World Twenty20: Ireland on the march after results fall in their favour
The doom and gloom of two defeats last week was replaced by elation last night as Ireland made it through to the finals of the World Twenty20 next year after a remarkable final day of group matches in the qualifying tournament in Dublin.
After getting back on the winning trail with a convincing seven-wickets success over Jersey in the morning game at Malahide, Ireland knew they would still be denied a direct passage to India if either Namibia or Papua New Guinea won their respective games in the afternoon.
But with an irony which was not lost on captain William Porterfield last night, the two teams who defeated the Irish - Hong Kong and PNG - proved those wins were no flukes by beating Ireland's challengers for the summit of Group A and handing the co-hosts a place in their eighth successive global event since they made their mark on the world stage in 2007.
"It's not the way we would have liked to have done it, by relying on other results, however we turned in a very solid performance today after two disappointing results and we'll take a lot of momentum and confidence from that going into the finals weekend," said Porterfield.
"It was our goal to win the group and now we are two games away from our other goal of winning the competition again."
Ireland's likely opponents in Saturday afternoon's semi-final will be the Netherlands, who will be big favourites to beat Namibia who crashed to a final-day 83-runs defeat to Hong Kong, while the joy of the USA's 18-runs win over PNG did not last long; Namibia's win condemned them to a fifth-place finish and an early return home.
Scotland, who won Group B, will play the winners of the play-off game tomorrow morning between Hong Kong and Afghanistan in the first semi-final.
Porterfield had returned to his regular place at the top of the batting order when Ireland set out in their pursuit of Jersey's 122 and it was no coincidence that, reunited with Paul Stirling, they put on 44 for the first wicket inside five overs, Ireland's highest opening stand of the tournament so far.
It was Stirling, though, who would go on and all but guarantee Ireland the vital victory with 55 from 38 balls, including seven fours and a six. And when the Middlesex opener scores a half century in T20 cricket, Ireland win; this was his 11th and certainly one of his most important.
The man of the match was also a formality because it was Stirling's introduction as a bowler in the 12th over which changed the course of the match. Jersey had reached 75 for one - the most runs Ireland had conceded at that stage in the tournament - when he came on and after giving up just three singles in his first over, he claimed the big scalp of Jonty Jenner, the Channel Islanders' leading run scorer, and from 88 for one, Jersey crashed to 122 all out.
Alex Cusack joined the party with three wickets in his last two overs and John Mooney went even better, finishing the innings with a hat-trick, only the fourth by an Ireland bowler in 875 matches, to beat his previous best T20 figures for the second time in a week and consolidate his position as the tournament's leading wicket-taker; he now has 14.
It all ensured a straightforward chase for Ireland - even in their two defeats they had scored more than 122 - and although Stirling was caught at long-on with 32 still required, his charge had left 52 balls to get the runs. With Andrew Balbirnie carrying on the form of Ireland's No 3 in this tournament, they eased home with 20 balls to spare.
Now Ireland can concentrate on retaining the title of World T20 associate champions.
Other scores: Malahide: USA 147-6 PNG 129-9. USA won by 18 runs. Castle Avenue: Hong Kong 197-8 (Irfan Ahmed 98) Namibia 114 (15.1 overs, Nadeem Ahmed 5-12). Hong Kong won by 83 runs.
This week's fixtures (all at Malahide, unless stated): Tomorrow: Play off 1: Hong Kong v Afghanistan (10am) Play-off 2: Namibia v Netherlands (2.15pm)
Thursday: PNG v loser of Play-off 1 (10am) Oman v loser of Play-off 2 (2.15pm)
Saturday: Semi-finals: Scotland v winner of Play-off 1 (10am); Ireland v winner of play-off 2 (2.15pm) 5th/6th place play-off (Clontarf 10am).
Sunday: 3rd/4th place play-ff (10am). Final 2.15pm).