Cricket Ireland's aim of becoming the next Test-playing country has intensified, following their decision to award new two-year contracts to 10 players.
The growing cricketing nation is aiming to join Test ranks by the end of the decade and it is hoped that the latest set of deals offered will help fast-track the process.
Cricket Ireland awarded two-year deals to 10 of their players, while one-year contracts were given to another eight players.
"Our InterContinental Cup campaign – the pathway to Test cricket – has another 21 months to run and ensuring the availability of our top players was our rationale for offering a number of two-year contracts this time around," Cricket Ireland Performance Director Richard Holdsworth said.
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"With the World Twenty20 in India coming up soon plus a number of One-Day International series now we are part of the 12-team ODI rankings as well as two crucial ‘ICup’ matches, 2016 is going to be a huge year for the Ireland squad."
Former England international Ed Joyce was one of the players to be offered a two-year deal by Cricket Ireland, but the veteran batsman decided to take up a one-year offer as he continues to ponder his future.
"Ed Joyce was offered two years, but is keen to decide on his future career before committing longer-term which we entirely understand. He remains an integral part of the Ireland team, and is fully committed to our ambition of becoming the next Test nation," Holdsworth added.
"You only have to look at his stats in the ICup to recognise his importance to Irish cricket (Joyce has 853 runs at 94.78, including two double hundreds in the current campaign). We do realise that Ed is 37 and we are happy to help manage his workload accordingly.
"We have an extremely competitive and hungry group of players now with a well-balanced age profile and experience. With only 18 contracted at this stage, there will be strong competition for places in squads across the three formats, while we have cover should players pick up injuries."
2016 Cricket Ireland Player Contracts:
A category (6):
Andrew McBrine, Peter Chase, Kevin O’Brien*, Max Sorensen, Stuart Thompson, Craig Young*.
B category (12):
Andrew Balbirnie*+, George Dockrell*, Ed Joyce+, Graeme McCarter, Tim Murtagh*+, Niall O’Brien*+, William Porterfield*+, Andrew Poynter, Stuart Poynter+, Boyd Rankin*+, Paul Stirling*+, Gary Wilson*+
*2-year contracts until end Dec 2017
+ county contract