KEVIN O’Brien says that despite the ever-growing spread of cricket tournaments around the world, the 50-over World Cup is still very much “the pinnacle” for Irish cricket.
The competition has been the catalyst for a series of golden moments for Ireland in their two previous participations, stunning Pakistan on St Patrick’s Day in 2007 while O’Brien broke the record for the fastest World Cup century in 2011 against England.
Ireland fly out on January 30 for their third shot at the competition which begins on February 16 hopeful they can make some waves once again at the tournament which is being played in Australia and New Zealand.
And the Sandymount man is raring to go for the competition: “I’m as excited as I was in 2007; I can’t wait to get on the plane and touch down in Australia and get going.
Ireland are in a seven-team group with the top four sides going through to the quarter-finals. O’Brien’s side are the sixth-ranked side on the world list and so need to cause a couple of surprises if they are to finish in the top four and advance to the quarter-finals.
But Ireland have defied the odds in the two previous World Cups and O’Brien says his side are confident they can do so once again.
“You are looking at three wins minimum to get out of the group so we have identified the games against UAE and Zimbabwe as must-win to stand any chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages. From there, we look to beat maybe West Indies or Pakistan and that could be enough.
“We start with a massive game against the West Indies. If we can get a victory there, it sets us up brilliantly for the rest of the campaign. We would be very confident for our second game with the UAE.”
There are, however, two heavy hitters in with world number two, India, and three, South Africa, also in the mix. The latter feature AB de Villiers who recently smashed the record for the quickest one-day century in a warm-up game against the West Indies.
“India and South Africa are great games to play in, two of the best in the world. But we are certainly not going into them to make up the numbers. They are two very difficult games and we have seen South Africa are playing great cricket at the moment.
“India are a mixed bag outside the sub-continent so there is no reason we can’t go out and play two very good games and come away with a victory.”
When Ireland embarked on their first World Cup journey eight years ago, they were given precious little preparation for the level of attention they would subsequently garner.
Since then, media interest has grown markedly in tandem with the financial support – the side announced a sponsorship deal with Irish Tourism this week – and preparation tours stepping up to a higher level.
But while those things have changed, O’Brien says it is an exciting time: “Certainly for the players that have been before, we know what to expect and being dragged from one place to another. But it certainly doesn’t get old!
“The pinnacle of our sport is the 50-over World Cup. The T20 comes around more often – we have played in four of those – and, from a player’s point of view, this is the one you want to play in.
“It gives you that 10% or 15% more of an impetus than a regular game; you are playing against the best teams and the best players in the world. It’s a great chance to put your name on the map and show world cricket what you can do.
“As a team, we want to play the best cricket we can play. If we do that, we will get at least two or three victories.”