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Conor Olphert in a hurry to make up for lost time as he bids to follow in his father’s steps to an Ireland cap

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Conor Olphert in training with Ireland yesterday, ahead of the first T20 international of the season against India on Sunday

Conor Olphert in training with Ireland yesterday, ahead of the first T20 international of the season against India on Sunday

Conor Olphert in training with Ireland yesterday, ahead of the first T20 international of the season against India on Sunday

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Conor Olphert, the Bready fast bowler who has a chance of bowling to the India superstars next weekend when Ireland return to action for a two-match T20 international series.

First, he was awarded an education contract by Cricket Ireland after impressing at the T20 inter-provincial festival in Comber last month, then he was the surprise name when Ireland’s 14-man squad was announced last week.

He is realistic enough to know that he is unlikely to walk straight into the team at Malahide on Sunday – with Josh Little, Craig Young and Mark Adair – a total of 213 caps - all in front of him in the pecking order but he is in the right place for an exciting year ahead.

“I was a bit surprised to get the call, he admits, “but I thought I had been bowling well enough. It will be a massive bonus to get a game but I don’t expect to be just handed a cap. I know I have to put in the hard work.”

Olphert though has one big advantage in his bid to break into the international team – his extra pace.

“Bowling quick was something that came naturally, it’s something I’ve done from an early age,” he says. “I would love to run in and bowl hard, as fast as I can and to try and scare people and bowl bouncers.

”It was just something I loved doing, which is not necessarily loved by batsmen in the nets. My only problem was at a young age my accuracy was never the best but working in the Ireland Academy with Ryan Eagleson and with Barnesy (Stuart, the last Ireland bowling coach) obviously helped me.”

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At 26, Olphert is a late developer and missed out on the Ireland youth programme. But it was another late decision that took him to back to university and in 2019 he was spotted by current Northern Knights coach and Ireland selector Simon Johnston.

“I was working with the Ulster Talented Athletes at UUJ and in another net, I first heard and then saw this guy firing them down,” recalls Johnston. “It was Conor Olphert so I immediately told Ryan Eagleson and he took it from there.

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Mark Olphert

Mark Olphert

Mark Olphert

Olphert’s initial progress was stalled by a torn quad which ruled him out of cricket’s post-pandemic return in 2020 but he was on Ireland’s radar and he was taken on the UAE tour at the start of last year as a net bowler.

“It was nice to get away and a great experience to be with the lads. It was first trip away with cricket because even at underage it was always local, home games only, I never got out of the North West much.”

By the time he went to the UAE, he had played one 50-over inter-provincial for North West Warriors – his first wicket was Greg Ford, son of the then Ireland head coach - but there was more frustration last year when a torn side meant he missed most of the 2021 season.

“I had been working with Eagy and Jonty since I’ve been back at university and my body probably wasn’t used to the intensity. I was just used to playing my club cricket – I always had aspirations to go further but my body initially couldn’t cope.”

Those aspirations came from his dad Mark, a loyal club man with Bready who was good enough to make one Ireland appearance, in 1998 against Australia A when he was given his cap in the same match as one Steve Waugh, the former Australia captain who was guesting as a professional for Ireland that year.

“When you are a child you just want to follow your dad, but I took that to the extreme. I admired him growing up and just wanted to be as good as him, to bowl as quick as him and bat as well as him. I was able to be a quicker bowler but not necessarily on the batting side of things!”

When he gets his chance with Ireland, any runs he scores will be a bonus. Pace bowling and wickets are his currency and with club legends Boyd Rankin and Young as his inspiration, Olphert has big shoes to step into.


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