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AOC Interview: Niall O’Brien

Matt Andrews caught up with the Northants and Ireland wicketkeeper and chatted about life, wicketkeeping and the Irish Question.

You found yourself at the crease quite early on against the Aussies in Belfast Niall, how were you finding it out in the middle before the rain came?

Batting at No.4 I didn’t expect to be in after three balls but that’s what happened. Brett Lee bowled a fantastic over first of all to get two wickets but I was enjoying the tussle. It was a good chance to bat for 40 or 50 overs but obviously the rain curtailed that and put an end to my day early. I was enjoying it while I was there though and it was a shame I didn’t get a chance to bat longer.

I suppose your position in the batting order doesn’t often mean you get the chance to bat for the whole innings?

Well I’ve opened the batting in a lot of cricket so it’s not something especially new to me. It obviously wasn’t ideal being out there after three balls with two wickets on the board, but I just saw it as an opportunity to bat 40 or 50 overs, so I was going to use that to my advantage and take my time and get a big score.

It must have been great being able to get back to familiar territory and to see the Irish fans at least?

Yes it was lovely to be back involved in the Irish cricket team, and to start working with Phil Simmons (former West Indies batsman and current Ireland Coach) again. I have always had a good relationship with him and been very good friends with a lot of the Irish team so that was great. The Irish public, as well, are very affectionate towards me – they’ve given me great backing over the 10 or 12 years I’ve been involved with the side, so there is real love for Ireland and Irish cricket.

I suppose it is probably fair to say that your father has been a big influence on your cricket?

Yes, definitely. I started playing club cricket with my dad in the first team and he was very influential. Coming through the age groups with Ireland was obviously the starting point for me, playing under 13s up to under 19s and then graduating to the A team and eventually the national side. Ireland have been very good to me over the years and have given me the opportunity to play all around the world. Also my county cricket with Kent and Northamptonshire has proved vital. I’m 30 years of age, I’ve played a lot of cricket and hopefully, there’s still a lot of cricket left.

Did your dad, as an ex-Ireland cricketer, support your move into the sport?

My dad was always really supportive of what I wanted to do. I was a very, very keen footballer and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a professional footballer, but when I got to 15 or 16, I realised that probably wasn’t going to happen and I pursued my cricket a bit more vigorously so no, no pressure at all. My dad’s always there to give me advice whenever I need it and obviously he’s watched me play a lot of cricket so he can help me out here and there when needed.

Who were your heroes growing up?

Steve Waugh was one of my favourite players. I absolutely adored him. I am lucky enough to have met him down the years, and be coached by him. One of his caps sits on my wall, so I’m very proud of that. I also looked up to other players like Graham Thorpe and Jack Russell.

As a wicketkeeper did Russell have an influence on you?

Yes, very much so. He was a great wicketkeeper for Gloucestershire and England down the years. I actually made my first class debut against him. It rained for about two-and-a-half days in Bristol, and we managed to sit down and chat about wicketkeeping. To this day whenever I see him I always go up to him and have a good chat to him, and it’s always great to see him.

Going back to the specifics about the Irish game, what do you know about the development and the structure that’s in place at the moment for Cricket Ireland?

Irish cricket is booming, and it’s going from strength to strength due to the success of the national side. We need to keep playing well and getting victories against the big sides, and that will increase the membership. There are more and more people playing. The infrastructure’s good, there’s a good club system. There are hopes about becoming a Test nation, and getting a first class infrastructure in the pipeline so watch this space I suppose.

What do you think about the idea of promotion and relegation in the Test arena?

I think it would be very good. It would give us the opportunity to play Test cricket against the likes of New Zealand, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, West Indies, maybe some of the not so strong sides and give us an opportunity to play cricket, but whether or not that’s going to happen I don’t know.

Check out the latest issue of AOC for a full account of where Ireland’s quest for Test match status currently stands

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