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Oisin Keniry/INPHO Stockdale celebrating a win over New Zealand.
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Stockdale leading Ireland's brave young generation aiming for World Cup breakthrough
The Ulster star found himself in a muddle when Christy Moore visited camp, but he is in no doubt about the target for this year’s World Cup.

IF IRELAND ARE to succeed at this year’s Rugby World Cup, and last week David Nucifora made it clear what success will look like, then the team, coaches and fans might find that a little of the past has dropped off them somewhere along the way.

Like or loath it, Ireland’s World Cup history is an unshakeable part of the nation. A thick glass ceiling that has so far proven impenetrable with men like Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll or Simon Geoghegan unable to crack it open.

Every World Cup cycle brings fresh blood, but consistent improvements made by Ireland through the professional era means that the later generations come in with less and less pre-loaded knowledge of the bad days.

Take Jacob Stockdale, not the youngest member of the 44-man World Cup training squad named yesterday but not far off.

When Christy Moore was pencilled in for a pre-Grand Slam sing-song / meet-and-greet with Joe Schmidt’s squad, Stockdale admits that his initial unfamiliarity with the folk legend led to an awkward reunion with a former heartbeat of Ireland team rooms.

As a relative newcomer to the senior ranks, Stockdale has not shared camp with one-time mainstays like Jamie Heaslip, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble or the redoubtable Paddy ‘Rala’ O’Reilly.

Paddy 'Rala' O'Reilly with Webb Ellis Trophy Billy Stickland / INPHO Rala poses with the World Cup in 2003. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“I actually didn’t know who Christy Moore was, he’s not a particularly big name in the North. Also, I’d never met Rala – the former kitman,” Stockdale regales.

“We were sitting in Carton House and everyone’s talking about this Christy Moore lad coming in.

I saw this old boy come in – well he’s not old – I saw this boy come in, he was wearing a rainbow-coloured knitted poncho and I went up to him and said: ‘hiya Christy…’

“And Rala looks at me like: ‘who does he think I am?’

“There was a table of boys next to me and they just all started pissing themselves laughing. Two minutes later, Christy Moore walks in and I was there introducing myself to Rala.”

Tender years mean more than an absence of Planxty as a cultural touchstone. Stockdale, 23, has to reach for his earliest World Cup memory. Ireland’s forgettable 2007 campaign did not register in real time, though he does remember France defeating New Zealand at the quarter-final stage that year – and somewhat quizzically wondering why the Cardiff epic was such a big deal.

So in essence, he and the influential group of players of the same vintage have not known a time when Ireland have not topped their World Cup pool. He has scored in victories over New Zealand and South Africa, so why be sheepish about the thought of breaking the final four, or beyond?

“It is pressure but I think we put that on ourselves. We think exactly the same as David Nucifora,” said the wing as a Maxol brand ambassador.

“We want to go into the World Cup expecting to at least get to a semi-final, if not win it.

“If you go expecting to only hope for a quarter, you’re only going to get to a quarter or fall short of that.”

Stockdale manages to emit confidence in a natural, easy fashion. He’s not brash, just ambitious. Not arrogant, just intent.

It’s not a blend that Irish athletes have traditionally been able to happen upon. But traditions needn’t hold firm through generations.  Stockdale’s great grandfather worked as a riveter on the Titanic, his father is a Presbyterian minister and the professional rugby star is unabashedly ready to make giant strides. History be-damned.

“Maybe that’s just me, maybe I’m overconfident. But I’ve always found that the more I tell myself that I’m going to do something, the more I end up doing it.

“I think it’s incredibly important to have a positive mindset. Above all else, I’m just really excited to get to go over and play in a World Cup, if we don’t win it, we don’t but there’s no point in going over and hoping to do well.”

Losing is not a feeling Ireland as a group have been used to since Stockdale and his U20 team-mate James Ryan entered the senior ranks in 2017.

It wasn’t until the Ulster wing made his 10th international start that he first suffered a reversal in green. He had been warned there would be days like that, and frustrating runs like Six Nations just passed, but it takes the experience to truly understand it.

“Everybody told me that and I didn’t listen to a single person!

“Obviously after we won (the Grand Slam) a lot of the guys that had played in the Six Nations for six or seven years said to me, ‘Look, it’s not always this easy, you’d done it your first time around!’.

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“And yeah, I appreciated it. Ireland have only won three Grand Slams in our history and to do it was something really, really special.

Maxol Jacob Stockdale 25 Jacob Stockdale was revealed as Maxol's first-ever brand ambassador today at an event in Dublin. As a fourth-generation family business, Maxol is committed to supporting the next generation, and that includes rugby greats such as Jacob Stockdale

“But there was part of me that kind of did think, ‘well, how can we lose one?’ If that makes sense. Now I know and you realise how difficult it is to actually go, especially to go away to teams and win big matches.”

A sense of real occasion was all that was missing when Stockdale first sampled international rugby in the summer of 2017. 

He won his second cap in Japan and helped Ireland defeat the host nation and pool rival.  He is glad of the experience, but there is no guarantee that the games to come will resemble the games that have passed.

“Rugby-wise it is going to be a challenge. We were over there in June last time and the weather is really hot and humid and it does take your breath away whenever you’re playing and obviously that’s something we’re going to have to adapt to. So there are a few challenges but I’m excited to get over. 

“It is different culturally and everything to what you’ve experienced before. At first, I didn’t really like it. The first couple of days I was like ‘this is too strange’ but after a while you start to get used to it and I was really enjoying it by the time I was leaving and I actually can’t wait until I get back.”

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

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