Conor relishing T20 World Cup challenge

As Ireland head to Hobart for their crucial T20 World Cup Group matches next week, the Derry Journal’s Kevin McLaughlin spoke with Bready pace bowler Conor Olphert about his preparations for the global tournament.

There won’t be many cricketers at this month’s ICC T20 World Cup in Australia who are in the process of starting their final year at university and also moving house, but that is exactly the case for Ireland’s Conor Olphert.

The talented paceman started his fourth and final year at Jordanstown studying mechanical engineering, the same week that he headed with the Irish squad ‘Down Under’.

Olphert also revealed that whenever he received his call-up to Heinrich Malan’s squad, he was right in the middle of moving house. And now he’s challenging to get into the Ireland side which starts their ICC T20 World Cup campaign against Zimbabwe on Monday morning.

All of the Ireland games will be shown live on Sky Sports, with next Monday’s match getting underway at 9am.

“It’s actually a nice distraction with everything going on, because if it was just cricket in my life then I think my head would be a bit fried, so being able to have life outside of it is a good thing,” he insisted.

“I also have university going on as I have started my final year on my mechanical engineering course, so it’s going to be an interesting few weeks. Starting your final year of university in a different time zone could be tough!

“I don’t think I’ll get much free time off during the cricket but whatever time I do get I’ll be studying most of it.

“Let’s be honest, regardless of my plans four years ago whenever I started university at Jordanstown I did not think by my final year I would be going to participate in a World Cup.

“I have to admit going to Uni has helped me, because I have been a bit more flexible with my time to train. Before that I was working both day and night shifts, so it was never easy to train, but whenever I went to Uni, I would be in the gym all the time.”

The 26-year-old, who got his first taste of T20 international cricket against India in the summer, can’t wait to lock horns with Zimbabwe, Scotland and West Indies but remains confident that Ireland can progress.

“It’s meant to be tough and that’s what makes it exciting, but I know on our day, that our team and our squad has plenty of talented players.  I also know T20 cricket can quickly go either way,” he explained.

“The West Indies will be favourites in our group, but they’ve been beaten before- in fact Ireland have beaten them before so why can’t we go and do it again? It’s a one-off match, it’s like tossing a coin, so yes, we can win it.

“From my own International perspective, playing against India was a nice way to start as I was playing against some of the best players in the world. I was just a guy from the North West who was playing for his club a week or two ago, so yeah it was quite bizarre.

“It was good to be in the side to test myself against that calibre of player. I felt I had one good game and one bad game, but I know that whenever I miss my line or length at that level, it’s inevitable that quality batters will go after me.

“You just have to have a clear plan, back yourself and enjoy yourself. You can’t dwell on anything in T20 cricket, maybe in Test cricket or whatever if you bowl a bad ball you get smacked for four, you could get smacked for four twice in one over whereas in T20 it’s a game of cat and mouse.”

Conor will become the second Olphert to play representative cricket for Ireland following in his father Mark’s footsteps.

Olphert senior, who had a tremendous career with Bready and the North West, made one Ireland appearance in 1998 against Australia ‘A’, is Conor’s inspiration.

The North West Warriors bowler concedes his earliest memories of cricket was watching his father produce the goods for the Magheramason men and he admits that his father or any family members won’t be able to make the trip Down Under to see part of the Ireland squad.

“I don’t think he’s going to be able to travel to Australia, as it’s a bit short notice, but he has been my biggest inspiration,” stated the North West Warriors bowler.

“He played for Ireland himself, he’s a massive club man and I have been watching him since I was no age. My earliest memories are sitting in the old field in Bready between cars watching him both bat and bowl and I’m just glad that I’ve been able to reach the heights that he reached.

“No family is going to be able to make the trip at such short notice. People have work and other commitments and getting to Australia isn’t that easy. It’s not really fair to drag anyone out to Australia for three to five weeks or however long we’ll be there.”

Unfortunately, Olphert won’t have fellow Bready native Craig Young alongside him for the tournament; the pace bowler ruled out last weekend because of a chronic injury issue.

Young travelled home because of a recurring injury and has been replaced in the squad by former Coleraine man, Graham Hume.

The Liverpool supporter hopes everyone in the region is happy with his efforts and he also admits it’s great that he’s keeping the club’s good tradition going by being selected for the Boys in Green.

“I just want to go to the World Cup and make the North West proud because I want to be the best that I can be for the people back here,” added Olphert.

“It’s quite bizarre that this one club from the North West has produced so many Ireland internationals. We’ve gone from a club team who played a lot of junior cricket to eventually get into the senior league and managed to stay there for over 30 years and continue to produce all these players.

“Obviously over the years the club has grown and gone from strength to strength. We’ve expanded the facilities and did everything to make sure that we produced good cricketers and the youth system has been fantastic.”

Despite the unfortunate injury to Craig, there will still be plenty for North West supporters to enjoy during the tournament.

Here’s hoping Conor, and Ireland will be there for the duration!


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