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Comment & Analysis | Sport

The Score with Niall O’Brien: ‘Ireland’s cricketers ready for T20 World Cup challenge, there’s no second chances’

NELSON, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 16: Niall O'Brien of Ireland bats during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match between the West Indies and Ireland at Saxton Field on February 16, 2015 in Nelson, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Niall O’Brien is looking forward to what he expects to be his final World Cup tournament (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

IN 2002 I received a wonderful phone call from then Irish Coach Adrian Birrell.

“Nialler,” he said, “I want you to be the Ireland wicketkeeper.”

It was a glorious summer and I was in great form with the bat and ready to represent my country for the first time.

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As I now sit in our team hotel high up in the mountains in the Indian state of Dharamsala, I feel amazed that I’m about to embark on my eighth World Cup tournament.

With the fantastic stadium [Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium] in the background, I’ve been reflecting on the three 50-over and five T20 World Cups that I’ve played in.

To say I feel blessed is an understatement. People constantly remind me that I have a fabulous job travelling the world, playing a sport I love and getting paid for it.

This World Cup feels a little different though. It’ll almost certainly be my last encounter on the world stage and the final chance to test my skills against the best in the world in front of millions of cricket fans.

As always, we received a warm welcome when we arrived in India. The people here are always so good to us. They love to watch us play and practice, and they always want to get their pictures taken with us.

I’ve been fortunate to travel to India on numerous occasions and it’s always an enjoyable experience. It’s definitely a logistical nightmare at times because things aren’t always as they should be.

When we turned up for our first practice session we were met by a number of stray dogs on the pitch. Here in India, you’ve just got to find a way around the problem, and that seems to be our motto for this tour.

Whatever gets thrown at you on or off the field you’ve got to get the job done.

Over the last year, the team’s played a fair bit of T20 cricket. But truth be told, we’ve played indifferently. Although our batting has misfired at times, we’ve put in some good work in recent weeks and we’re ready to show the world what we’re capable of.

We face Oman, Bangladesh and Holland in our group games, and each opponent poses a different threat.

Oman are a fairly unknown team, having risen up quickly through the ranks. This is their first taste of international cricket on the big stage.

I can vividly remember walking out onto the pitch during my first World Cup game, when Ireland played against Zimbabwe back in 2007.

In my opinion, Bangladesh are the team to beat as they performed well in the Asia cup, which India went on to win.

Holland also has some really dangerous players in their line up and enough self-belief to back it up, so it should prove to be a fascinating group with the winners set to face the likes of India and Pakistan.

I never usually set personal goals during these tournaments, but this time I’m determined to head out onto the pitch, enjoy every moment and give it my all. There are no second chances.

There’ll be battles within battles, tough times, joy and despair, but we’ve got a strong side that stands a chance of reaching the second phase.

If we do, it’d be a great achievement, and a chance to take on the best of the best. I’m definitely a big match player. At times though I’ve let myself down against lower teams and lesser fixtures.

I’ve got great World Cup memories, so I’m looking forward to expressing myself on the pitch once again.

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