The more time one spends on the 22 yards, the more they understand this game and the more cricket-smart they become. This turf is just not about one or two games, but demands decades of experience and commitment. Clare Mary Alice Shillington, Ireland’s most experience player who started off as an off-spinner and lower order batsman and later emerged as one of the most successful openers for Irish women. The first player to reach the 100 caps mark for Ireland Women. What looks so successful always brings a series of struggles, fight and hard work.
Clare was born on 8thJanuary, 1981 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Starting as an off spinner, she became a successful long-standing opener who has become Ireland’s highest run scorer. Clare also captained the side for 15 games, but later announced her retirement from One Day Internationals in 2016.
In the ICC Women’s World T20 qualifiers held in 2018, Clare was named the player of the tournament after scoring 126 runs in five matches however announced she was retiring from playing after the World T20 tournament in the Windies in November.
In a conversation with Female Cricket, Clare took us down the memory lane from the initial days, her dreams and passions to here, the most experienced of the Irish Women.
Excerpts from the Interview
You started off as an off-spinner and eventually as an opener. Who or what took you from an off spinner to a crucial batswoman?
I started to struggle with my bowling action at around 19 and tried to regain it over the next few years, but I couldn’t return to the control I had and wanted. So I decided to permanently hang up the bowling boots, which was a tough decision as I loved the individual competition between a bowler and batter.
A dream match or record yet to be accomplished?
A dream match would be winning the World Cup! Personally, I would like to be the first Irish person to score a hundred in a World T20 Cup.
With the Women’s T20 World Cup coming up, how have you been working on the fitness in particular?
We have a full time Strength & Conditioning coach who has built our programmes to specifically peak for the World T20. There’s continued assessment built-in to monitor progression.
You’ve been a part of the Irish squad since a long time, what’s one thing which if changed, can give a boost to the team?
Gaining a spot in the ICC Women’s Championship and moving to a professional set-up is the direction we want to head.
You retired from the One Day Internationals in 2016, what are the positives of that?
I decided to retire from one day Internationals due to the increasing time commitments while trying to balance a full-time job. We are now in a position where we travel winter and summer and the sheer time off work needed was not sustainable for me. I was delighted that I could continue as an T20 player however this World Cup will be my last outing as an Irish player in any format.
Working with some new mates, what kind of difference do you see in their approach and cricketers 6-7 years ago?
We are now effectively running as a professional unit, both in terms of coaching/management and players. We try to think and conduct ourselves as full time professional athletes even though we are not.
A few things that need to be instilled before the coming World T20?
I am confident that by the time we play our first group game in Guyana we will be fully ready to take on the best in the world.
Walk us through some of those difficult times and how you dealt with them initially?
There are plenty of bad days in any sport. The good and great days help you forget them! In tough times I’ve always felt that surrounding myself with the best friends and coaches I could is what got me through.
Certain areas in cricket where you think your personal traits have played a huge role?
My competitiveness! I’m competitive in any sporting arena. There is always a huge drive to win and a desire to play in a style that will get those wins.
Being an off spinner to begin with, how was your approach towards a full time batswoman?
After deciding not to proceed with my bowling, it was essential for me to improve my batting technique and approach. Batting was probably always my favorite aspect of cricket but once it became my main trade I obviously focused more on it. Over the years I’ve tried to adapt and grow my game as required. I spend a lot of time working on my skills – I like to hit a lot of balls!
Whom do you idlolise and why?
Idolise is probably not quite the right word, but the person closest to that would be my brother. In terms of cricket, he built the cricketer that I am with hours, and hours, and hours of garden cricket growing up! He was a gifted cricketer, sportsman and a huge competitor.
A Complete revolutionary phase in women’s cricket in the past 7-8 years?
In global cricket, obviously the ICC Women’s Championship has meant that the top 8 nations are regularly playing each other in what is now a professional arena for all. For Irish cricket our goal has to be reaching this competition so that we can continue to grow playing the best in the world.
What is the most crucial aspect of Irish cricket that makes it different from all the others?
In terms of the teams ranked ahead of us, not being ‘professional’, in the work sense. If we could live, breath and sleep as professional cricketers I have no doubt we could compete with the best. As a nation we are great underdogs! You only have to look at the mammoth achievement in the recent Hockey Women’s World Cup in which the Irish women won silver. We’ll be looking to emulate their incredible performance on a world stage in the West Indies.
The 22 Yard stretch that molded me, is what I hold sacred. A cricketer weaving life’s innings into words. A Rohit Sharma Admirer always. I believe writing and cricket aren’t passions, but ways of life, so truly living the dream!