Tak­ing a gi­ant step in the right di­rec­tion

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT -

‘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.

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