Last week against the West Indies, Mooney again scored the winning runs as Ireland completed a chase of over 300 against a Test team in the World Cup. There the similarities end.
“It felt quite different really,” Mooney reflects. “The England game was a unique win in a way — we were dead and buried. We weren’t favourites at any stage to win that day whereas against the West Indies we were well on top, and when I went out to bat, it was almost a formality.
“That’s the best I’ve seen an Irish team bat ever. We were in total control the whole time. I’ve seen a lot of good performances from this side and past sides but that was just pure controlled aggression.”
His words embody the change in how Irish cricket views itself: from extras top scoring in a defeat to Berkshire to thumping the West Indies in 13 years.
As a veteran of three World Cup campaigns, Mooney is well placed to assess how far Irish cricket has come. “I don’t think we have that insecurity when we meet big players in the hotels — we’re all big players like them. That’s the difference. We are respected now as a really good side,” he says. “There’s a belief within the squad that we deserve to be here — that we’re on a par with these big teams.”
The crux is that “professionally we’re miles ahead of both those squads”.
Ireland have never been better prepared going into a world event and in the nerveless display against the West Indies, it showed. In 2011, Ireland began with a crunch match, against Bangladesh in Chittagong, only for their batting to collapse in pursuit of 206 to win.
“The West Indies was a big pressure game, but we’d learned from the mistakes in Bangladesh that you can’t just tiptoe into these tournaments,” Mooney says. “You have to go in and play not carefree cricket but with the mentality that it’s just another game, and that’s what we did. We were so relaxed but so up for it at the same time.”
A year ago, few would have imagined Mooney would be in Nelson at all. Last February, he left Ireland’s tour of the West Indies because of a stress-related illness. In September, he admitted the extent of his battle with depression, saying that he had even contemplated committing suicide.
Those struggles seemed a world away from Nelson, the idyllic embodiment of small-town New Zealand. Mooney was cheered on by 26 of his family, including brother Paul, a former Ireland cricketer himself. “I don’t think I’d ever played a game for Ireland where my whole family have been there. It was really special.”
Mooney’s family was on hand to see him begin Ireland’s World Cup campaign with a maiden. Bowling from unusually wide of the crease, his unorthodox trajectory created problems for the West Indian openers. “I’ve started getting wider and wider as I’ve got older,” he explains. “It does cause the batters to adjust the way that they play.”
While Ireland’s medium pace fared rather better later in the West Indies innings, conceding 167 from the last 15 overs, it mattered not, given how clinically Ireland’s top order approached the chase of 305. In the process a point was made to the ICC.
“We don’t have to prove the ICC wrong — they proved themselves wrong week after week with some of the decisions they make,” Mooney says. “It’s an absolute disgrace that they’re looking to cut the next World Cup down to 10 teams.”
Growing up in North County Dublin, Mooney has admitted to not always telling friends that he played cricket. The stigma once attached to cricket, the preserve of ‘West Brits’, no longer exists. “We are changing public opinion on cricket within Ireland,” he says. “You’ve got farmers and Gaelic speakers tweeting and facebooking about the results.”
The hope is that Ireland reaching the quarter-finals would go a long way to changing minds in the boardrooms of the ICC. “If you get to the quarter-finals you’re only two games away from the final.”
* Ireland play UAE at Brisbane Cricket Ground tomorrow morning at 3.30am Irish time. Live coverage on Sky Sports World Cup (SS2).