England have never met Ireland in any cricket format at Trent Bridge but when their ODI happens this month, it will not be the first time that the two nations have clashed at the famous old ground.

In February 1897 – fully two years before the first Test Match at Trent Bridge – the two played a football international on the ground; the playing area was much bigger then and could accommodate a football pitch without encroaching on the cricket square.England, without a representative from either Nottingham club, won the match 6-0. Robinson of Derby County saved a penalty from Ireland’s Bob Milne in a match watched, according to contemporary reports, by a crowd equal to one that cricket might have attracted (the first Test, in 1899 – with the attraction of WG Grace – managed 15,000).

Splendid weather prevailed, and there were over 10,000 people at the match. - The Times - Monday 22 February 1897

An Ireland side, at any sport, did not play again at Trent Bridge for well over 100 years.

The first ever match between Nottinghamshire and Ireland took place at College Park, Dublin, in July 1950. Walter Keeton and skipper William Sime each scored half-centuries as the match ended in a draw. Peter Harvey took eleven wickets in the match, which was not First-Class.

Ireland did, though, play in Nottingham in August 1937 when they faced Sir Julien Cahn’s XI at West Park, West Bridgford.  Stuart Rhodes, Sir Julien himself, and John Hall all played in a drawn game.

Cahn had taken teams to Dublin and Belfast several times in the 1930s, with a number of Notts players involved including John Gunn, Tom Reddick, Rhodes and Hall.

In 2008, Nottinghamshire met Ireland at Trent Bridge for the first time in what was then the Friends Provident Trophy (50-overs).  It was a return match – the away tie having been played in Dublin earlier that season – and was a close-run thing, Notts winning by one run!

Voges, Read and Patel each made a half-century for Notts. Chasing 242, Ireland made 240-6 in their 50 overs; Kevin O’Brien gave notice of his powers, making 93no from 75 balls – probably no coincidence that Notts took him as a List-A player for the following season.

The earlier match, at Castle Avenue, Dublin, had been a more comfortable win for Notts with Voges and Read again top scoring for the visitors.

Castle Avenue had also been the venue for a match in the third round of the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy in 2002 when Usman Afzaal – 64no and 3-8 in four overs – starred in an eight-wicket win for the Outlaws.

The two sides met again in the Friends Provident in 2009 (Kevin O’Brien joined Notts once Ireland’s participation ended). At Trent Bridge, Notts won comfortably, thanks to 106 by Alex Hales (his first List-A ton).  In Dublin, in a match reduced to 34-overs per side, Notts won by two wickets with one ball to spare. Samit Patel, with 6-13, was Man-of-the-Match.

That was the year that Ireland first played international matches at Trent Bridge – meeting Bangladesh, India and New Zealand in the T20 World Cup.

Niall (40) and Kevin O’Brien, 39no, starred with the bat as they beat Bangladesh by six wickets in their first match.  Ireland lost heavily to India, who chased down a meagre 113 in 15 overs, in game two and suffered another heavy defeat (83 runs) to New Zealand; James Franklin and Ian Butler, both to spend a season with Notts in future years, played for the Kiwis in this game.

That ended Ireland’s interest in the competition and was the last time they played at Trent Bridge – until the 2023 ODI.

Since 2009, the Irish team has been increasingly competitive in international tournaments.

In 2011, Ireland scored their most memorable win (though knocking the West Indies out of the 2022 Cup runs it close), beating England in a World Cup match at Bangalore, thanks to a record-breaking 113 from that man Kevin O’Brien (still the fastest World Cup ton). Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad played for England, as did Kevin Pietersen, though by that time he was no longer a Notts player. (Swann’s 3-47 at 4.70 looked positively miserly in the face of O’Brien’s assault – 13 fours and 6 sixes)

Stuart Broad and Notts’s new signing Ollie Stone were in the England side that nearly made a hash of the First Test between the two countries, at Lord’s in July 2019. Inspired by Tim Murtagh, Ireland skittled England for 85 in the first innings (Stone, on Test debut, second top score of just 19, Murtagh 5-13). By the end of day one, England were back out for a very brief 0-0, having dismissed Ireland for 207, Broad and Stone three wickets apiece. 

Thanks to a remarkable 92 from nightwatchman Jack Leach – sent in the evening before to protect one of the openers – England recovered to set up a 143-run win that was nowhere near as comfortable as that margin suggests.   Broad (4-19) and Chris Woakes (6-17) shared the second innings wickets.

Kevin O’Brien was in that side and in Ireland’s first ever Test team, when he made a typically robust 118 – and thus his country’s first Test hundred – in a five-wicket loss to Pakistan at Malahide in 2018.

Kevin Joseph O’Brien was born in Dublin on 4 March 1984 into a sporting family.  His father, Brendan ‘Ginger’ O’Brien, played cricket for Ireland in the 1960s and 70s.  His older brother Niall was a regular alongside Kevin in the Ireland side and their sister Ciara was a hockey international for Ireland, amassing over 100 caps for her country. 

Kevin played eight List-A games for the Outlaws in the second half of the 2009 season, with a top score of 42 and just one wicket, a modest return for such a prolific cricketer.

The only other Irish-born player to represent Nottinghamshire was Charles Pepper, who was born on 6 June 1875 in County Cork but came to England as a young boy.  Initially a professional at Rye CC, he moved to Scotland and then to Nottingham in 1900.

A right-handed batter and right-arm medium bowler, Charles carried his bat throughout Notts Colts’ innings against Yorkshire Colts in May 1900 and subsequently played for Notts against the West Indies in July that year. Pepper played in seven County Championship matches, his only First-Class games, during the 1900 and 1901 seasons. He averaged 18.00 with the bat and a high score of 40no against Lancashire, in his last match; he also took three wickets at a cost of 24.00. 

Charles Pepper enlisted in the 16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters in WWI and was killed by a shell on 13 September 1917 while standing with his commanding officer outside the battalion headquarters in Flanders; he was 42 years old.  He was buried beside his CO at La Clytte Military Cemetery, Belgium.

Connections between the county and the country pre-date even Pepper by some 40 years – the first link we have found has Richard Daft, Cris Tinley, George Parr and Alfred Clarke playing against an Ireland XXII for the All England XI in 1860. Tinley, who took 23 wickets in that game, and his three Notts team-mates were in the same fixture a year later.

There were many Notts players in representative sides against Ireland in the Victorian era but one Trent Bridge stalwart, Jemmy Grundy, actually appeared for Ireland v MCC in Ireland’s first match in England at Lord’s in 1862. Grundy was on the MCC staff as a ground bowler at that time so presumably was ‘given’ to the visitors.

Tom Davis, who played a dozen First-Class games for Notts, spent five seasons as the professional in Dublin from 1865.  He played one game for Phoenix CC v I Zingari in 1869 when he also appeared for the United South of England XI v the Irish Military XXII. Eleven years later, he umpired Ireland North v Australians in Belfast; Notts team-mate Martin McIntyre was in the North side when he was engaged with the Belfast club.

In later years, Tom Davis was employed as superintendent of The Forest Recreation Ground.

From a football international to a cricket ODI has taken 125 years and a few detours and we greatly look forward to another century or more of Notts and Ireland.

September 2023