DUBLIN (Reuters) - It was hardly surprising to hear the words “rain stopped play” echo around Malahide Cricket Club when test cricket came to Ireland for the first time on Friday.
Yet the grey skies around Dublin did not dampen the enthusiasm of the fans in green, many of whom had waited decades for the day Ireland might at last be granted the opportunity to play in the five-day format so steeped in tradition.
“I played cricket way back in the ‘50s and as a child, of course, you dreamed of playing the international stuff,” said Barry Ramsey, 76, who travelled from the north-west county of Donegal with his son, Barclay, to see the landmark match against Pakistan.
“Now to be at this stage, even though it’s a long time since I played, is absolutely phenomenal.”
Despite a World Cup win against Pakistan in 2007, an even more celebrated one over England in 2011 and their elevation to full test match status last year, Ireland has always seen cricket very much as a minority game, way behind soccer, rugby and the traditional sports of Gaelic football and hurling.
Ramsey recalled playing in the cricket street leagues in Donegal, a Gaelic football stronghold, and having to bow his head in team photos for fear the Gaelic Athletic Association, which until 1971 banned members from playing or attending so-called “foreign games”, would forbid him from playing football.
Others were attending their first cricket game, keen to savour the occasion, while teachers brought lines of school children into the temporary stands, which were close to a 6,300 sell-out on the opening day.
Australians John Stewart and Jeremy Jastrzav had flown from Sydney just for the test before returning home next Tuesday.
The pair are members of the Randwick Petersham Cricket Club, an amateur team Ireland played against in a World Cup warm-up three years ago.
“Coming here and watching a test in Ireland is a bit of a unique experience, this is a bit different to the SCG (the world-famous Sydney Cricket Ground) for us. It’s an historic game,” Stewart said.
As the rain fell, those that stuck around sank some late morning pints while others decamped to the local pubs and coffee shops of the coastal suburban town.
“I’m here with a friend who’s flown over from Manchester so we’ll have good company and a bit of craic (fun) anyway,” said Jen Delaney, 45, who left the south-western county of Wexford for London 25 years ago and flew in for the weekend.
“I got into cricket in England, the Ashes is a good gateway drug!” she said.
No longer just constrained to the one-day game however, Ireland’s enthusiastic fans will at least get four more shots at enjoying test cricket for the first time.
“Could I swing Monday or Tuesday? Maybe,” said Barclay Ramsey. “We’d be making nice phone calls into work!”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Ian Chadband