LAURA DELANY will be expecting a familiar face in the opposition ranks at a sold-out Clontarf on Sunday, when her Ireland side take on Australia in the first of three World Championship one-day internationals.

The Ireland skipper played through most of the underage groups with Kim Garth, and the hugely-talented all-rounder was also her vice-captain for three years before she decamped Down Under to try her luck with the world champions.

It’s a move that has paid off for Garth who has not only battled her way into the Australian squad but has also become the first woman raised in Ireland to play in the Indian Premier League.

“When Kim made her decision we were all pretty disappointed to lose her because of the experience and skill sets she has,” said Delany, who has stayed friends and even spent a winter playing for Garth’s club side in Melbourne.

“But we fully understood the rational behind her move because at that stage you couldn’t be a professional cricketer in Ireland.

“The system in Australia is incredibly competitive and for her to go over there and a few years later be in their squad has nothing but my respect because she made a massive sacrifice to move away from her family to chase that. 

“She must be incredibly proud that it’s paid off for her.”

Delany is a full-time professional herself now thanks to the introduction of central contracts for women players by Cricket Ireland early last year, and the improvement in the team since is measurable.

So much so that Ireland will start Sunday’s game with the knowledge that they have already beaten Australia this year, winning a T20 World Cup warm-up match in South Africa by three wickets.

“I wish that game had been televised and we could get a recording and go back and watch it because it was a great example of us going out there and everyone performing their roles,” Delany said.

“It showed that we are definitely capable of competing with the best sides in the world.

“As a group we’re adapting and trying to play in a more aggressive style. Unfortunately with that will come times when we suffer heavy defeats but as a group we are trying to take the game on more.”

Despite that win in Stellenbosch, it will be a mega-surprise if Ireland get close to beating a side that has just retained the Women’s Ashes in England, never mind pulling off what would be a landmark win.

“We are the underdogs,” Delany agrees. “They are a very good side so all we can do is stick to our game plans and processes. That’s one of the benefits of having a young side, we bounce back really well and have a positive outlook.”

All-rounder Delany has needed to remain positive during a career that was nurtured on boundary edge of the Leinster ground at weekends, playing with friends; saw her score a century at the age of 14; captain the U15s and U17s, and win a senior cap against New Zealand three years later - on the same day Garth and Mary Waldron also made their debuts.

“I don’t remember too much about my batting in that game,” she said. “But Sophie Devine was my first international wicket.”

Until central contracts were introduced it was always a struggle juggling training and nets with education - she studied Sports Science and Health - and then worked various jobs to fund her cricket.

At 30, she is four years older than brother Gareth, the leg-spinner and explosive batter who has been a regular in the Ireland set-up since 2019, and she’s probably had a bigger influence on his development than vici versa.

“With us, I can’t say it was a case of siblings playing in the back garden,” she said.

“We did play in the sitting room, though, with a tennis ball and a wooden bat. The bottom of the sofa was the wicket and we broke lots of things, like picture frames. Mum wasn’t happy.”

Initially a keen hockey player - her father Paul coached both sports, including a stint with Railway Union helping the development of Niall and Kevin O’Brien - Delany didn’t realise cricket was the game for her until that first century. 

Unsure which is her strongest suit - “it really depends on what I’ve done on a particular day” - she has scored 2,472 runs in 181 internationals and taken 92 wickets with her medium pacers.

“My batting over the years has been about working the ball around and rotating the strike but I’m working on hitting more boundaries and finding more scoring opportunities. It’s an area I’m keen to improve on,” she said.

“It’s about getting the balance right. In a team you want players who can go up and down the gears depending on the match situation, and the bowler.”

Delany was handed the Ireland captaincy in 2016 and has been in charge of a youthful side since the retirements of veterans Isobel and Cecelia Joyce, Clare Shillington and Ciara Metcalfe a year later.

“I’m really enjoying the role,” she said. “There is so much potential in this side and it’s going to be amazing to see how far they can go in the next year to 18 months.

“For me, leadership isn’t just about making decisions out on the pitch, it’s also about keeping your players on board, working as hard as they can and helping them develop.

“One of the most difficult things as a captain is finding the right time to bring yourself on to bowl, and for how long, and that’s been a challenge for me in the last few years.

“But I’m always going to bring myself on in pressure situations whether it’s the last over of the World Cup qualifiers in Abu Dhabi, or the last over of a T20 in Pakistan, because I’ve got experience in those situations.”

The World Championship guarantees Ireland regular fixtures against all the top sides, something that has been difficult to achieve in the past, and while the likes of England and India will be a challenge, the Girls in Green can stretch Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and believe they should have done better against the West Indies earlier this month, losing that series 2-0.

Australia will be the biggest challenge of them all on Sunday, with games to follow at Clontarf on Tuesday and Friday.