Rugby: Ireland have no shortage of confidence

By Gregor Paul in Dublin

Ireland supporters celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago. Photo / Getty
Ireland supporters celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago. Photo / Getty

There's no shortage of confidence in Ireland these days. It feels like a different country to the one the All Blacks last visited in 2013.

Back then the tail end of the global recession was still being felt in Ireland. The Celtic Tiger was on it's knees - it's once flush residents trying to deal with the negative equity in their homes and austerity clauses attached to their financial bail out.

It was impossible not to feel the sense of fragility manifest across the country. Ireland was teetering and only able to stand because its European Union partners ploughed 84 million euros into the economy.

Without that money it would have been returned to the bad old days of being the poorest man in Europe instead of the tax haven darling it had become and all the associated business that poured in as a result.

No one could be sure, though, even with the bail out, whether Ireland would survive: whether it was truly out of the woods.

A sense of doubt and pessimism pervaded - as if being optimistic would jinx the recovery.

If ever there was a point in time to illustrate their collective fragility it came in the final 15 minutes of the test against the All Blacks that year. Ireland, had essentially won the game.

They had outplayed a tired-looking All Blacks team and stood on the cusp of making history when, with six minutes to go, they had a kickable penalty that would have put them eight points ahead.

But, of course, Johnny Sexton hooked it and the All Blacks scored their miracle try after the whistle to add yet one more bad luck story into Irish folklore.

Back then, Ireland didn't have the confidence or belief they needed to beat the All Blacks.

Things are different now. Much different. The economy is moving again. House prices have climbed, unemployment has dropped and the tiger is back on its feet.

So much so that Ireland is bidding to host the 2023 World Cup. That would have been out of the question the last time the All Blacks were here.

But the Irish government have underwritten a bid that will see games played across 12 stadiums on both sides of the Irish border. And for a country with a population of just four-and-a-half million, it's a bid that will potentially deliver a surprisingly high number of ticket sales as the Gaelic Athletic Association have come to the party, offering up their major stadia.

The magnificent Croke Park will be available, so too the 45,000 capacity Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork and Ireland is suddenly looking like a compelling place for World Rugby to bring their showepiece.

This is the new Ireland - confident, dynamic and no longer haunted by history. And if the last 10 minutes of the 2013 clash with the All Blacks typified the old Ireland, then the last 10 minutes in Chicago said everything about the new.

Ireland had the faith to keep playing and keep believing. Where once they would have been riddled with doubt and nerves had they stood with the All Blacks at their mercy, now they can stay on task. Now they no longer stop to ask whether they are good enough and beating the All Blacks has presumably solidified their faith in their mental strength.

Not only did the national side beat the All Blacks, but Muster beat the Maori last week and earlier this year the Under-20s knocked over New Zealand Under-20s.

It's Ireland three New Zealand nil and a country that didn't know its fate three years ago is now on a definite path to a new place where anything is possible.

- NZ Herald

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