Ireland boosted by return of Ed Joyce on full-time basis
Veteran batsman Ed Joyce has committed to play for Ireland on a full-time basis.
The 38-year-old will also play in the domestic Inter-Provincial Series and hopes to be "part of the team that plays Ireland's first Test match".
The Dublin-born left-hander had been out of contract with Sussex, for whom he will remain available for part of the 2017 County Championship campaign.
Joyce recently returned home and had surgery on an injured knee.
He is one of 10 players to agree a central category-A contract with Cricket Ireland in the list released by the governing body on Wednesday.
The former England international scored 1,026 Championship runs at an average of 64.12 for Sussex last season, but missed Ireland's one-day matches against Australia and South Africa in September because of injury.
Joyce joined Sussex from Middlesex in 2009 and captained the side from July 2012 until the end of the 2015 season.
Ireland return 'a big decision'
"Coming back to play full-time for Ireland and also play in the Inter-Provincial series was a big decision but also quite an easy one in the end," said Joyce, who played 17 one-day internationals for England in 2006 and 2007.
"Test cricket is the pinnacle for any cricketer. Ireland has a huge opportunity in the next few years to play at the highest level and I want to be part of the team that plays Ireland's first Test match," said Joyce.
"With Ireland's fixture list growing year on year it makes sense to come back at this stage.
"Also now that the inter-pros have first-class and list-A status, I wanted to be involved right from the start and lend my experience to that competition.
"We're at the stage where we need to be more consistent and competitive as an international side and we also require the inter-pros to improve and provide a steady stream of players ready to perform well for Ireland.
"My focus in the next few years, while I'm still playing, is to help us achieve both of these goals. It's a really exciting time to be an Irish cricketer and I can't wait for the 2017 season to get going."
Busy schedule planned for 2017
Ireland have ODIs in 2017 against New Zealand, Bangladesh, and West Indies on home soil, as well as playing England at Bristol and Lord's.
Cricket Ireland performance director Richard Holdsworth welcomed Joyce's decision to play a full role in the coming season, saying: "We are delighted Ed has agreed to return home to play in Ireland's inaugural season of domestic first-class cricket.
"It has been one of our strategic objectives to bring players back home from England and for Ed to be the first is very appropriate. He has given great service to Sussex as an outstanding batsman and leader, and we are grateful for their support to Ed's Ireland career over those years.
"Ed will not only be based here in Ireland training with the national squad, but will also help our next generation of international cricketers in a specialist batting and leadership coaching role, working with the Shapoorji Pallonji National Academy and Ireland youth squads as well as mentoring some national performance squad players."
There are three newcomers to full contracts in Irish Player of the Year John Anderson, Andrew Balbirnie and Jacob Mulder.
Nine others players have agreed category-B contracts - those with other employers, such as county cricketers.
New players include Barry McCarthy and Greg Thompson, while Niall O'Brien - no longer playing county cricket - will play his first season of Inter-Provincial cricket, as well as taking on a new specialist wicketkeeping role.
Holdsworth continued: "Barry McCarthy has had a great start to his international career and fully deserves a contract, whilst Greg Thompson has proven his ability in the T20 format in particular.
"It is great news for the Inter-Provincial series that Niall will be joining Ed Joyce in our new first-class competition, but also playing a key part in developing our young wicket-keepers in the national pathway.
National Performance Squad - player contracts 2017
John Anderson (Merrion/Leinster Lightning, Andrew Balbirnie (Pembroke/Leinster Lightning), Peter Chase (Malahide/Leinster Lightning); George Dockrell (Leinster/Leinster Lightning); Ed Joyce (Leinster Lightning), Andrew McBrine (Donemana/NW Warriors), Jacob Mulder (CIYMS/Northern Knights), Kevin O'Brien (Railway Union/Leinster Lightning), Stuart Thompson (Eglinton/NW Warriors), Craig Young (Bready/NW Warriors).
Barry McCarthy (Durham/Leinster Lightning), Tim Murtagh (Middlesex), Niall O'Brien (Leinster Lightning); William Porterfield (Warwickshire), Stuart Poynter (Durham/Leinster Lightning), Boyd Rankin (Warwickshire), Paul Stirling (Middlesex), Greg Thompson (Waringstown/Northern Knights), Gary Wilson (Derbyshire/Northern Knights).