Taking a giant step in the right direction
‘THE WHOLE country is on their feet,’ proclaimed Eddie O’Sullivan proudly during RTE’s post-match analysis of Ireland’s heroic victory over the all-conquering All Blacks on Saturday evening.
The former Ireland coach may have spoken for many with his upbeat, emotional sound bite after a thrilling triumph, but sadly the sweeping statement is not entirely true.
For starters, there’s a sizeable percentage of the population with no interest whatsoever in anything to do with sport, whether it be rugby, soccer, G.A.A. or whatever tickles your fancy, and the best of luck to them.
However, the more concerning crew are the ones that live and breath Irish sport, but any sort of tangible success on the rugby field rubs them up the wrong way, and they would have been vehemently rooting for the All Blacks to put Ireland in their place.
The banners may boldly read ‘This is Rugby Country’, but despite the heroics of Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Furlong, CJ Stander et al., for many it isn’t and it never will be.
For any that refuse to believe that these nay-sayers exist, a quick trawl through Twitter immediately after the final whistle would set you straight as a queue of Christmas Grinches came out early this year to try to ruin the admittedly overthe-top celebrations.
It may have only been a glorified ‘friendly’ in some of the doom-merchant’s eyes, but the elation of the Irish players and the dejection etched on the faces of the Kiwis told its own story; there was nothing non-competitive about this bruising battle.
That said, we laugh heartily at the English media and fans for hyping up the chances of their soccer team before and during tournaments, but we’re guilty of the same, or worse, when it comes to our rugby warriors.
However, there were plenty of dark days for Irish rugby before the turn of the century so you can’t blame the die-hards for getting a bit carried away with our recent success.
Thankfully, the players have Joe Schmidt and the rest of the coaching staff to keep their feet firmly on the ground as we build towards the World Cup.
There’s no harm in getting a bit excited for a couple of days as we dream big, but most level-headed supporters realise the Herculean efforts in the Aviva at the weekend will count for nothing if we don’t follow it up when it really matters at the back end of next year.
We’ve gone to the tournament before with somewhat modest hopes of reaching a semi-final and fallen flatter than a platypus’s beak, but this time we’ll travel dreaming of ultimate glory.
It’s simply shocking that we haven’t got past the quarter-finals in the past, but now is the time to put that anomaly right and we undoubtedly have the players and the strength in depth to break free from the shackles.
Very few countries have had the privilege of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup, and we have a fighting chance of joining New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England on an elite list.
Will those who pooh-pooh the merits of our rugby team finally jump on board the bandwagon if we reach a World Cup final?
Probably not, but that’s their own lookout.
We don’t get many opportunities to celebrate as a nation so they should surely suck up the begrudgery and go with the flow.
Rugby is nowhere near the most popular sport in England but I’m sure most of the country were cheering when Jonny Wilkinson kicked a late drop goal to break Australia’s hearts in 2003.
You’ll hear the tired old argument that only nine or ten countries play the game to a decent level, but the same can be said for soccer, Gaelic football or hurling.
The rugby elitists are not entirely immune from criticism in this debate though, with some using the victory over New Zealand to have a pop at other sports.
You’re bound to see worn-out cliches like ‘if only the soccer team would show that sort of passion’.
Nobody needs any reminding that our national side is at a particularly low ebb at the moment.
However, I don’t think anybody could argue that the likes of Seamus Coleman or James McClean don’t show commitment to the cause in a team with limited resources, who most of all are being let down by poor management.
Also in this age of social media and instant gratification, people are quick to go over the top, proclaiming Saturday’s win to be our greatest-ever sporting moment, many of whom would have said just that after our famous maiden triumph over the same opposition in Chicago two years ago.
Our much-maligned soccer team overcoming the reigning world champions Germany in a European Championship qualifier in 2015 was surely a bigger win, considering it was a competitive international with points at stake. It may have been a backs-to-thewall, smash and grab victory, with Shane Long’s late winner sealing the deal, but it certainly made the entire world sit up and take notice.
The Aviva was rocking that night as it was on Saturday, although it seems light years away now, considering the sombre atmosphere at recent Republic of Ireland games, with Martin O’Neill doing little to lift the mood.
Joe Schmidt has no such worries as his team continue to build for a proper tilt at the World Cup in Japan next year, where another below-par effort on the biggest stage is almost unthinkable.
It’s true that nothing was won on Saturday, but it was certainly a stepping stone, and a big one at that.
Jacob Stockdale of Ireland, supported by team-mate Peter O’Mahony, is tackled by Ben Smith of New Zealand during Saturday’s Guinness series international match in the Aviva Stadium.
Eoin Harkin and Donnacha Halpin enjoying the night.
Margaret and Joe Tutty at the Hollywood GAA Club dinner dance in Tulfarris Hotel. Photos: Barry Hamilton
Kate Crampton Clarke and Caroline Dunne at the Hollywood shindig.
Sandra and Thomas Burke.