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Chris Macey: So, now our cricket is world class, any chance of a look in at Croker?

Kevin O'Brien has taken Irish cricket fans to the mountain top. But unlike Martin Luther King, the red-haired powerhouse has led his oppressed minority into the promised land.

Our first great World Cup victory against Pakistan four years ago gave us a few days away from the anonymity that supporting a lesser-played sport inevitably brings. But it didn't cure the bigotry of those who see playing cricket almost as a statement of un-Irishness.

This will. Because it is the ultimate act of sporting patriotism. By beating England, quite literally, at their own game, we have shown a downcast nation we can beat the old enemy -- and anybody else -- at absolutely anything.



Emotion

What's more, even the diehards will know they can't cash in the years of bragging rights piled up with every flourish of O'Brien's bat unless they accept that cricket has a legitimate place in the sporting life of Ireland.

But for all the many thousands of Irish cricket people, the first emotion yesterday wasn't vindication, but elation. My own immediate impulse was to loudly repeat the immortal outburst of the Norwegian football commentator after another famous English defeat.

Unfortunately, I was at work. I now understand that telling Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson and Margaret Thatcher that "your boys took a hell of a beating" was a little bit disturbing for my colleagues.

Especially as none of them had any idea there was such a thing as the cricket world cup, let alone that Ireland were playing in it.

Given that cricket is a game where terms such as lbw and silly mid-off are alien to the vast majority, it was a relief that once the news got out, explanations weren't necessary. People didn't need to be told it's the same as Warwickshire beating Kilkenny in the hurling championship, or New York beating Kerry in football.

They instantly understood the scale of the achievement.

As the enormity of the victory sank in, my mind went back to Stuttgart in 1988 on the day Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net. I followed Jack's Green Army on many of their far-flung adventures, but didn't even watch their greatest triumph on telly. Cricket came first and I was playing that day in Terenure -- CYM v Phoenix in the Leinster Senior League.

I remember nothing of our match. Just the fist-pumping joy on the pitch as manic cheering from surrounding pubs first gave us news of the goal and, eventually, the final whistle.

But my most vivid memory of that day was of members of our team being repeatedly accosted in town that night by revellers who took our cricket bats to be as clear a statement of whom we supported as the Union Jack. And they told us so, mainly in language that would turn the tricolour blue.



irritation

Most Irish people have experienced the irritation when abroad of being mistakenly identified as English. But if you're an Irish cricketer, time and again it even happens to you in your own country.

That's not to say we ever received a decent reception on the other side of the Irish Sea. These days the English team is brazenly poaching our best players. But any cricketer who's gone on a club tour across the Irish Sea has faced the ire of alickadoos who don't believe we've been touched by what Robert Mugabe, of all people, described as the civilising influence of cricket.

Not to mention other barbs like "hey Paddy, you'd do better batting with a hurley". I'd like to have bumped into a couple of those old duffers last night.

Until yesterday, nobody liked us and we didn't care. In fact it probably helped provide some of the steel that got us over the line against England.

But after a couple of centuries, cricket in Ireland has become an overnight sensation. So what should the legacy be of our Lions of Bangalore?

One requirement of the Test Match status the Irish team craves is the availability of top- class international stadia. It may be far-fetched to think of the sound of leather on willow competing with the clash of the ash on Croke Park's hallowed turf.

But after yesterday, is anything impossible?

Chris Macey played Senior Cricket for CYM (now Terenure Cricket Club) from 1981-2002