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The Barrett clan spent 15 months living in Meath. They played Gaelic football for St Brigid’s while the father, who promised he would “breed All Blacks,” managed a local farm in Oldcastle. “That was all that was on offer in Ballinacree and it was a football year,” said Kevin Barrett.
Beauden was eight, Scott five, Jordie only two. 1999 certainly was a football year, it being the last time Sam Maguire wintered in the Royal County. Lens happened that October, still the worst Rugby World Cup night of them all.
What is more apparent than ever before is if the IRFU ever hope to live with the All Blacks of this sport then they must rip a leaf out of the AFL book of recruitment and enhance the head-hunting of the GAA’s underage talent.
Certainly more than the softly, softly approach currently employed. Take Conor Nash. The biggest loss to Irish rugby is the 21-year-old former medical student. At 6”6’ and a lean 92kg, Nash should be in Japan. The former fullback should be a household name by now.
Instead he’s in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn. Meath GAA lamented his loss to the Leinster rugby academy until the Hawks swooped in October 2016. Currently, there are 11 Irish athletes contracted to Aussie Rules clubs.
Joe Canning came to Tokyo, photographed walking into the Ajinomoto stadium behind Britsh Open champion Shane Lowry, to witness these All Blacks in the flesh. Once whispered of as a brilliant outhalf for Ballinasloe under-18s, Connacht and Munster were circling for the best hurler of his generation until the older brothers and Portumna mentors got wind.
Conor Murray is from Patrickswell. A hurling village. Go find Tadhg Furlong soloing and bouncing past young lads on YouTube.
“We’re under no illusions that genetically as a country we don’t have that many freaks,” said Rory Best when Kobe beef was still on the menu.
The “freaks” can be found inside this island’s most fiercely protected strongholds, Kilkenny hurling and Kerry football, who periodically gift rugby delicious crumbs like Willie Duggan or Mick Galwey. Cork possesses thousands of gifted athletes who never get anywhere near an oval ball. The Ó hAilpín brothers from Fiji were just as athletic as Sevu Reece. Seán Óg still works in the bank. Setanta settled in Sydney.
What’s never been so obvious is if the Ireland team’s bulk supplier continues to be two fee-paying schools separated by the Rock road in south county Dublin, then the Fields of Athenry being sung with gusto during the haka will remain the high water mark for Irish rugby at World Cups, because the balance of power will never change.
“Our preparation was brilliant, I thought,” said Josh van der Flier.
There has never been enough James
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