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'We've been here before': Ireland's end to terrific 2014 just a reminder of a cautionary tale

Captain Paul O’Connell isn’t going to forget the nightmare that followed Ireland’s last November clean sweep.

CONFIDENCE IS KEY, but if there’s any fear of this Ireland squad getting carried away with themselves, then Paul O’Connell is ready to step in and deliver a harsh history lesson.

The captain played a vital role in sealing a clean sweep of November victories with yesterday’s 26 – 23 win over Australia.

Add that success to the result over South Africa, the world’s second best team, a fortnight ago and it becomes easy for Irish supporters to allow their feet drift slightly off the ground. O’Connell, however, still has a few mental scars from an eight-year-old burn.

Paul O'Connell Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’ve been here before with a good autumn and it didn’t serve us well,” says the lock in reference to Ireland’s last clean sweep – also involving wins over the Wallabies and Springboks – in 2006.

The period that followed was perhaps the lowest ebb in Ireland’s professional era. Though the 2007 Six Nations introduced the Croke Park factor and a Triple Crown was enough to continue the positivity, the World Cup was to be very the worst of nightmares.

“That’s the main lesson you learn: you’ll have to reassess then when you come in for the Six Nations. Your previous performance really means nothing when the Six Nations comes around,” he added before somewhat apologetically drilling the point home.

“I sound like a broken record, but I know exactly what will happen when we come in at Christmas camp and Six Nations camp. There’ll be a lot of things addressed that need to be addressed and there’ll be a big emphasis put on learning and trying to improve those things, trying to be better at the things we were good at in this period and trying to bring that into the first game.

“There’s a lot of very good things [to look back on this month], but there’s a lot of things to improve on as well. That’s just the general attitude that the players and coaching staff has adapted and I think it works well.”

Before it was revealed that he was suffering pain from appendicitis, Joe Schmidt spoke to RTE post-match about his first full year in charge. The head coach laid praise at the door of several injured players (first and foremost Chris Henry) who he said “built the first half of the season” before the remaining fit players finished the year on yesterday’s high.

Asked to take stock at the end of Ireland’s 2014 the man sitting in Joe Schmidt’s press conference chair, Les Kiss, resisted the urge to point to the nine victories or the single defeat. Instead, he echoed O’Connell’s sentiment that there would be a focus on learning and short-term goals for long-term gains.

Les Kiss Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was an interesting year,” Kiss said trying to hide a smile, “obviously a lot of good things have happened for us.

“The reason we’re in a position we are at the moment is because we did take it one day at a time, each training session at a time, each Test match at a time and taking the learnings from each one.”

That method has been effective enough in the last seven games, and the four before that didn’t go too badly either.

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Sean Farrell

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