Talismanic allrounder John Mooney recently called time on a 14-year international career in which Ireland forced their way up from all-amateur also-rans to become a professional outfit pushing hard for Test status. He spoke to Jo Harman about the famous wins, the bumps in the road and the sea change in his country’s perception of cricket.
How long had you been considering retirement?
It had been over a year or so but I really started thinking about it in the couple of days leading up to the Australia game last summer in Belfast.
You’d been in excellent form, leading the wicket-taking charts at the World Twenty20 Qualifier last summer. Were you to tempted to stay on for one last hurrah at the World Twenty20?
I was but I’m setting up a new business as a personal trainer and all the touring and everything was going to lead to a three-month commitment after Christmas, and I just didn’t have that in me. I also felt that to go to the World T20 as an older player would have been taking an opportunity away from somebody else who could have really gone and learned from the experience and helped Irish cricket in the future.
How has the perception of cricket in Ireland changed since you started your career?
It’s chalk and cheese. When I went to school I wouldn’t have told people that I played cricket. I went to a Christian Brothers school where Irish sports were promoted and you weren’t allowed to play rugby, soccer or cricket. It’s completely different now. People know who we are and actually stand up and take notice of the Irish cricket team.
Are you proud to have played your part in bringing about that change?
That’s a great sense of achievement for me, for all the guys who I’ve played with, and for all the guys who went before me as well. It means a lot for us to have changed the minds of Irish people about a sport that they had pigeonholed as just being an English game – a lot of them are now realising that it’s a worldwide game. The Irish opinion is changing and it’s great to see. Hopefully Cricket Ireland will keep going from strength to strength now.
How did you fall into cricket?
For whatever reason cricket became and remained popular in a little pocket of Ireland in North County Dublin called Fingal, which is where I’m from. When people think of Dublin they just think of the city but there’s the countryside aspect to it as well. I came from the countryside area and it just happened to be that people had a couple of passions in the area and one of them was cricket. Because of the area, because of the land, we had lovely grounds, nice places to play. Cricket survived and my family was one of the main families in the local club.
What are some of the standout memories from your career?
When I got my first cap I was in no place to get it. As a cricketer I was definitely ready, but as a person I was nowhere near. Really when it started to kick in for me was when I missed out on playing in the 2005 World Cup qualifiers. I was at a stage where it was either give it everything I had and keep going, or give up. I started an apprenticeship as an electrician and I could’ve just gone down that road but I said, ‘No, I’m going to do the two of them together’. That was a proud moment for me because I bounced back from that disappointment and pretty much remained in every Irish squad that I was available for since then.
And Ireland have had some famous wins during that time…
Our exploits in the Caribbean [at the 2007 World Cup] and all the World Cups since were fantastic. I cherished every moment being an Ireland player. Obviously the England game in Bangalore for me personally was just the moment. The fact I happened to be there at the end, scoring 30-odd and hitting the winning runs, and taking four wickets, is something that I can look back on and be so proud of. It was a special moment in Irish sport and I was there for it. The fact it was against England was probably the cherry on top.
Ireland were an all-amateur team when you debuted in 2001. How much has the set-up improved over the years?
The night before I made my debut, which was down in Sussex playing in the Triple Crown, I was kicked out of my room at about 4am because there was a party organised which I didn’t know about with a few of the players and a few other people. I was sent off to another room just to get some sleep before my first game! That whole side of things changed when Adi Birrell took over as coach in 2002. We used to joke about being a drinking team with a cricket problem but that all changed as the years went on, especially under Adi. He changed things dramatically from being an amateur set-up to one where we started thinking professionally.
And how much has Cricket Ireland grown as an organisation in that time?
Cricket Ireland were extremely lucky when they came across Warren [Deutrom, Cricket Ireland chief executive]. He’s an unbelievable man, never mind a CEO. Warren’s done an awful lot of work for me behind the scenes. Nobody would know about it and he doesn’t look for any kind of rewards, but when I was struggling with depression Warren was more than a CEO, he was like a friend. The organisation is run really well and there are a lot of great volunteers as well. It’s all looking positive for the future.
Are talented youngsters coming through who can replace players such as yourself?
I think so. Being honest I reckon that we’ve got five or six lads in the country that, with experience, will replace me comfortably. They’ve all got good skills. I think Cricket Ireland will definitely be able to fill my boots and other players’ boots in the future. A player like Ed Joyce will obviously be really difficult to replace when he decides to retire but the majority of the squad are replaceable and the coaching is certainly going on behind the scenes to make sure that happens.
What’s next for you?
For the next year I’ll be setting my business up and doing a hell of a lot of hours on that. I’m heading to the Masters Champions League in Dubai to play with all the big dogs, so that’s going to be very interesting. Then I’ll be getting into coaching soon enough and already I’m going to do a bit of work with the Denmark national side in pre-season as a fielding consultant. There are a few things in the pipeline.
Is coaching Ireland the dream job?
Someday that coaching job is going to come up and hopefully it’ll be right for me in the future. I’d love to coach Ireland. It’s the only thing left for me. I can’t play anymore but there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then for that to happen. Hopefully I’ll be able to fit into Cricket Ireland’s plans somewhere along the way.