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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018
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Wexford man Furlong feels emotion and pride after Ireland make history

‘It is just a hell of a day to be Irish, isn’t it?’

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

THE EMOTION WAS still flowing around Soldier Field hours after Ireland’s historic win on Saturday evening.

Joe Schmidt’s players filtered out of their changing room into the tunnel that led down to where the team bus awaited to whisk them off to a post-match function.

Rob Kearney stopped for some honest words about his dark time in the last 18 months, while Joey Carbery was understandably like an excited boy amongst men after making his debut in barely believable circumstances.

Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong and Rory Best celebrate winning Furlong in between front row partners Jack McGrath and Rory Best. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Tadhg Furlong, always an engaging speaker, arrived out in between senior player Kearney and debutant Carbery. Fitting in a way. The Wexford man has nine caps now, having made his second start on Saturday against the All Blacks.

At just 23 years old, the tighthead looks like being a pillar of this squad for some time.

Stepping up to the mixed zone area where journalists were waiting, Furlong accidently knocked into a dictaphone.

“Sorry, skin!”

A nice bit of Wexford slang after an international rugby match that will never be forgotten. Furlong had clearly invested huge emotional energy into the 40-29 win, and the feeling was still simmering in him as he spoke.

“There is immense pride to be Irish, immense pride to be where I am from, pride in my club [New Ross RFC] back home.

“I’m a proud Wexford man so to be the first person to do it is a huge thing. It is just a hell of a day to be Irish, isn’t it?”

Rob Kearney and Tadhg Furlong celebrate winning Furlong with Rob Kearney after the final whistle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Tears welled up in the eyes of the man from the village of Campile, but he steadied himself and continued.

“It is weird to be in the team to beat the All Blacks for the first time. It is overwhelming in some ways, just the joy, the pride. It’s just amazing to be a part of it.

“The atmosphere of the crowd, looking up into those high-rise stands, it seemed never-ending, it was incredible. The fans, their support, they lifted us when we needed them to. Being in that dressing room, we’re enjoying ourselves in each other’s company.

“We emptied the tank. All week we have been building up to do something that has never been done before. It is incredible to be part of that. I suppose I stepped pretty late into a team that has been building for a long time.”

It looks like Furlong’s time now. Mike Ross has plugged the Ireland scrum and hammered rucks for 61 caps, but missed out on selection this time, with Furlong, Finlay Bealham and John Ryan travelling instead.

Furlong got through 57 minutes of Saturday’s contest before making way for Bealham, with the Leinster tighthead impressing thanks to his solid scrummaging, vicious ruck hits, mobility and power in defence, as well as two carries and a pass.

“It is just such a proud moment,” said Furlong. “When we scored that last try [through Robbie Henshaw], I didn’t know what to do – to jump up and down, to cry, I just didn’t know what to do.

Conor Murray celebrates Robbie Henshaw's try Ireland celebrate the match-sealing score. Source: INPHO/Billy Stickland

“In a weird way, it takes hold of you. Oh by God, what a performance from the lads, it is just amazing to be part of it.”

The past week will be one that lives with Furlong forever, particularly given the atmosphere around Chicago after the Cubs’ World Series success.

The win over New Zealand was what this week was all about, of course, but Furlong feels it was all the more special for the unique circumstances.

“When we walked around town, there were a lot of Irish Americans, and Irish over for the game. A lot of people there…

“As a kid you always dream of representing your country but never in your wildest imagination can you dream of doing something like that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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