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A night of noise, colour and drama but there's much more to come from Ireland

It wasn’t pretty, but Ireland did enough to get the job done and launch their World Cup campaign on a winning note.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Belfield Bowl, UCD

AS NORA STAPLETON unceremoniously booted the ball into touch and onto the unoccupied grass bank on the far side, the cacophony of noise which erupted from the Belfield Bowl was deafening, but also music to the ears.

Sene Naoupu and Nora Stapleton celebrate winning Sene Naoupu celebrates with Nora Stapleton. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

At the end of a draining, bruising and nerve-wrecking Test match, the full-time whistle was met with an outpouring of relief and pride, from both those on the pitch and in the stands, as Ireland held on, albeit just, to ensure their World Cup dream wasn’t derailed on the opening night.

As the crowd began to filter out of the Bowl, digesting the drama they’d just witnessed, an Irish supporter turned to his son and revealed he had been close to tears as the players shared in the celebrations with friends, family and those who had turned out in numbers to lend their support to the cause.

Such was the intensity and nail-biting nature of the game, those in attendance lived through every shuddering hit of a contest which swung one way and then the other, both sides trading blows before Ireland managed to land something of a knockout punch.

That Tom Tierney’s side dug deep and got over the line was the only thing that mattered on a night when the result, and nothing else, was of paramount importance. A win is a win and in the circumstances this was a huge one.

Because, if truth be told, it could have so easily gone the other way. Ireland were poor in the opening quarter as a succession of unforced errors and poor kicking from hand invited pressure on and allowed the Australians to settle into the occasion.

And even though they managed to go into the break two points to the good off the back of Larissa Muldoon’s first-half try, Ireland found themselves behind on the hour mark and in real danger of fluffing their lines on the big stage. It would have been a disaster for the host nation and the tournament as a whole.

Thankfully, Ireland, as they’ve done so often in the past, found another gear with 20 minutes remaining. It wasn’t pretty but it was mightily effective as replacements Ciara Griffin and Sophie Spence powered over to eek out a victory which lays the platform for the rest of the campaign.

The way the hosts drew on that mental fortitude and their desire to get across the line in the closing stages is hugely positive, but they made it difficult for themselves against a side they were expected to beat.

Marie Louise Reilly, Jenny Miller and Claire Molloy were immense all evening but there are so many areas Tierney and his squad need to work on before Sunday’s meeting with Japan, most urgently the kicking from hand and exit strategies.

Larissa Muldoon celebrates winning with cousin Bobby Larissa Muldoon celebrates with her cousin Bobby. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The coach admitted afterwards that he was hugely relieved to come out with the right result but wary of the fact there is much work to be done ahead of the assignments against Japan and then the big one against France. It’s a start, at least.

“There was a lot of tension before and during the game. We let ourselves down at critical times, but to get the win, that’s all that matters,” he said.

“To be honest, in the pool stages, I don’t care how we win. It wasn’t as clinical as we wanted it to be, but we’ve got that game out of the way.”

And the scenes at the final whistle told you everything you need to know about this team and the way their supporters, and indeed the whole nation, have rowed in behind them for this campaign.

Anyone who has ever been to a women’s international at Ashbourne or, more recently, Donnybrook, will know that the players greet the supporters at the end of every match but last night it must have been particularly special.

Three sides of the Bowl — the far side is off limits due to safety reasons — was packed to the brim and the decibel levels were turned up a notch as the intensity and tempo of the match increased.

At one stage in the second half, a mindless supporter thought they were it by jumping the advertising hoarding and running onto the pitch during a brief stoppage in play, only to find nobody actually cared because they were so engrossed by what was happening at the other end of the pitch.

But after creating daylight between themselves and Australia with 10 minutes remaining, Ireland inexplicably turned off and allowed the Wallaroos back into the game to set-up an edgy finale.

Once referee Tim Baker had confirmed the grounding of Hilisha Samoa’s try, you could hear a pin drop inside the ground. There was five minutes remaining and suddenly it was on a knife edge again.

Niamh Briggs, Ireland’s stricken captain, could barely watch from the back of the stand as she roared on instructions for her team-mates to ‘get up’ and not give Australia the time and space to mount any sort of late onslaught. They couldn’t hear her but she couldn’t help but shout. It was hard not to feel for the luckless fullback. It must have been torture watching.

Ireland players celebrate Ciara Griffin's try Ireland received huge support on the opening night. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Two seats down from Briggs was Joe Schmidt, who at one point during the closing stages had his hands behind his head, living and breathing every second of the dramatic conclusion. It was pulsating but at the same time difficult to watch.

Then came the roar, the relief and the rendition of The Fields. It was a game Ireland had to win, and they did. Job done and points secured.

“That was a tough match,” captain Claire Molloy said afterwards. “We knew Australia would be a physical side and they really put it up to us.

“I am proud of the grit, resilience and resolve shown by the girls. We knew we would create scoring opportunities if we stuck at it.”

As Molloy was speaking to the television cameras on one side of the ground, her team — battered and bruised — were celebrating the victory on the other side; meeting and greeting fans and sharing the moment with family.

That’s the thing about this Irish team; they’re accessible, approachable and fantastic ambassadors for the country and the sport, and that goes for all 12 teams at this World Cup.

After an incredibly long build-up, the tournament is now up and running and Ireland have safely negotiated the first hurdle in their quest to lift the trophy on home soil.

It’s onwards and upwards from here and hopefully last night was only the start.


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