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Coach John Bracewell relishing putting Ireland to the Test

By Ian Callender

First, the ground rules. "We are not going to use the word 'Associate' and the priority is always what is happening now."

So said John Bracewell, the 57-year-old New Zealander in his first interview as head coach of the Ireland cricket team. He was talking in Malahide on the eve of Ireland's one-day international against England which everyone was expecting to start on time (10.45am) but not necessarily finish, if the weather forecasters are to be believed.

Bracewell, though, is very believable. He talks with passion about his latest job and is genuinely excited by the prospect of what lies ahead. The ultimate goal is Test cricket but before that there is another World Twenty20 to qualify for and, hopefully, an increasing number of matches against Full Members.

His most recent visit to Ireland was "a couple of years ago when I was lucky enough to come across to watch that epic match between Ireland and the All Blacks". Rugby is what he describes as his "other passion" but it is secretly his first love, and although he would not agree that the Irish team were rivals for New Zealand's rugby crown at this year's World Cup, he did admit "they are the strongest team in the northern hemisphere".

As for the cricket team, which he will take charge of after today's game - at which he is "only an observer" - he knows they are going places and it was the "cause" which made him apply for the job.

"What they are trying to achieve was the attraction of the job. They have good administrators in place so I don't have to worry about policy. They have a shared ambition, the players share that ambition, so it's a collective thought of wanting to gain international status at Test level," said Bracewell.

"But Test match status is the end priority. The priority is always what is happening now and that is to continue to be successful. You are not going to get to that end product unless you continue to be successful. So they (it is still 'they') need to keep qualifying, they need to keep winning, to keep focused and need to stay ambitious."

But when I ask him if he was prepared for the stumbling blocks which lay ahead as Ireland are "only an Associate side" his reply was unequivocal.

"We are not using the word 'Associate'. We are a side on a particular journey," he said. "International cricket is international cricket. This is an international game and we need more of them. Simple as that, regardless of where you are and what you are labelled."

Despite stepping down as New Zealand coach seven years ago, Bracewell still has good contacts with his homeland and he said that there "will be communication at some stage", but for now he is embracing the challenge which lies ahead and that is not just at senior level.

"It is such a close family it is hard not being involved in the whole thing. I am living over here and will be a part of it and there is such a crossover from Under-19 to internationals that everyone is going to cross each other's path. For example, we had a 16-year-old leg spinner bowling in the nets yesterday from the Academy and he was ideal practice for preparing to face (Adil) Rashid."

Towards the end of his term in New Zealand, Bracewell took much criticism for a peer appraisal system when players were encouraged to rate each other's performances. That, though, would appear to be some way down the line with his new squad.

"If you have honesty within your group automatically you don't need to bring those things in and from what I've seen so far this is a pretty honest group in terms of feedback," he observed. "The Irish guys are more of a family than some. England are going through that at the moment, the side disintegrated within their own dressing room." Ouch!

"I was impressed by the feedback at our first meeting yesterday, the way people engaged. It was player-driven which really impressed me."

Now it's up to the same players to impress their new coach as the Bracewell era gets under way.

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