Ed, Dom, Isobel and Cecelia Joyce

Ireland's pride and Joyce: (clockwise from top left) Ed, Dom, Cecelia and Isobel outside the family home

© Joyce family
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Cover story

The first family of cricket

Perhaps no group of siblings has done as much for cricket in their country as the Joyces in Ireland

Tim Wigmore |

As a young boy growing up in central Dublin, Jimmy Joyce had no reason to care for cricket. His school did not play the sport and there were no cricket grounds near him.

One day in the summer of 1950, listening to the radio at home, he turned to BBC Radio 4. On the broadcast was commentary from West Indies' tour of England. John Arlott's mesmerising description of "those two little pals of mine" - Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine - gripped the young boy. A lifelong infatuation with cricket was born.

Jimmy did not play until he was an adult, but he ensured his children would not be deprived in the same way. Growing up in Bray, a coastal town south of Dublin, the five boys and four girls of Jimmy and Maureen were never short of a bat or ball. Their school did not play cricket either, and though Bray had one cricket club, it was itinerant, leasing grounds on a week-to-week basis and grappling with financial problems. BBC radio broadcasts, and by now television coverage, allowed the children to inherit their father's love of the game.

The Joyces whiled away hours and days playing at home. Often the neighbours, hitherto oblivious to cricket, were enlisted to join in the family games. The gardens of the two houses would be combined to create the pitch, but garden-party cricket this was not: Cecelia, together with her twin Isobel the youngest of the nine children, still retains a scar obtained from a full-length dive in a family match.

When Ireland announced themselves to the world by defeating Pakistan at the World Cup on St Patrick's Day 2007, Ed was stuck in an England team meeting

Mostly they played at Merrion, a cricket club 20 kilometres from home, tucked away by the river on Angelsea Road in south Dublin. It was an agreeable setting for the children to learn the sport, and Jimmy was often on hand during their matches: "One of those annoying parents who still plays every shot while watching. My jerking knee is a regular cause of hilarity." Cricket was less a game than a family institution. Ed, the sixth-born, would disappear all summer to play and go months without seeing his school friends. "The Joyces don't go on holidays," it was joked. "They're too busy playing cricket."

Cricket has always been a familial game, its curiosities passed across generations. Think of the four Mohammad brothers and a son who played for Pakistan, including three in one Test; the Chappell brothers and their grandfather Vic Richardson, three Australia captains among the quartet; Walter Hadlee, a New Zealand captain turned selector, manager, chairman and president, and his three children, including Sir Richard, who played for New Zealand together. There are plenty of examples: the Headleys, the Khans, the Akmals, the Marshes, Arjuna Ranatunga and his three brothers, the Pollock and Kirsten clans.

Yet five Joyce siblings have played for their country; it is believed that only the Ngoches of Kenya can boast of more. Along with the Ngoches, two of whom played for Kenya Women, the Joyces are distinguished by their contribution across genders: no female Chappell, Mohammad or Ranatunga played cricket internationally, and the Hadlee family boasted only the solitary ODI played by Karen, Richard's wife. The Joyces also contributed off-field expertise to the game. Jimmy briefly served as Cricket Ireland's president in 2012; Maureen has been a scorer in women's ODIs.

The switch: Ed Joyce wears England colours while signing autographs for kids in Belfast, 2006

The switch: Ed Joyce wears England colours while signing autographs for kids in Belfast, 2006 © Getty Images

Perhaps no family has done as much to build cricket in one country as the Joyces - a mark not just of what they have achieved but of how much there was to do.

In Ireland, even among middle-class families like the Joyces, cricket was not merely an unfashionable sport. It came with a stigma. If you tried to play at school "you would have your bat nicked", says Ed Joyce. "You'd be hiding your cricket gear on the train into town."

In the 1870s cricket was the most popular sport in the country, thriving across class, linguistic and religious divides and in all 32 Irish counties. There were over 300 clubs and many more unofficial teams. It became a victim of Irish nationalism at the start of the 20th century. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), formed in 1884, sought to organise and popularise "Irish sports" such as hurling and Gaelic football. In 1902 the association's constitution formalised "The Ban", which remained in place until 1971. It prohibited the playing, or even watching, of "foreign" sports like cricket. Anyone who did not comply would be barred from playing in matches organised by the GAA.

In itself "The Ban" did not consign cricket to the margins of Irish life. Football, hockey and rugby were also banned without it affecting their popularity. But the GAA reserved particular opprobrium for cricket, which they viewed as a sport for Anglophiles. Cricket was suffering in other ways too: from land wars between small farmers and landlords, depriving it of grounds; from migration to the cities, where there were far fewer open areas to play in; from shoddy organisation - it took until 1923, two years after the official breakup of Ireland, for the establishment of the Irish Cricket Union.

It is not uncommon for Cecelia to sleep 20 hours a week. "This is a corporate law firm and the things you've heard about corporate law firms are true"

The upshot was that cricket became the preserve of "West Brits", who, to many, were not truly Irish. Besides the neighbours the Joyces converted to the game, Isobel says, "I didn't know of any other person in Bray that played cricket."

Even some who loved the sport were ashamed of it. According to the Irish journalist Ger Siggins, a photographer once saw Éamon de Valera, a leading figure in pre-independence Ireland and later Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, playing with a bat. De Valera dropped it immediately, knowing that to be seen playing cricket risked making him a pariah with his nationalist supporters. While Ireland continued to have cricket lovers, including James Joyce (no relation of Jimmy), and while the Ireland team skittled out West Indies for 25 in an exhibition match in 1969, it was a sport that existed on the periphery of national life. Ireland were a part of England's Test and County Cricket Board until 1992, and so were not even eligible to qualify for the World Cup as a separate team.

When Ed was invited over to Middlesex in 1998, the notion of an Irish county cricketer was incongruous. It had been half a century since a born and bred Irishman had forged a successful county career. A few players had enjoyed brief and undistinguished careers in the 1990s, but none made more impact than Dermott Monteith, a left-arm spinner who turned out for Middlesex in nine matches in 1981 and 1982, before his 40th birthday.

Ed was recommended to the county by Mike Hendrick, the former England and Derbyshire* seamer who was then Ireland's coach. "Coming from Ireland, there was a big inferiority complex," Ed remembers of that time. "We just assumed everyone from England was much better at cricket. I was very aspirational but I didn't think it was going to happen. I thought I'd give it a crack and go over there and enjoy myself while I was at university for a few summers and see how it goes. I never thought of cricket as a career."

Cecelia Joyce:

Cecelia Joyce: "I have made a conscious decision to acknowledge and call out systemic shortcomings in all areas of life because if I don't, I don't know who the hell will" © IDI/Getty Images

Those who observed him closely at Middlesex began to think rather differently. They saw a player who married classical grace with steeliness and an exemplary technique. Ian Gould, Middlesex's coach, told Angus Fraser: "This fella is as talented a batsman as I've seen since David Gower."

Ed had limited chances to show these qualities. He would only arrive at Middlesex after term was over at Trinity College, Dublin, where he was studying economics. In London he lived with his older sister, a journalist for the Economist, and was liberated from the pressures of playing for a contract. He was simply playing. "It was great craic. I'd just made up my mind to have fun, and that made a big difference." In the summer of 2001, just before turning 23, he scored his maiden first-class hundred, against Warwickshire at Lord's. His next followed only two games later. The following season he progressed from a summer contract to a full-time one. He was now a bona fide professional cricketer.

Success would bring new challenges. In 2006, a year after scoring 399 runs at 99.75 in the ICC Trophy to secure Ireland's World Cup qualification, Ed was selected for England. Then, as now, you can play for Ireland on Monday and England on Tuesday - but if you switched back you needed to wait four years, now reduced to two.

Ed made his England debut in what was Ireland's inaugural ODI, in Belfast. He was up against his younger brother, Dom, who had played 2nd XI cricket for Middlesex and was thought to have the talent to make it in county cricket but not the temperament. The siblings who had led Ireland to their first World Cup - Ed was Ireland's top scorer in the qualifiers; Dom was Man of the Match in the win against Denmark that secured the World Cup berth - were now opening the batting for opposing sides. Among those watching was Ed and Dom's older brother Gus, who had played three matches for Ireland in 2000, before his career stalled because of injury and work took him to England. (According to Jimmy, it was Damian, the second-oldest brother, who was "the most promising of them all".)

"The Joyces don't go on holidays," it was joked. "They're too busy playing cricket"

"That was just a strange day really," Ed says of that game, which England won by 38 runs. "I didn't enjoy it very much."

A romantic dream to play Test cricket, the format that captivated his father long before the invention of one-day cricket, had led Ed to play for England. But it was in vain. He played 17 ODIs, and scored a century against Australia in Sydney. Selection as a spare batsman for the ignominious 5-0 whitewash in 2006-07, after Marcus Trescothick withdrew with a stress-related illness, was the closest he got to Test cricket. Red-ball cricket was always his most distinguished format, but he was perhaps a victim of Duncan Fletcher's penchant for using ODI cricket as a way of trialling potential Test cricketers.

When Ireland announced themselves to the world by defeating Pakistan at the World Cup on St Patrick's Day 2007, Ed was stuck in an England team meeting. Against Ireland in that tournament he made only 1, to go with 10 on his debut, and dropped a dolly to boot. He only played one more game for England. Here was the ultimate irony. Floundering when playing against his own country pushed his England career towards oblivion and shattered his aspirations of Test cricket - the very reason he had left in the first place. And it meant that he would spend four of his best years unable to play international cricket, from the World Cup in 2007 until the next one in 2011, for which the ICC waived a few months off his four-year waiting period and allowed him to represent Ireland.

Isobel and Cecelia, the twin sisters and the youngest in the clan, rose even quicker than Ed. Isobel's debut came at 15; just after turning 17 she took 6 for 21 against Pakistan with her medium pace in the only Test that Ireland have played in men's or women's cricket. Cecelia, born two and a half minutes later, made her Ireland debut two years after Isobel.

Clockwise from left: Eight of the nine Joyce children with mum Maureen; at Merrion Cricket Club: Ed, sitting holding trophy, Isobel in green hairband, next to Cecelia (partly obscured), and Damian (standing behind them holding bags); Christmas circa 2008: (from left) Cecelia, Ed, Gus, Maureen, Dom and Isobel

Clockwise from left: Eight of the nine Joyce children with mum Maureen; at Merrion Cricket Club: Ed, sitting holding trophy, Isobel in green hairband, next to Cecelia (partly obscured), and Damian (standing behind them holding bags); Christmas circa 2008: (from left) Cecelia, Ed, Gus, Maureen, Dom and Isobel © Joyce family

The two did not merely reach the Ireland team. Isobel became the skipper and the leading allrounder, Cecelia an opener and the best batsman. Together they represented Ireland in world events, and encountered greater challenges than Ed. While Ed's on-field progress earned him a healthy salary, only last year did Cricket Ireland start paying modest match fees to women. Accounting for costs of travelling to practice sessions, the twins have made a loss from their involvement in cricket.

A plush boardroom at the central Dublin offices of Arthur Cox, one of Ireland's leading corporate law firms, might seem like an unusual place to meet an international cricketer - but Cecelia is much more than that. She is also an associate at the firm, regularly working 70 hours a week. Isobel has a scarcely less taxing schedule: she is a sports teacher and a personal trainer. Both have somehow found time to represent an Irish club in the hockey equivalent of the Champions League. At every turn each has spurred her twin on. "It's not so much that you want to beat the other person," Cecelia says. "It's more that you don't want to be beaten."

The life of the female Irish cricketer involves 6am gym sessions two or three times a week, several squad-training sessions (including on Friday nights) and, in the summer, matches all weekend. Work and the rest of life are what can be fit in around cricket. These demands explain the unusual age profile of Ireland's squad in the recent Women's World T20. It included four teenagers, the youngest not yet 15 before the tournament began. Many female cricketers have abandoned the sport prematurely, unable to combine international cricket with work.

It is not uncommon for Cecelia to sleep 20 hours a week. "It's incredibly difficult. It wouldn't necessarily be as difficult for a lot of jobs - this is a corporate law firm and the things you've heard about corporate law firms are true," she says. "It's tiring and you give up a lot. People ask, 'Is it worth it?' I think it is, but that just depends on whether you really care about all the things you miss. It affects a lot - it affects relationships, it affects how much you can see people. If you say to them, 'I haven't seen you for the last six months because every night I have training and then I'm up too early in the morning to see you and then I didn't go on the night out because I had training the next day' - then it's just not a story anyone wants to hear."

In 1902, the GAA formalised "The Ban", which remained in place until 1971. It prohibited the playing, or even watching, of "foreign" sports like cricket

Little wonder that Cecelia has considered giving up international cricket. Yet whenever she despairs of how the game is impinging on the rest of her life, leaving her sleep-deprived and exhausted, she is reminded of how much she values it. She recounts a conversation with a champion boxer who had come to present awards at Trinity College, her alma mater. "He said, 'People always ask me about the sacrifices I make. I just say do you remember that Friday when you went out with your mates on February 3rd and the next Friday and the next Friday? No, you don't. I was training and I became world champion. I loved all that time.'

"We can't say we're world champions but the rest is the same. I would say it's even better when you play a team sport. And empowering women is a big thing for me, women in sport, women in the working world, women in general in every aspect."

At every turn, the Joyces have been left exasperated by Ireland's struggle not just against opposing cricket teams but against the inequities of the world game. In the early months of 2015, during the World Cup, the wrath of a family and a cricket nation was channelled through Ed. Ireland knew that with the 2019 and 2023 tournaments contracting to just ten teams, this World Cup shaped as the last and best chance to make their grievances heard. Ed, normally affable and laid-back, was driven by anger. "It had been building for a long time. We'd been doing well enough to kick up a stink."

Before the tournament, Ed discussed this with his wife, who had worked in marketing. She told him, "If you're going to make a statement, the most important thing is to play well enough to make a statement, but then coordinate it." So Ed did just that, leading discussions with other senior players about the best way to relate Ireland's grievances. The upshot was that no Irish press conference was complete without reference to the team's derisory nine ODIs against Test nations between the 2011 and 2015 tournaments, or how cricket was unique among sports in contracting the size of its flagship event. After Ireland were eliminated, the ICC's Twitter account lauded their "memorable and inspiring" displays. "So memorable and inspiring that you have decided to cut the next WC to ten teams," replied the skipper William Porterfield. "What is your vision for the game of cricket?" It was a tweet that embodied the spirit of Ireland's campaign.

Isobel and Cecelia celebrate a wicket against South Africa in the 2014 World T20

Isobel and Cecelia celebrate a wicket against South Africa in the 2014 World T20 © ICC

More interest than ever before was given to the Associates' plight because of Ed's articulacy - but also his batting panache. Against West Indies he combined his usual finesse with new-found assertiveness. There was impulsive hooking and straight hitting of effortless brutality; all of his 84 runs were an expression of fury at Ireland's treatment by the ICC. It is Ed's favourite game in a green shirt and it ensured that for the Cup's first few weeks the Associates were the story of the tournament.

His sisters had long been familiar with these complaints. The world of women's cricket is almost as governed by the status divide between Full Members and Associates as the men's. "The uproar over the Associates' treatment is kind of funny to us," Cecelia says. "That's exactly how we've always been treated - it's just that no one knew or cared."

This year's Women's World T20 only exacerbated her frustrations. "I hate complaining. It makes me feel like a victim. Unfortunately, I have learned that if a woman is just quiet and accepting and is a good girl who works hard and hopes for change because in her opinion, change is the right thing - and people always eventually do the right thing, right? - then that woman will be hoping for a long time. I have made a conscious decision to acknowledge and call out systemic shortcomings in all areas of life because if I don't, I don't know who the hell will."

She rails against the lack of opportunities for the Ireland women's team. Across all formats, they played just seven matches against top- nine teams between the 2014 and 2016 World T20s; Sri Lanka, the second-weakest team in their World T20 group by ranking, played 34. Yet Ireland almost defeated Sri Lanka. They squandered a dominant position and eventually lost by 14 runs. Cecelia feels Ireland were scuppered by a lack of match savvy.

Five of the Joyce siblings have played for their country; it is believed that only the Ngoches of Kenya can boast of more

"We knew we should have won the game. That would have been an enormous result for us not only in boosting our team morale and confidence but in terms of profile, coverage back home, support, and as an argument that we are competing within the top ten. There were glimpses of the kind of team that we could be, if we were more practised, better able to read the position of the game, and more confident… They say that winning is a habit, but that is a habit that is difficult to develop when you play four top-class matches in a year."

Thirteen years ago the twins were part of an Ireland team that defeated West Indies and finished above them in a World Cup qualifier. Cecelia believes the different trajectories of the sides since are not down to paucity of talent in Ireland.

"West Indies became more professional and consistently played more matches, and look where they are now. Some of the personnel are the same but they are very different players now. You ask what Ireland Women need to get to the next level. The answer is, opportunity." She calls for more support from the ICC and implores England, who have not played Ireland in any format since 2012, to pay more heed.

The twins' greatest frustration is that the women are largely dependent upon how the men do, because the funding that Cricket Ireland receives from the ICC is overwhelmingly dependent on the performance of the men's side. "We got things off the back of the men getting things," Isobel says. "It takes longer for us to get them, but I definitely think that if the guys hadn't have had their success we wouldn't have either. That's a fact."

There is still so much that the Joyces want to do. Even at 37, Ed is sustained by the promise of leading Ireland to their inaugural Test at Lord's in 2019. He considers his country's Test dream "a very noble and great thing to aspire to". He is moving back to Ireland permanently - his two children go to nursery there - and when he is done playing, many in Irish cricket would like him to enter administration to safeguard the gains he helped win on the pitch.

Two generations of Joyces from Presentation College. Back row, from left: Damian and Macdara, son of Johnny; Dom is at far right. Front row, from left: Sam, son of Damian, and Johnny

Two generations of Joyces from Presentation College. Back row, from left: Damian and Macdara, son of Johnny; Dom is at far right. Front row, from left: Sam, son of Damian, and Johnny © Kevin Conroy

Establishing Ireland as a sort of European New Zealand - able to rise above a small playing base with enlightened administration, strong youth programmes and shrewd cricket - remains an arduous task. The men's side is ageing. The funding gap between the women's side and Test nations is increasing as Full Members belatedly pay heed to the female game. Ireland were the only amateur side in the Women's World T20. Cricket Ireland still lacks a stadium with permanent seating. And then there is the ICC (or more accurately the ICC board, which often holds different opinions to those of the staff) to contend with - the men's World Cup has been contracted to ten nations, while the women's World Cup features only eight, which is just as myopic.

"If they don't want to grow the game then we're screwed, basically," Ed says. "Unfortunately it might get to the stage where it might be too late before they actually realise the mistake they are making." In the immediate term, there is cause for optimism - 2016 is shaping up as Ireland's busiest ever year of bilateral fixtures against Full Members. The men have series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and play one-off ODIs against Australia and South Africa, while the women entertain Bangladesh and South Africa over multi-match series.

But the Joyce legacy in Ireland is already assured. Never again will the notion of an Irish cricketer be derided. Ed was the first cricketer born and raised in Ireland (as distinct from players who were born in Ireland and moved young, like Martin McCague) to forge a successful professional career in the modern age. Twelve Irishmen have county contracts in 2016; all are standing on Ed's shoulders. "Ed Joyce paved the way for us all," Niall O'Brien has said.

As more money flows into women's cricket around the world, the current crop of Irish teenagers might one day become at least semi-professional. They may play in overseas leagues, such as the Women's Big Bash in Australia, where Kim Garth spent last winter. In a microcosm of how women's cricket is gaining stature in Ireland, Cecelia recalls how her face was beamed onto a huge projector screen at Arthur Cox's Christmas dinner, just after she had qualified for the World T20.

"The uproar over the Associates' treatment is kind of funny to us. That's exactly how we've always been treated - it's just that no one knew or cared" Cecelia Joyce

"I've become a bit of a weird celebrity at the firm," she says, "but not as in 'You play cricket, that's rubbish', which people would honestly have been saying until about two years ago." When Isobel would return from a cricket tour to teaching, the children used to ask her about her holiday; now they ask her about the cricket matches. "Because we're on the news and in the paper, suddenly we're something big. People keep saying congratulations to me."

The most significant shift in Irish cricket is in its image. In the years of the Celtic Tiger, thousands of migrants from Australia, South Africa and South Asia came to Ireland and brought their love of cricket with them, in the process eroding the idea of cricket as a game for West Brits. The return of Irish migrants from down under had a similar effect.

Most important has been the success of the men's team. "The biggest thing that broke down the idea of cricket being an English sport was the Irish people witnessing an Irish team beat England at what they call their own sport," said John Mooney, who grew up in a working-class family in Fingal, played GAA and "didn't tell anybody that I played cricket" when he was growing up.

"For some people it's always going to be, if you don't play GAA then you're not a true patriot," Cecelia explains. But Ed reckons cricket is viewed no differently to rugby today, and estimates only 20% of the sport's old image problem remains. "You still wouldn't want to be wandering around some parts of the city with a cricket bat and stuff but rugby is the same. Cricket has become far more acceptable now. You get into a taxi now and they all know about the cricket - it's amazing. It's part of the sporting landscape in Ireland."

There is growing acceptance for cricket in Ireland despite its English roots

There is growing acceptance for cricket in Ireland despite its English roots © AFP

In the 110 years that Merrion have played at Anglesea Road, never has the ground been in such demand as it is today. When Ed joined Merrion it had four adult male teams; today it has eight. The club did not have any women's team at all when Cecelia and Isobel joined, meaning they had to forge their careers with the boys' sides; now Merrion has two women's teams. Today there are 130 cricket sides in Leinster, the province Bray is located in, double the number 40 years ago.

And it is back in Bray that Ed finds most pride. Last year Presentation College, his old school, got its first cricket pitch. The school has always been a rugby bastion, but a rugby pitch was moved to accommodate the cricket wicket - a small symbol of how the sport has pushed itself into the Irish mainstream.

The Joyces have been at the heart of cricket's development at Presentation College. Ed regularly visits for training days and has generously donated kit and training gear; boys at the school are often seen wearing his Irish jerseys. Johnny, the oldest Joyce brother and an international chess player, is a volunteer cricket coach for the school's four teams, all formed last year. The Under-13s are skippered by Johnny's son Macdara who is also in the junior provincial team and so has taken the family legacy of cricket into a third generation. "The entire family are the reason that youth cricket is available in the school and the reason we are winning matches," says Kevin Conroy, a teacher in charge of cricket.

"Children would have known about cricket but they would never have got out bats and balls," Ed reflects. "Now they play cricket at school. There's no stigma attached to it anymore."

*22:12:59 GMT, JUne 2, 2016: Originally wrongly stated that Mike Hendrick played for Middlesex

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

 

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  • POSTED BY PratUSA on | June 3, 2016, 16:06 GMT

    A great read, a real cricket story. I was in Dublin for a weekend last September and never saw any sign of cricket but thanks for Joyce family and other cricketers in the island nation, I have no doubt it will be different next time I get to visit, and I have no doubt that many members of Joyce family will be playing test cricket for Ireland in coming years.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | June 2, 2016, 19:20 GMT

    Very interesting piece. But if Ed wants to play Test cricket in 2019 - and I really hope he achieves his ambition - wouldn't he be better off continuing to play county cricket in England? I speak as a Sussex fan who will be very sorry to lose him! Mike Hendrick played for Derbyshire and Notts, not Middlesex.

  • POSTED BY SharkyLeo on | June 2, 2016, 13:32 GMT

    Great piece Tim. Ed's body language in the initial photo very familiar to those of us who enjoy his sublime batting at Hove.