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Heroes' welcome greets homecoming Irish team
April 25, 2007 22:44 IST
Ireland's giant-killing cricket team arrived home from the World Cup to a heroes' welcome, a diary-full of celebrations and hints that a new international cricket ground may be built in Dublin.
The World Cup debutants were expected to play three group games but after a shock win against former champions Pakistan, they pushed through to the second round to beat Test side Bangladesh, leapfrogging to 10th in the one-day world rankings.
"It's been a dream come true," said captain Trent Johnston as he and his team made their way through several hundred cheering well-wishers at Dublin airport on Tuesday night after flying back from the West Indies.
Among those waiting to congratulate the side, whose success ignited national pride in a sport largely forgotten in Ireland, was Irish Sports Minister John O'Donoghue, who described their efforts as "Herculean".
O'Donoghue said the government was keen to help development of the game in Ireland, where many have previously regarded it as a colonial hangover following the country's independence from Britain in 1921.
"The stage is set for cricket to expand participation levels in this country," he told the Irish Times.
"We are lacking an international cricket ground - I'd be prepared to talk to the Irish Cricket Union (ICU) about providing one."
Currently, the maximum seating the ICU can provide is 3,000, meaning big games have to be held in Belfast, across the border in the British province of Northern Ireland, where the Stormont ground has a capacity of around 9,000.
Ireland played a one-day international against England at Stormont last June.
While played in Ireland for centuries, cricket has been a minority interest for decades, with the ICU operating on a shoestring budget and badly in need of cash for extra coaches and training facilities.
The team's triumph over Pakistan last month, which dominated domestic airwaves for days and sparked a stampede for cricketing merchandise, should help.
Even Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, better known for his dedication to Gaelic games, offered to bail out the mainly amateur team if they ran short of cash on their unexpectedly long stay in the Caribbean.
Earlier this month, the newly designated leaders of Northern Ireland's forthcoming power-sharing assembly - hardline Protestant cleric Ian Paisley and his one-time arch-enemy Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander - issued a joint invitation to the team to attend a reception in Belfast.
Manager Roy Torrens and several of the players, including Jeremy Bray and Andrew White, are from Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday evening, Johnston and his men will be feted by Bank of Ireland at a lavish shindig in Dublin's refurbished Shelbourne Hotel, and on Friday night they are due to appear on the state broadcaster's flagship chat show.
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