Shannon stars to seal Ireland's World T20 spot
Ireland achieved their first objective by reaching the World Twenty20 finals for the fourth successive time, but it's only part one of the Abu Dhabi job. Now to win the qualifying tournament.
The tournament favourites are hitting top form – as they invariably do at the business end – with another emphatic victory in their final group game.
Hong Kong went into the clash as the second best team in Group A, but the vast gulf between Ireland and the rest was highlighted by an 85-run victory as they topped 200 for the second time in three matches.
Paul Stirling hit 77 from 46 balls with nine fours and three sixes as he upstaged his captain in an opening stand of 91 in just 10 overs and then took career best figures of four for 10 with his off spin.
Stirling admitted afterwards he owed much to the best fielding display of the tournament, including the catch of the international year by James Shannon.
The Instonians batsman was the surprise selection for this must-win game as Ireland made their first change with Niall O'Brien missing out.
In the end, because of Ireland's fast start, Shannon did not get into the middle, but he made his name in the field when he ran fully 20 yards from long-off to take a memorable catch, diving forward at full stretch. A second, straightforward catch followed two balls later and his day was complete when William Porterfield threw him the ball with just one wicket needed to seal their passage to the Bangladesh finals in March.
With his first delivery he hit Hong Kong No 10 Haseeb Ajmad plumb in front and Shannon had became only the fourth bowler – and the first since Kyle McCallan in 1996 – to take a wicket with his first delivery for Ireland.
A superb stumping by Gary Wilson appeared to set up an easy win after Kevin O'Brien's electrifying 62 not out from 27 balls, saw Ireland finish on 207 for four, but Hong Kong were up with the required run rate after nine overs with still eight wickets in hand.
A classic catch by Porterfield, again off Stirling, to dismiss Jamie Atkinson started the collapse.
Ireland, as group winners, have a four-day break before a semi final against the winners of Wednesday's game between the Netherlands and UAE on Friday evening, 24 hours before the tournament final.