedback and been very positive. We have started from nothing and with a number of 13 and 14-year-olds in the NCU Under-17 side it is sure to get stronger," said Jones.
And the opportunities are increasing. An Under-17 girls inter-provincial between NCU and North West is being planned before the end of the season and there could be a repeat of last year's Super 3 with the North Leinster and South Leinster teams being joined by a Northern team.
At Primary School level, Jones is wheeling out the initiatives.
"We had 12 schools from both the NCU and North West areas at the Northern Ireland Kwik Cricket competition and as well as 150 boys we had 110 girls. Strandtown Primary won that tournament.
"And we have also had our first Super 8s (eight-a-side cricket) this year for Years 8 and 9 where we use a ball between the soft ball and the hard ball. That was a great festival when BRA beat Wallace High in the final and another four schools have shown interest in the competition next year. So it's all looking good for girls' cricket," added Jones.
Clare Shillington, who was born in Belfast but has played all her club cricket for Malahide, hit Ireland's first ever century in a Twenty20 international as the host country made a winning start to the World Cup qualifying tournament.
Ireland hammered Japan by 117 runs after scoring 170 for one with Shillington finishing 114 not out, from 72 balls with 13 fours and two sixes. The Japanese opening partnership lasted five overs but that was as good as it got for the outclassed opponents who were bowled out in 18.2 overs with 15 year old Elena Tice taking three wickets.
Ireland's next match is against Canada at Merrion tomorrow, followed by Sri Lanka on Saturday at the same venue. The top two in the two groups meet in the semi-finals on Monday with the winners booking their place in the finals in Bangladesh next March. The third qualifier will emerge from the third/fourth play-off at YMCA next Wednesday.