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Triple success for rampant Irish


The Ireland cricket team celebrate adding the I-Cup to their World Cricket League and Twenty20 Qualifier titles

The Ireland cricket team celebrate adding the I-Cup to their World Cricket League and Twenty20 Qualifier titles

The Ireland cricket team celebrate adding the I-Cup to their World Cricket League and Twenty20 Qualifier titles

He took no part in the protracted final day, but in his final game for Ireland he was given the honour of receiving the team's prize.

Trent Johnston's trophy-laden international career fittingly finished as it started, by receiving the Intercontinental Cup after Ireland duly completed the treble of 50-over, 20-over and, now, first-class successes in Associate Cricket.

Back in 2005, Johnston was the official captain when Ireland won the first of their, now, four I-Cups but yesterday, at the ICC Global Academy Ground in Dubai, it was current skipper William Porterfield who handed over the honour to the man who has won everything at the level below Test cricket.

The Achilles injury, sustained just two overs into what proved to be his final bowling spell for Ireland, prevented the 39-year-old Aussie-born Dubliner getting onto the field again, but his absence only underlined the secret of this successful Ireland team, as he explained.

"It's not about me, it about the team lifting the trophy and that's always been important to me.

"The team always comes first. That's why we have been top of Associate cricket for so long. There's 14 guys came out here to win this tournament, to bring home the treble which has never been done before," said Johnston (pictured with fellow four-time winner Andrew White).

"It was disappointing not to get out there but you can only do so much on one leg. The Achilles problem has been with me for 13-14 months and it decided to pack in a couple of days ago, so I suppose I have been quite lucky to get this far.

"But I am happy with the decision I have taken, in that I'm able to go out on my terms rather than get the call into Simmo's office to hear him say 'sorry, mate, you're not required next year'."

After 198 matches, 160 innings, 2,610 runs and the 273 wickets which leaves him third in the all-time Ireland list, most people say he is still going too early.

And for two and half hours yesterday, the fourth day of the five-day final, it looked as if it would be all about Johnston's absence as Ireland got a glimpse of the future without their talisman. They failed to take a wicket in the entire first session and the sixth wicket stand between Rehmat Shah and Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi had seen off six bowlers and stretched to 62 overs with not a hint of a breakthrough.

But the new ball was taken five overs after lunch and, 14 balls later, Max Sorensen struck for the first time in the match, to have Nabi plumb in front. Shah's resistance continued – he finished 86 not out off 252 balls, spread over five hours and seven minutes – but the tail surrendered tamely and it took only another 11 and a half overs for Ireland to dismiss the second best team at Associate level for 244 and victory by an emphatic 122 runs.

In all three forms of the game, Ireland have now proved themselves a class apart. Even at Twenty20 level, the margin of victory over the Afghans was an astonishing 68 runs – but they are no closer to moving up to the next level, at least on a regular basis.

Their next assignment is the Regional Super50 at the end of January and the first two weeks of February, when they have been invited to the Caribbean where they will be genuinely tested by Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and Antigua before they return to the world stage in March.

But even then, at the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, they must finish top of a first round group, which also includes Zimbabwe, the UAE and the Netherlands, just to reach the second phase against the top Full Member nations.

Global Development Manager Tim Anderson refused to call it a glass ceiling but offered little hope in the immediate future for Ireland.

"They have the World Twenty20 and the ICC Cricket World Cup coming up and as we continually say to Cricket Ireland, all you can do is win your next game. There is always a lot of pressure on the boys when they go out to play but they handle it so well.

"I can't comment on Test cricket but the qualification structure for the 2019 World Cup is being considered at the moment and with Full Members possibly having to qualify for that event then there will be more opportunity for Ireland to play ODIs against Full Members, which is what they want and lots of people are keen to happen," he said.

The Full members which Anderson talks about, however, are 'only' Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, whom Ireland already consider they are equals of and will be keen to prove that in three months time.

For now, though, it is goodbye to 2013 when Team Ireland have proven to be the unbeatable force.

As Gary Wilson, forced to sit out the final because he took ill on the eve of it, so succinctly tweeted last night: "Treble. That's all".

Belfast Telegraph