Brian Gleeson and Oscar Cawley. SteveHaagSports/Darren Stewart/INPHO

'The support from the locals in Cape Town has been special'

The Ireland U20s have earned fans back home and in South Africa ahead of tomorrow’s final.

EVEN THE LOCALS in Cape Town are getting caught up in the Ireland U20s’ impressive journey.

Richie Murphy’s resilient young team have earned a place in the final of the World Championship tomorrow [KO 6pm Irish time, Virgin Media], with their skillful, powerful brand of rugby helping to gather strong support.

But there’s no doubt that the tragedy that could have rocked this Ireland team off course has led to plenty of goodwill towards them too.

With six former St Michael’s College students in the U20s squad, they were affected by the deaths of Max Wall and Andrew O’Donnell in Greece while on a post-Leaving Cert holiday. That news was swiftly followed by the loss of Munster academy coach Greig Oliver, who passed away after a paragliding accident in Cape Town, where he was supporting his son, Jack, a scrum-half with the U20s.

It would have been understandable if this Irish team had struggled to focus on rugby but they went ahead with last week’s game against Fiji, earning a bonus-point win, and then smashed their way past hosts South Africa in the semi-finals.

Tomorrow, they face an excellent French team knowing that they’ll have lots of people cheering for them in Ireland, Cape Town, and elsewhere.

“There’s definitely a lot of support back home but we’ve been pretty impressed with the amount of support we have here as well,” said Ireland assistant coach Aaron Dundon today.

“A lot of the parents have come over for many of the weeks and a good few of the South Africans are really getting behind us which is class as well.”

Dundon said the U20s had also received messages from the senior Ireland team, who are back in Dublin preparing for their own World Cup. Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony were among those to send the young Irish squad videos wishing them well.

“They put a video together which was class,” said Dundon.

“We got shown them this morning which was brilliant and will help drive us a bit more. We’ve been really thriving on the support, it’s been awesome.”

john-devine-and-sam-berman-share-a-hug-after-the-game John Devine and Sam Berman. SteveHaagSports / Darren Stewart/INPHO SteveHaagSports / Darren Stewart/INPHO / Darren Stewart/INPHO

Ireland beat hosts South Africa in the semi-finals but the local rugby fans in Cape Town haven’t held that against them.

John Devine, who has impressed in midfield for Ireland, has been blown away by the support across the board.

“You hear and get texts every other day from people you wouldn’t even think would be watching the games and you’d see other things on social media and people giving you support,” said Devine.

“And as Dundo said, over here, the support from the locals has been special so we’ve been feeling everyone’s support and we’re thankful for that.”

Ireland have been roared on at their games by that band of family and close friends, who have also had to deal with the tragedy of losing Greig Oliver, who had been part of the group supporting the U20s.

The presence of family has been an important part of the Ireland squad’s progress.

“It’s been awesome because the players have been able to get out of the hotel and go have dinner with their families, which you need because we’re in the same hotel for nearly four weeks by the end of it,” said Dundon.

“It makes them get out and clear their heads a bit with their families which is really important. The families have come into the hotel every now and again, you’re able to chat to them and the support on game day is huge. They have been so vocal. There’s not many of them but you can hear them which is class.”

Devine’s parents have landed into Cape Town ahead of the final, while his brother Matthew has been lending his support from back home.

Scrum-half Matthew was part of the Ireland U20s side that won a Grand Slam last year, with John following in his footsteps with his year’s Slam. 

Tomorrow, he has the chance to earn some bragging rights over his brother.

“I was on the phone to Matt the other day talking to him, not even about rugby, just about how he’s getting on, kind of taking my mind away from it,” said Devine. “He’s been a big support as well.”

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