True colours: Kevin O'Brien and John Mooney gave Irish cricket a day they'll never forget
True colours: Kevin O'Brien and John Mooney gave Irish cricket a day they'll never forget
One of the greatest games in Irish cricket history came at the 2011 World Cup when Kevin O'Brien and Co vanquished England
Ireland won by three wickets
Ah next morning none of the experts gave us the slightest chance
They said that the English team would lead us on a merry dance
Ah with their Union Jacks all them English fans, for victory they were set
Until Ray Houghton got the ball and he stuck it in the net…
- "Joxer Goes to Stuttgart," Christy Moore
There's a bit of history to sporting encounters between Ireland and England. When the Republic qualified for their first major football tournament, the 1988 European Championships, their opening match was against England. A 1-0 win at the Neckarstadion, thanks to Ray Houghton's header, still retains its place in Irish folklore.
The game was memorialised by singer Christy Moore in "Joxer Goes to Stuttgart", a comic ballad that depicts the convoys of Irish fans making their way to Germany, questions around team selection, and the game itself. Also mentioned is another Irish folk song "Revenge for Skibbereen", a reference to the Irish famine of the 19th century. The other kind of history.
All of which might seem a long way from Bangalore and the seventh game in Group B of the 2011 World Cup. Ireland, whose cricket team is made up of players from the north and south of the island, had met England twice before at ICC events (both times in Guyana, coincidentally) and won neither - although rain prevented them from having a tilt at chasing 121 at the 2010 T20 World, Cup a tournament England would go on to win.
"You know when you sense the momentum swing and you see that tension leave the room - there's always a moment where you kind of feel, 'We've got a good chance here'"
Ahead of the game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Cricket Ireland got Houghton - the hero of '88 - to record a message of encouragement for the team. And so it was that on the way to the ground in the morning, as he sat with his headphones on, watching the sights flit by out of the window of the coach, John Mooney decided to put on something that would help provide "that little bit of extra motivation".
"I can't remember what I was listening to at the time, but I definitely changed it for that day. I played a few Irish songs and one of them was 'Joxer Goes to Stuttgart'."
Spoiler alert: Ireland won the game in Bangalore. Their feat in hunting down a target of 328 with five balls to spare remains a World Cup record for the highest successful chase, as does Kevin O'Brien's 50-ball hundred, which eclipsed the previous fastest by a full 16 deliveries. Allrounder Mooney was the man who hit the winning runs, as Ireland completed a three-wicket upset that remains as unfathomable today as it was then. "It's almost like I never played another game of cricket in my career here in Ireland because it's such a big, big thing," Mooney laughs.
While England were deep in a frankly embarrassing run of ODI World Cups that stretched from 1996 to 2015, they were expected to deal with Ireland easily enough. Andrew Strauss' side had been run uncomfortably close by Netherlands in their opening game but then pulled off a thrilling tie against India, the eventual champions, at the Chinnaswamy. Ireland, meanwhile, limped to defeat against Bangladesh - a game the Irish had been fixated on in the build-up as "winnable".
Kevin O'Brien still holds the record for the fastest hundred in a men's ODI World Cup match. The next best is by Glenn Maxwell, off 51 balls vs Sri Lanka in the 2015 edition
Kirsty Wigglesworth / © Associated Press
Kevin O'Brien still holds the record for the fastest hundred in a men's ODI World Cup match. The next best is by Glenn Maxwell, off 51 balls vs Sri Lanka in the 2015 edition Kirsty Wigglesworth / © Associated Press
England were not supposed to be in the same category, but that consequently served to loosen up the players. "Because we hadn't really focused so much on it, I'm not gonna say a free hit, but it was - playing against England, it's a World Cup, let's go out and win it," Mooney said. "Or at least put in a really good performance to show that we deserve to be here."
A routine result still seemed very much on the cards when England piled up 327 for 8 - though things could have been worse: Mooney took four-for and only 70 runs were scored from the last ten overs. Ireland then lost a wicket on the first ball of their reply, before stumbling to 111 for 5 roughly halfway through the innings. Prospects for the boys in green were looking far from rosy as the pink-topped O'Brien, his hair dyed in aid of a cancer charity, set about his innings.
"There were stages in the game when we didn't play so well, and then there were other stages when we played really well," Mooney says. "But it was only when the pressure really got off us that we got ourselves back into the game."
"I know the exact moment. It's so clear in my mind when it was."
Ireland's hopes quickly coalesced around the burly frame of O'Brien, a powerful hitter whose one previous ODI century - 142 off 125 balls against Kenya - had come four years earlier. O'Brien walked in at No. 6 and might have been dismissed second ball, had England posted a slip - a hard-handed drive at Graeme Swann flying away for four. No matter, Swann struck again in his next over, Gary Wilson trapped lbw for the spinner's third wicket.
What happened next was scarcely credible. With Alex Cusack slipstreaming O'Brien, the sixth-wicket pair ransacked 162 runs from 103 balls, hitting seven sixes and 15 fours to turn the game on its head. And despite England's seemingly dominant position, it did not take long for the mood in the ground to change. O'Brien took a brace of fours off Michael Yardy in the 26th over and then twice slog-swept Swann into the fence at deep midwicket - a moment Mooney remembers clearly.
Ahead of the game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Cricket Ireland got footballer Ray Houghton to record a message of encouragement for the cricket team
"When Kevy hit the second six off Swann, I remember Trent Johnston was sitting just inside the door [of the dressing room]. I walked past TJ and I gave him a little bit of a tap on the shoulder and said, 'We've got a chance here, we definitely have a chance.' I went to the toilet, came back out and started watching the game and it just unfolded from there. You know when you sense the momentum swing and you see that tension leave the room - you're watching a run chase, watching a close game, there's always a moment where you kind of feel, 'We've got a good chance here.'"
Swann had just sent down his ninth over off the reel and would be bowled out by the 29th - a move which, in Mooney's view, suggested England thought the game was won. "The rest of the bowlers were coming in off an Ashes series, tired, [Stuart] Broad was hobbling around the place. They were really good bowlers, Broad, [James] Anderson, [Tim] Bresnan, but in Indian conditions they weren't going to offer the same threat as someone like Swann.
"I think it was a tactical mistake from England, and I think it worked out in our favour."
A flat swivel-pull for six off Anderson took O'Brien to a 30-ball half-century. Bresnan was dispatched over cover, then Anderson manhandled again, the ball travelling 102 metres over midwicket. Another towering blow off Bresnan took O'Brien into the 90s, before England's wounds were salted by a dropped catch at long-off. A nudge for two off Yardy created history, and although Cusack was run out at the non-striker's end in the next over, Ireland's momentum was now unstoppable.
Mooney took up the fight, cuffing an unbeaten 33 from 30 as England's last hopes unravelled. A tiring O'Brien ran himself out with 11 needed but Mooney finished the job. It was the moment he had been waiting for.
The finishing touch: John Mooney sent a James Anderson delivery to the midwicket boundary to seal the momentous chase
Aijaz Rahi / © Associated Press
The finishing touch: John Mooney sent a James Anderson delivery to the midwicket boundary to seal the momentous chase Aijaz Rahi / © Associated Press
"Kevin had played in these conditions, although not at this level, loads of times. We'd won games of cricket batting together at the death for Ireland, in big games before this. So it was weird, but I wasn't surprised to be in the situation I was in. In fact, when I walked out to bat, I remember saying to Kev, I can't wait for this to be the last over. It was like, we've done this before."
O'Brien and his incongruous dye job had secured their place in Irish sporting folklore, as had the tattooed man o'war Mooney. And while that night in Bangalore may not quite have the same cut through with the general public as Stuttgart '88 - as Mooney puts it, "cricket's a complicated issue over here in Ireland" - the achievement was put into context by a conversation with another footballing hero, Patrick "Packie" Bonner, the goalkeeper whose famous penalty shootout save against Romania took Ireland through to the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup.
"It was a great performance," Mooney says. "We mentioned Ray Houghton and one of the big moments in Irish sport. What we did that night was right up there with that. For me it's such a proud moment, there's nothing that can ever take away what happened… I spoke to Packie Bonner afterwards - we were at a few events and things. Packie Bonner was the MC and interviewing people, and we were chatting. I said, 'Packie, I'll never forget where I was when you saved that peno at the World Cup", and he turned around and said, 'Well, it's the same, because I'll never forget where I was when you hit winning runs for Ireland.' There's no amount of money or nothing in the world that could pay for a comment like that."
From Houghton to Bonner to O'Brien and Mooney, and one of cricket's greatest games. Joxer would be proud.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
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