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The bittersweet joy of Ireland's historic first Test match with England

Irish fan Laura Caughey's love of cricket was partially inspired by England's success. Credit: Laura Caughey

History is being made at the home of cricket this week as England and Ireland play a Test match for the first time.

And a remarkable upset is on the cards after England crashed to 85 all out on Wednesday morning at Lord's, a first day onslaught led by veteran Irish bowler Tim Murtagh.

Whatever the result, the match has been hailed by the Irish players as the "pinnacle" in their history in the sport.

But what does it mean to the loyal fans?

Laura Caughey was confident the Irish could spring a surprise and sober up England supporters still drunk on the nation's recent World Cup success.

And she even predicted Murtagh would do wonders on the opening day's play when she spoke to ITV News just before the first ball was bowled on Wednesday.

Ireland's first day success was inspired by veteran seam bowler Tim Murtagh. Credit: PA

Yet it was England's 2005 Ashes winning heroes who had helped fuel Laura's love of cricket in Northern Ireland - to the surprise of those around her.

"It's puzzled most of my friends and family," she told ITV News from Belfast as she prepared for her flight over to London.

It didn't take long for her allegiance to the sport she learned in PE to be entirely Ireland focused and become part of a hardcore minority.

"The people who are into cricket in Ireland really live and breathe it," she said.

"Beyond that it's seen as a niche interest. My friends weren't really interested. At work no one talks about it but me!

Laura grew up playing cricket. Credit: Laura Caughey

"But there's a wider interest with Ireland getting Test status (in 2017) and now big high-profile games on the world stage against (many of the England players from) a World Cup winning team."

It was an Irishman who led England to glory, of course.

Laura regards England's One-Day skipper Eoin Morgan "one of the greatest sports stars Ireland has ever produced", adding: "He can be so proud of what he's achieved."

She said she can understand why he and others like Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin (who is now back in the Irish Test team) took the opportunity to represent England - but wishes it could have been different.

Laura is a member of her hometown Carrickfergus Cricket Club. Credit: Laura Caughey

"Those guys who came through were good enough to be at that level but the structure (in Ireland) didn't support that," she said.

"Going overseas and playing for England gave them the chance to do that. They had a lot of support going over there.

"You were happy to see them do the best they can at the top level. But we'd have preferred it to be for us."

Ireland have taken on England at cricket before and won, but never in a match that ran beyond a day or 20 overs.

Laura said she has seen a big growth in the women's game in recent years. Credit: Laura Caughey

The teams played a first One Day International (ODI) in 2006 before the Irish broke through at the Cricket World Cup a year later with shock victories over Pakistan and Bangladesh.

A famous first ODI win over England followed at the 2011 World Cup.

This week's Lord's Test match is Ireland's third since gaining Test status in 2017 but the first time they have faced England in the purest form of the game.

"It is really hard to put into words. This is quite a sentimental occasion for a lot of fans," Laura explains.

Irish fans are hoping for a first Test win after defeats to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Credit: PA

Laura has seen a generation of Ireland's finest players develop elite careers in county cricket while she lived in London and, though now living back in Belfast, remains a member of Middlesex.

She now plays cricket at her hometown club in Carrickfergus, which has provided its own roll call of players to the national setup, and has seen the nation's elite cricket status have an impact on numbers already.

"It's filtered down into the women's game," Laura says.

"There has been a big growth in women's cricket in Ireland and particularly in Northern Ireland."

She said the reward for her years of support for the underdog side has been getting to know her heroes.

Laura also serves as an umpire in the Irish leagues. Credit: Laura Caughey

"The Ireland team were always very accessible to us. There are people playing (in the Test against England) that I've known from club cricket," she said.

But she admits seeing some of the veterans compete on this stage is also "bittersweet", with the breakthrough in the Test arena coming "too late" for the likes of 34-year-old captain William Porterfield and Murtagh.

And she lists other standout international players like Joyce, Trent Johnston and John Mooney - all now retired - who would have relished this occasion.

"If it wasn't for the sacrifices they made, this kind of game wouldn't have happened," she said.

For the younger talent in the current Test side - like 23-year-old pair James McCollum and Mark Adair - opportunity has knocked at just the right time.

Mark Adair bowls during day one of the Specsavers Test Series match at Lord's. Credit: PA

"The future's looking good," Laura said. "We've got a really good crop of U19s - they're flying out today to the World Cup qualifiers.

"They will hopefully say 'that could be me in a few years'. They know they can now reach the pinnacle of the game (with Ireland)."

So after this Test will Laura throw her support behind England for the impending Ashes series against Australia?

After all, it was the Ashes heroes like Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, Freddie Flintoff and Andrew Strauss who had first inspired her love of the sport.

"It's a tricky one," Laura says.

"I've always followed England. I wouldn't say I necessarily supported them but I always want them to do well.

"I'm hoping for an exciting Ashes series. But these days, when it comes to the Ashes, I'm a neutral."

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