Thursday's showdown at Malahide against Sri Lanka will be the first of 11 ODIs for Ireland in a busy fixture list through the end of September. Cricket Ireland chairman Ross McCollum said that though the fan build up to the Sri Lanka series had been positive, commercial success was not the biggest priority for the series, but rather getting an opportunity to improve Ireland's ranking on the 12-team ODI table.
"First and foremost, it's been great to get these games, and hopefully, we'll play between 12 and 15 ODIs this year, which is a significant change compared to what we've played in the past," McCollum told ESPNcricinfo. "It's important that we get as many people as we can, but for us, it's all about playing the games. Playing the games is extremely important to us, not just because of the 12-team ODI system at the moment, but it's for our players to play against that level of competition. That needs to continue for us to improve.
"Hopefully, we'll get good weather, good cricket and we'll have a good day. The support for Ireland has always been pretty positive and pretty good, so hopefully that won't change. I know there has been a lot of support from the Asian community in Dublin, so hopefully we'll get a large crowd there. For us, it's always good to play in front of a good crowd, because it certainly adds to the atmosphere and adds to Cricket Ireland's coffers, no doubt."
Ireland's most recent fixtures came in the World T20, where they suffered an upset defeat at the hands of Oman in their opening group fixture, and ultimately went winless to fall short of qualifying for the main draw. Though the performance fell short of expectations, McCollum said that confidence remained high coming into the Sri Lanka matches, keeping in mind Ireland's performance at the 50-over World Cup in 2015, when they defeated West Indies.
"I think everybody is well aware that our performance in the T20 World Cup was probably not what we expected," McCollum said. "There's no doubt about that and there's nobody more aware of that than the actual players and the squad themselves. I don't think they have points to prove, because in ODI cricket, they've played very well and people forget how well we did in the World Cup 12, 14, 15 months ago. But the players look forward to these types of games and they're always out to prove themselves against this quality of opposition."
Aside from Ireland's two matches against Sri Lanka, their home slate also includes a five-ODI series against Afghanistan and two ODIs against Pakistan. A return series against Afghanistan is tentatively scheduled to be held early next year, and McCollum said the possibility of ODIs or T20s against UAE or Oman could potentially be packaged as part of an Asia tour, though cost would be the deciding factor.
"The ICC, certainly with regard to the Afghanistan matches, they've helped considerably or else they wouldn't have happened, so we'd be hopeful of that going forward over the next two to three years," McCollum said. "It's something that we're very conscious of, because for Ireland to get to where they are now, we've been helped by other Full Members along the way.
"Certainly, I'm of the view that where there is an opportunity for us to do that and it's financially viable, then yes, we would assist with regard to that. A lot of it depends on where we are, who is available, and how much it's going to cost. Even though we have nothing set in stone with regard to UAE or Oman and countries like that and playing against them, I certainly would be quite positive that it's something we would look at."
Ireland have already confirmed a tri-series against New Zealand and Bangladesh for 2017's home summer, and McCollum said they were currently in negotiations for a series against Zimbabwe. McCollum acknowledged that getting to eighth place on the ODI table for the September 2017 cutoff date for 2019 World Cup qualification would be "extremely challenging" due to Ireland's current standing on the ODI table - in 12th place with 42 points, which is 52 behind eighth-placed West Indies - but said it was equally important for Ireland to stay competitive against Zimbabwe and Afghanistan in the event that they have to face off against them in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier.
"We're going to be down in South Africa in September," McCollum said. "We will play South Africa and Australia when we're down there because they have an ODI series, so they're basically using us as preparation for that, which we're quite happy to accommodate with. We're working on some more fixtures before the end of the year, but that has not been confirmed. Since the start of the 12-team ODI system, we've engaged with all of the Full Members with regards to matches building through to 2017 and 2018.
"Hopefully we'll have something against Zimbabwe in the not-too-distant future. It's great playing marquee matches against all the big nations, but we still have to look after our world ranking and make sure we're competitive at that level. So for us, the Afghanistan matches are absolutely key."