Women's cricket in Ireland has entered a new era, with twenty central contracts handed out for the first time.
Cricket Ireland has confirmed the process, which contributes to an increase in funding in the women's game to €1.5million annually.
Head coach Ed Joyce has also signed a three-year extension, and three of the biggest cricketing nations will visit Ireland this summer.
"Today’s announcements underline our deep commitment to women’s and girls’ elite cricket and put us firmly on the path of not only becoming a major nation in world cricket, but a major sport in Ireland," said Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom.
“However, the work behind-the-scenes to get to this point has - in reality - been three years in the making. Coming off the back of the team’s performance at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in 2018, we – as an organisation – committed ourselves to a journey to professionalise women’s cricket.
"It was not only a good thing to do, it was the right thing to do. Women’s cricket’s time has come around the world – we’ve seen the incredible growth and professionalisation of the women’s game across several major nations like Australia, England and India and the strong focus on female cricket in the new ICC strategy.
"It’s now Ireland’s turn."
The women's game received just €500,000 a year from 2016 to 2019. Thursday's announcement sees that figure tripled.
Of the twenty contracts handed out, seven will be full-time professionals, nine are part-time/educational and there are four non-retainer contracts.
Meanwhile, Ireland will play three T20 internationals, and three one-day internationals against South Africa in June.
While July in Bready will see a tri-nations T20i series involving Ireland, Pakistan and Australia.
Ireland captain Laura Delaney said, "As a squad we are truly excited and thankful for this opportunity – it is something that many of us never would have dreamed of when we started out playing the sport we love.
"While thankful, though, we also acknowledge the hard work, sacrifice and commitment shown by the players to achieve the honour of representing our country at the highest levels.
“And, as fortunate as the players here today are for having this opportunity, we know that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us.
"For many years, legends of our Irish women’s cricket have fought hard to achieve successes on and off the field. To the generations of women who came before us, we say thank you. You have helped us get here today, and we hope we can do you proud.
“To the squad I say simply, enjoy it. Enjoy this opportunity – be thankful, but know that you’ve earned the right to stand where you are.
"This is Day One of what I hope is an incredible journey we will take together - it may get tough at times, it may be challenging, but it should be an experience like no other. To travel the world playing cricket for Ireland – there’s no better feeling.”
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