IT’S been some year for Orla Prendergast. 

Since last September, the all-rounder has helped Ireland to an historic series win in Pakistan, been named one of the best 12 players at the T20 World Cup, joined her first franchise side, in England, and took part in the Caribbean Super League.

All this while completing a Sports and Exercise Management course at UCD.

“It’s definitely been a big year,” she agreed.

“The World Cup stands out. It was my first World Cup and a really good tournament, even though we weren’t able to win a game. And being named in the team of the tournament… I was in with some good company there.

“The T20 win in Pakistan was another highlight. It was the first time we’d beaten a higher-ranked team in a series, and that whole tour was just a great experience in an amazing country.

“We were in quite a tight security bubble but we managed to get out to visit the India-Pakistan border one evening, and being a team of 20-something girls we decided we had to go shopping too.” 

While the Ireland squad have all noticeably improved since Cricket Ireland introduced professional contracts at the start of 2022, the development in Prendergast’s batting has probably been the most impressive.

The rare ability to hit through the line and clear boundaries in front of the wicket - on both sides - brought her 109 runs in four World Cup innings, from only 87 balls.

The pitches in South Africa suited her style and some strokes, particularly in a top score of 61 against the West Indies, were breathtaking.

The 21-year-old is quick to acknowledge the influence that coach Ed Joyce has had in her advance as a batter - as well as with the team overall - with his insistence on playing an expansive brand of cricket with no recriminations when it doesn’t work out.

“Looking back at the last 18 months I’ve put in a lot more consistent performances with the bat, and I’ve gained a lot more understanding of the shots I’m playing, if that makes sense?

“I’ve probably always had the big shots but now I’m far more aware of game situations and when to play them. I’ve done a lot of work on that with Ed.

“I started batting at No 3 at the beginning of last season and it took a fair few innings there before I realised that I had the skills and ability to take on the best teams._

“I wasn’t overly convinced to begin with but as this year has gone on I’ve gained more experience and enjoyment in the role, and I absolutely love it now.”

Her performances at the World Cup inevitably caught the attention of global franchises, and the first to offer a deal was Western Storm, in the UK. where she spent the early summer.

“I went over for a six-week block” she said. 

“We played a lot of 50-overs cricket and then their T20 comp. It was my first experience of playing cricket for a team in a different country, and there was plenty there to learn from different coaches.

“I prefer T20s, especially batting-wise. I’m aggressive and like to take the game on and while you can take your time and build an innings in 50-overs games I like the faster pace of T20s.”

Lewis, Amy Hunter and Prendergast are a formidable and settled trio at the top of the Ireland batting order, although the No 3 started her international career in 2019 primarily as an opening bowler, firing down big booming inswingers.

“I did open the batting too but I definitely saw myself more as a bowler in those days,” she said. 

“Then I got a couple of injuries: firstly I tore a tendon on the outside of my left ankle which stopped me bowling for a decent length of time, and then I got a stress fracture in the same foot.

“When you combine the two injuries it put me out of bowling for a long while. It was very frustrating, but it gave me time to working on my batting a huge amount, which was a small positive.

“I didn’t like batting all that much, growing up. I saw myself as a bowler but that’s definitely flipped.”

One of the reasons she may not have been as keen on batting as a kid could have been the regular “roughing ups” she received from the bowling of older brothers Conor and Joe in the garden of the family house in Churchtown.

“I always wanted to whack the ball as hard as I could but I was a lot happier sprinting in and bowling fast,” she said, laughing.

Father Peter, a decent club cricketer, with Clontarf, and footballer, had to replace a fair number of tennis balls that were knocked into the distance, and was even less happy when it rained and the youngsters moved inside and practiced in the hallway.

Until the age of 16, Prendergast seemed more likely to follow her father’s other sport. She represented the Ireland U17s football team, and was said to be so naturally talented she could have kicked on and made the recent World Cup squad.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “But I did play a lot of football growing up, that was my priority going through school. 

“It was football in the winter and cricket in the summer, and, yes, I was better at football. 

“Then my age group changed to playing during the summer and it was clashing with cricket the whole time, and that enlightened me as to how much I loved cricket and how much I wanted to play it.

“I made a decision then to go with cricket and I haven’t looked back.”