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Irish rugby squad 'inspired' by performance of the island's two football teams

Attention was divided between the international football in Belfast and Dublin last night, but the all-Ireland team are still pulling in the one direction.

Sean Farrell reports from Celtic Manor

GIVEN THAT IRELAND’S rugby players have cooped up been together for three months, it probably would have been no harm to have a 90-minute long division last night.

Yet, by the sounds of it, even the dilemma of whether to watch Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland at the business end of Euro 2016 qualification couldn’t drive a wedge.

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Irish Rugby – like its counterparts in cricket, golf and athletics – draws players from every corner of the island, ignoring the border that was once a physical divide between North and South.

Five of Joe Schmidt’s 31-man squad were born in Northern Ireland. The oldest of the quintet is starting hooker Rory Best, who clearly had no trouble getting to see Michael O’Neill’s men in action against Greece while Martin O’Neill’s Boys in Green were taking on the world champions.

“Yes I saw it, we were switching between the two games,” said Best with a beaming smile.

long davis Source: INPHO

“To qualify for France is brilliant. The boys have been great all the way through the campaign and it’s great to see them get across the line.

“It was great to see Steven Davis scoring the first goal. It was very inspirational for us to watch both games. It was fantastic and I am sure they will now be looking to top the pool.”

The Republic of Ireland haven’t quite managed to set the same standards of consistency, but automatic qualification is still well within reach. And Joe Schmidt guessed that his coach across the code will be trying to turn the euphoria down a few notches.

“I think Martin O’Neill will be delighted with last night’s result but he will already have turned the page and will be trying to decipher how best to do the same thing to Poland,” said Schmidt.

It was s super effort. Shane Long’s touch and finish were exceptional and you have to take your hat off to that kind of skill. It was fantastic to see that kind of enthusiasm around that and they are up again on Sunday evening, after us.

“It will be great to have a genuine super Sunday for Irish sport – particularly for Irish fans.

“I guess those in the Millennium Stadium will vacate the stadium pretty quickly after our game and get somewhere where they can watch the (Poland) game. And I am sure they will make some more noise.”

Rob Kearney Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s enough to make Republic of Ireland fans misty eyed and wistful for former glories when international tournaments almost became a biennial feature. At 29, Rob Kearney is just about old enough to remember the tail end of the Jack Charlton era, and the style of last night’s breakthrough goal gave the fullback a child-like joy.

“The soccer boys did brilliantly, and it was great to see the Aviva full and everyone cheering.

“Shane Long produced an unbelievable finish to bring us back to Jack Charlton days of ‘kick it long and have a go’.

“But to beat the world champions at home was an incredible achievement for them, and hopefully now it’s set up a great weekend for Irish sport.”

Before the island has to divide its time for Euro qualifiers in Helsinki and Warsaw on Sunday, it’s all eyes on Cardiff.

Letter from Warsaw (nearly): Marty’s Army dares to dream after a night for the ages

‘We’re in for one of the biggest weeks of our lives, it’s good to be involved’ — Peter O’Mahony

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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