The awarding of professional contracts by Cricket Ireland is just the first step in allowing the women's game to compete on an equal basis with the top nations, according to former international Cecelia Joyce.

A limited number of contacts will be offered in early 2019 and the plan is to increase the number over the coming years.

"The professionalism shown by our senior women’s team during preparation, qualification and performance at the recent ICC T20 World Cup was a demonstration that this side of our sport is ready to progress and grow," said Warren Deutrom, chief executive of Cricket Ireland at today's announcement.

Cecelia Joyce, who ended her long international career in November, believes the awarding of contracts can only but improve performances.

"We would perform better if we were training more regularly and getting compensated for the amount of time we put in," she told RTÉ Sport.

"As a result we would be able to put in the required time - more time together with our coaches - more time to practice and train and more time to play matches against other nations."

However, Joyce, who represents the players through her role with the Irish Cricket Association, adds that a move to a full professional set up should be incremental.

"From seeing others countries operate, it's crucial that it's introduced in a staged process," she revealed.  

"We need a proper plan in the place to get to a fully professional stage. Most of our girls would not be ready for full-time contracts just yet.

"Look, we need to be creative in how we approach the next phase, but the ultimate aim to have our best team out there competing. Other countries need games, particularly Bangladesh and Pakistan - they are fully professional."