He shares his name with one of the most famous sportsmen to have come out of Ireland and idolises another. Both are footballers but Niall O’Brien wants to make his mark in cricket and nurtures a dream of playing Tests even if it means representing another country.
The left-handed batsman and wicketkeeper is obviously not as famous as Niall Quinn and Roy Keane, but is making his mark at the World Cup. His 72 against Pakistan played a major part in the ouster of Inzamam-ul Haq’s team. O’Brien is far from satisfied, though.
“I wanted to score a couple of half-centuries and a century here and am glad that one of those innings that I have played will help me get a few more matches,” the 25-year-old said, referring to his team’s entry into the Super 8s.
“This chance doesn’t come very often to us and it’s important to make the most of it.” Coming from a family of sportspersons — his father Brendan played cricket for Ireland, brother Kevin is part of the World Cup squad here and sister Ciara is a member of the national hockey team — O’Brien said he never thought of doing anything else.
“I grew up playing cricket and everything I remember of my childhood is about the game.” It was little wonder then, that one day he thought he must try his luck in a more competitive
atmosphere and joined Kent, before moving to Northamptonshire for the 2007 season.
“With Gerain t Jones losing his place in the England side, he is expected to become the first-choice wicketkeeper in Kent. Keeping that in mind, the county and I decided that it would be better for me to go to a place where making the XI wouldn’t be a problem,” O’Brien said.
Reminded that Ireland had not put up a great show with the bat in the two matches so far despite rave reviews of their performance, O’Brien felt losing seven wickets in pursuit of Pakistan’s 132 was not all that bad.
“We didn’t do well against Zimbabwe, batted, bowled, fielded and caught poorly, but against Pakistan it was different. They had world-class bowlers and the pitch too assisted them. From the point of view, it was an excellent performance from us. It will inspire kids back home to play cricket."
The player who admires Keane's fiery qualities and Steve Waugh’s steel said his dream was to play for England, even it meant leaving the country he learnt the game in. “Test status is still a long way away for us,” he reasoned. “And everyone wants to improve his game by playing against teams like Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan. Playing in these countries is important for the overall development of a cricketer. I know Ireland is my country, but I have no choice if I am to get better as a cricketer.”
Who knows, Ireland’s loss may be England’s gain.