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‘Blessed, privileged, incredible’ – how it feels to make your Ireland debut

At 28, Jamison Gibson-Park feared international rugby had passed him by. Today’s debut for Ireland caps off an incredible personal journey.

Jamison Gibson-Park smiles after making his debut today.
Jamison Gibson-Park smiles after making his debut today.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

HE WAS BROUGHT up on an island populated by 938 people, dubbed ‘the place that time forgot’ by the New Zealand Herald.

And there were times when Jamison Gibson-Park must have wondered if he was the player that rugby forgot. A career journeying around New Zealand’s franchises included one season when he didn’t start a game, his role as understudy to TJ Perenara doing nothing for his confidence. “I was coming off the bench pretty much every week so you just go through the motions,” he said two years ago.

He couldn’t have imagined then what would subsequently transpire – the call from Ireland, the move to Dublin, the trophies with Leinster, this strange thing called a residency rule which allowed him represent a country he had never set foot in until 2016.

Then, finally, there was the call-up, handed an international debut at 28 in an empty stadium. In a sense it seemed appropriate that a boy brought up in the Great Barrier Island had a psychological barrier of his own to overcome before he realised he merited a place on the international stage.

“It was unbelievable to get out there, I feel privileged to be in the squad, it has been a crazy journey to be here and I feel really blessed to have been given the chance,” Gibson-Park said after today’s game.

“It is an awesome feeling – one I will never forget. There were periods when I probably lacked a little bit of self-confidence. You feel as if you won’t get there. But I think everyone has those passages (at some point) in their career.

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“I’m a little bit older now and have figured out what works for you. You think about what got you to this stage, the things that made you win your first professional contract, and there comes a time when you just realise that you have to stick to your guns and do what you are good at.”

will-connors-hugo-keenan-jamison-gibson-park-and-ed-byrne-celebrate-after-the-game Ireland's four debutants share a moment together. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It helped to have a coach who trusts him. “Andy (Farrell) is trying to bring out the personality in everyone and hopefully we can see that in our performances over the next while.”

Next up is France, in Paris, where a bonus-point win will give Ireland the unlikeliest Six Nations title of the century. “We definitely believe we can do it, obviously it is an incredibly difficult place to go; but we are looking forward to giving it a crack.”

That’s what he did today, his first touch a delicate chip for Johnny Sexton to run onto. “When Johnny tells you to do something, you do what he asks. It is how I feel rugby should be played, most of the lads are on the same page; we all want the same thing.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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