JAMES SHANNON: No regrets over move into full-time cricket for Instonians and Ireland ace
In 2017, James Shannon made the decision to quit his job and pursue a full-time career in cricket.
Fortune favours the brave and he has gone from strength to strength ever since - registering his first international Twenty20 50 against India last month plus involved in the 14-man squad named for the first-ever Test match against Pakistan in May.
The 29-year-old says it was an easy decision to make and with cricket growing every year in Ireland, he wasn’t about to sit there and watch it pass him by.
“It wasn’t a tough decision at all,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play cricket and knew deep down I was good enough to do it, it was just about the right timing and the right opportunities.
“With the first-class stuff last year and the talk of what was going to start happening to cricket in Ireland, I knew I wasn’t going to sit and just watch that - I wanted to be part of it.
“I think Johnty (Northern Knights coach, Simon Johnston) was a little bit hesitant at the start when I talked to him about it, but I had a lot of support from other close people.”
To break into an international team, you have to hit a tremendous amount of runs over an extended period of time, and that’s exactly what Shannon has done. He has perhaps had no better year personally than 2017, being named Interpro Player of the Year for his 754 runs in all formats - over 200 ahead of his nearest rival.
Shannon is looking to keep that sort of form going, and is looking to take his chance in the team.
“I had a good year personally for the Knights last year,” he said. “That gets you in the shop window, you’re not going to get in on mediocre performances, but you need to be constantly knocking down the door.
“We’ve seen what James McCollum is doing this year, and that is the kind of performances that guys need to be putting in at that level.
“It is a huge jump from Interpro to international level, so you have to be constantly scoring huge runs or taking a lot of wickets.
“I think when guys do that, you get a shot and you might get a squad call-up and it depends what you do with that in terms of hard work, graft and putting in a huge amount of effort.
“When you do get an opportunity, you hope for an extended run and that is something I was fortunate with.
“Those six games this summer in Holland and against India, I got the confidence of the management to go in and play those games.
“They could have easily pushed me to the side after the Holland games, but they kept me and showed faith in me.
“It’s important you score runs at any level, but when you do get that opportunity to get into an Irish side, it’s about working hard.
“When that opportunity does come, you’ve to be best prepared mentally and skilfully as you can.”
Ireland have just announced they will take on England in a four-day Test match at Lord’s in July as preparation for the Ashes series.
Shannon isn’t looking too far ahead, but admits it would be a dream to play in a match of that stature.
“It’s obviously fantastic for Cricket Ireland to go over and play England at Lord’s, it’s huge,” said Shannon. “The players and organisation are really excited about it, but personally, it’s about making sure you get picked for it so you don’t look too far ahead.
“It would be class to play in a game like that.”
Growing up at Instonians, there is one man that the majority of young cricketers would have looked up to - Andrew White. White made 231 appearances for Ireland before retiring in 2015 and Shannon says he has been instrumental to his career, especially during the tougher times.
“I’ve a huge amount of respect for him,” he said. “He had a hugely successful Ireland career for 20 years, he has always passed on a good amount of knowledge and been helpful and understanding when times have been difficult.
“He’s been great as a sounding board to bounce ideas off and he’s hugely respected in cricketing circles.
“It’s nice to play with him for Instonians and for the Knights. I remember watching him as a kid and he was one of the players I looked up to when I was 13/14.
“It’s nice you see that progression from watching him, to playing with him and you become good mates as well.”
Shannon is now the role model for younger players, taking the same role that White played for him.
They have been hit badly by injury this season, with the likes of Nikolai Smith and Nathan Smith out for the majority of the season and Shannon on the mend from a few weeks out with a thigh problem.
“It would be great if we were all fit, but that is just the way of cricket,” he said. “We have been hit badly with it, but guys are getting on with it anyway.
“It’s invaluable experience these guys are getting, and they have to take responsibility at the age of 16 or 17 and, to be honest, that’s going to pay us back, so it’s a win-win.”