Ed Joyce on his England past, 2015 World Cup ambitions and the future of Ireland cricket

Ed Joyce on his England past, 2015 World Cup ambitions and the future of Ireland cricket

CROSSING the road and stepping onto the damp veranda of one of Hove’s trendy coffee haunts, Ed Joyce pulls out a chair and apologises for running late.

He sits down, wearing a warm smile.

“Can I get you a coffee?” he asks.

The sun beats down on the coastal town that Ed has called home for six years.

It sits only one-and-a-half hours outside of London yet feels a world away from the hectic bustle.

Across the decking, a group of friends are gathered around a table, a colourfully dressed young man chats loudly on his phone. Just outside several men hop into a van with their coffees-to-go.

Amid the commotion Ed enters unnoticed.

He’s the Sussex captain; represented England during their 2006 Ashes tour and will be heading to the World Cup with the Ireland squad early next year.

The coffees arrive, as does the unexpected reason for his delay.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was just at the ground [Sussex County Cricket Ground] washing my kit.”

It’s hardly the opening introduction that might be expected of a two-time 50-Over World Cup veteran.

“Someone’s gotta do it. Plus, I’m an expert with vanish,” he jokes, sipping his Americano.

It’s Friday and the Dublin native explains that he’s back in Brighton enjoying a day off… almost. He’s just spent several days in Nottingham for the penultimate week of the county season.

Ed’s enjoyed a great run of form for Sussex this year, hitting his eighth century of the season just days before.

But he never had the burning desire to turn a childhood passion playing cricket into a lifelong career.

“I had no ambitions to play professional cricket, ever,” he says.

“I was really happy playing cricket in Ireland and for Ireland [playing] at 18 is pretty good anyway.

“I got spotted by a few people who had county knowledge at Middlesex. I went over to play a second team game. It didn’t go brilliantly but [still] I didn’t want to go back.

“I had two sisters that lived in London so that was a draw. It was easier than going over on my own.

“Helen lived in Turnpike Lane up near Tottenham. Walking down Green Lane I think it was, with my cricket bag and blazer on, was a bit spicy sometimes. Another sister lives all over the place: Bethnal Green, Morden…

“It was not very handy for cricket at Lords but it was nice having family there.”

It’s hard to believe that as one of Ireland’s key players and a familiar name across the Irish Sea he never intentionally set out to reach the heights he has done in his career.

Eight years ago the then uncapped cricketer became the surprise inclusion into England’s Ashes squad as Marcus Trescothick’s replacement, after the batsman returned home with a stress-related illness.

England awarded him the opportunity, paved his way for success. However, it’s his country of birth where he wished his allegiances remained.

“I’m an Irishman. I’m not English,” he says. “It’s funny saying that having played for England but I honestly wish I just played for Ireland and that route was open to me.

“But I can’t say anything negative from my time with England apart from that I wish I’d done a bit better.

“Obviously I learned my basic cricket in Ireland but this is where I sort of became a very good player, so in a way it’s a natural progression to go on and play for England.

“I wish Ireland had a really good team when I was younger and I could have gone and played Test cricket for Ireland.

“It would have been absolutely amazing, and hopefully we can still do that in a few years’ time when I’m not too old. That would be great.”

Ironically, Joyce made his one-day international debut for England in 2006 against Ireland in Belfast.

In his first 50-Over World Cup in 2007, the cricketer, who spent joyful years developing his craft at South Dublin’s Merrion ground, represented England.

He became the first Irish player in the modern era to do so.

Four years later in the subsequent tournament he returned to represent Ireland having re-qualified for his home country.

It may no longer be an intrinsic tug-of-war for Joyce, who will be dressed in green in next year’s World Cup, but did he ever meet with a backlash?

“A little bit, a tiny amount,” he says.

“Never anything to my face. It was more social media and stuff like that but really minimal.

“I think people who know the game know why I did both things. It was the best decision I made to go back and play for Ireland. They’re playing better now than they ever have.

“Ireland wasn’t a viable option for professional cricketers to have a professional career because it didn’t exist.”

Born and raised 20km south of Dublin, in Bray, he explains that along with his four brothers and four sisters he grew up in a “good old Irish family”.

Significantly, he is one of five siblings to have represented the national team. His two brothers, Gus and Dom, and twin sisters Cecelia and Isobel, who is currently captain of the women’s team, have also played for Ireland.

“My dad was just a bit of a cricket nut from nowhere,” he says.

“He didn’t really play as a kid; he just loved the idea of the game. He was the influence. BBC used to show the cricket, the England Test matches, so I used to watch a lot of that. It was always on the telly.

“We nearly had a full team (my uncle and cousin played as well) so we used to have games between the family. The Joyce’s against the rest once a year.

“GAA isn’t massive in Wicklow so there’s no Gaelic influence on me. I played rugby, soccer and cricket as a kid, I didn’t play Gaelic. I wish I had actually.”

Ed went on to study Economics at Trinity College where he met his wife. They have two young children: Georgiou, 3, and Sebastian, 10 months.

“It’s tough on them. That’s the hardest bit, having a family,” he says, explaining how he dropped the kids off at nursery before the interview.

Touring throughout winter with Ireland means that he’s usually away from the family during this period also.

This particular winter is different. Joyce has not joined his team mates on their acclimatisation tour of Australia and New Zealand ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

He’s nursing several niggling injuries and working with the physiotherapists and staff at Sussex on his recovery in time for the tournament, which kicks off in February.

“I had a hip operation five years ago but it’s not actually that,” he says.

“That’s actually fine at the moment. I just have loads of niggles. I would be the only guy playing county cricket who is my age.

“Most of the guys are in their late 20s, so cricket season takes a bit more of a toll on me.

“But I know all of those guys inside out and this [acclimatisation] tour is more about trying to find the three or four [players].

“In the nicest possible way I think we know 10/11 of the lads who are going to go and I think this team has 18 players going so there’s a few places up for grabs.”

He may be casually dressed in his red t-shirt and jeans, but there’s nothing casual about his ambitions for Ireland to become a Test nation.

“There’s a good few of us saying that Ireland has to move from being that plucky, underdog side, win-a-game-every-two-or-three-years type of team.

“I think we’ve gotta have a change in mindset to push on and become a better team.

“We’ll always be a decent team because we have good players. We’re located very close to England so a lot of the guys are playing county cricket, which will improve them.

“But I think the next step is to lose that slight inferiority complex.

“That’s probably part of my job to try and develop that because I’ve played a lot of cricket now and I’m one of the older guys.

“Everyone listens to what I say and I’ve probably played a little bit longer and realised that’s our next move so hopefully we can do that.”

And with that lasting thought, he leaves.

Not a single head turns as he walks across the now dried veranda. He steps into the sunshine and across the road, in the background, for now.