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Kyle McCallan: 'I went out for the toss with Brian Lara, he hadn't had to ask for four weeks off!'

Former Ireland cricket captain Kyle McCallan on the ups and downs of his incredible journey

Busy man: Kyle McCallan at Lurgan College where he is a teacher this week
Busy man: Kyle McCallan at Lurgan College where he is a teacher this week
Kyle celebrating after beating Pakistan at the World Cup in 2007

By Ian Callender

It was August 2006 at Cambusdoon Cricket Ground in Ayr. Eoin Morgan was batting in his first one-day international. He was 99 not out. At the other end was Kyle McCallan, playing his 141st game for Ireland.

McCallan takes up the story.

"It was the start of the last over and we spoke in the middle and I said 'I'll go, if you go' to get him his century. He played the ball into the offside and I took off but immediately realised there was never a run. But Moggy responded and when I turned back, he had to go back as well but had no chance of making it. So I suppose, looking back, it was my fault. But I can write about that in my autobiography - I ran out the future England captain on 99!" he smiled.

Morgan didn't have to wait long for his first ODI century, four games later he scored his first against Canada and next day, with McCallan as his captain, he scored 94. Today he leads England in their World Cup match against Bangladesh at Cardiff in his 225th ODI having scored another 11 centuries.

Back in 2006, McCallan had no doubts that Morgan would go on to play for England. It had been the Dubliner's intention since he was playing for Ireland Under-13s.

"He was very ambitious, he made no bones about it and the guys respected him for that," added McCallan who played in 51 of Morgan's first 52 games for Ireland - the only game Kyle missed was when he was on honeymoon!

"He is an incredibly talented player, that was there for all to see. He scored Ireland's first double century against UAE and also played a special innings (151) against them in Namibia. A special player who deserves all his success," he adds.

McCallan's Ireland career did not get off to such a special start. After making his debut in 1996, he was selected the following year for the ICC Trophy (as the World Cup qualifying tournament was known then) in Malaysia. He spent four weeks "carrying the drinks".

"I had trained so hard to get out there, was in good form, in fact the best shape I'd ever been in, but it turned out I was the one guy who didn't get a game the whole tournament," he says.

"I probably felt a bit sorry for myself, but looking back I should have done a bit extra to try and get into the team. Instead I accepted that I wouldn't be picked.

"Added to that, my parents had paid a lot of money to go to KL (Kuala Lumpur) so it was disappointing for them not to see me play.

"It did teach me one lesson," McCallan goes on, "never to take selection for granted. After that, I was determined I would never go through that experience again and maximise what I have."

He made a pretty good job of doing just that. Three years later, he was appointed Ireland captain and by 2009 had played 227 times - still Ireland's sixth most capped player of all time.

The highlight was, at his third time of trying, playing in a World Cup, in 2007 when Ireland announced themselves on the world stage with a tie against Zimbabwe in their first match and, famously, defeating Pakistan in their second.

"Pakistan was the game everybody talks about but I still have vivid memory of a disastrous first game against Zimbabwe. The first ball that came to me, it went through my legs for four, I didn't bowl particularly well and got a duck, and would admit I froze on the big stage," he recalls.

"But things turned around and we ended up having a brilliant tournament. We had the opportunity to enjoy eight weeks in the Caribbean, four extra weeks off work was our primary motivation."

Then, McCallan was a schoolteacher in Grosvenor Grammar but having qualified for the second stage of the tournament - against everyone's expectations - the amateur squad had to make contact with their employers back in Ireland and Kyle was no exception.

"It was the morning of the West Indies game, Trent (Johnston, the Ireland captain) had damaged his shoulder so I was captaining the side and at 6 o'clock in the morning, because of the time difference, I went into the hotel bathroom and rang my headmaster, John Lockett," he says.

"'I'm sure you've been following this', I said 'but can you give me another four weeks off work?' He was obviously delighted but I always make the joke that when I went out to toss with the great Brian Lara, three hours later, he wasn't worried about having to ask to get four weeks off work."

McCallan would have one more global tournament, the 2009 World Twenty20 in England, but that was the year he called it quits from international cricket at the age of 32.

"A few things were happening. Dad hadn't been keeping so well, career opportunities (in school) had arisen and Lynne and I wanted to start a family. So I've no regrets, although I would have loved to have played in a World Cup in India," he says.

He may not have played in the 2011 tournament, when Ireland recorded their greatest win - beating England in Bangalore - but a chance phone call ensured he was fully involved.

"I was coaching rugby on the pitches at Grosvenor and my phone rang and it was (Cricket Ireland chief executive) Warren Deutrom, 'Sky Sports have asked for an Irish voice at the World Cup and would you be interested?'" says McCallan.

"It was a brilliant experience but at first it was quite daunting. It meant flying back and forth to their London studio but there I was with three former England captains, David Gower, the lead presenter, and either side of me were Bob Willis and Michael Vaughan.

"The England match was the highlight, of course. They got 327 and Ireland collapsed to 111-5 and we were wondering how we were going to fill in an hour and a half at the end of the show.

"Then Kevin (O'Brien) took off to score the fastest World Cup hundred, England captain Andrew Strauss dropped one at mid-off and, I remember, there were a few expletives from the three England captains. And when John Mooney clipped that (last) one through mid-wicket, they were in despair. For me, well, it was better than being there!"

McCallan made such a good impression on his broadcasting debut that he has been used by Sky for every Ireland match they have televised since, including the 2015 World Cup. He has already been booked for Ireland's historic first Test match at Lord's next month when he will be commentating from the ground.

"It is more difficult getting away from my new school, it's much smaller than Grosvenor, but at least the Test match is during the holidays, so I will have no problem with that one!" he says.

His move to Lurgan College also means he's closer to home, "so instead of spending an hour and a half on the motorway, I'm 20 minutes from home".

It also means that his wife, once described as the "long-suffering Lynne" and children Matthew and twins Rachel and Katie see more of him, although "Matthew is a big reason why I'm still playing every weekend for Waringstown".

He adds: "Even playing club cricket, now it's invariably every Saturday and Sunday. But I still enjoy the changing room banter. I'm starting to feel my age, if I'm being honest, but the boys keep me young, it's a great atmosphere, things are going well (Waringstown have won four trophies in each of the last two seasons) and mum and dad enjoy it, Matthew is into sport flat out and he comes with me every Saturday."

International cricket has moved on so much since Kyle's retirement, Ireland are now a Full Member, playing Test cricket which wasn't even thought of as a possibility by Cricket Ireland until seven years ago, and they are under pressure to perform in every one-day and Twenty20 international.

He adds: "I often wonder would I prefer to play now in the professional set-up. I honestly don't know, but we had a helluva journey, great times."

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