Ireland is not a rugby country – but it could be

After beating the almighty All-Blacks Ireland fans have started to dream big, but can the rugby boys bring about a change in the country’s sporting culture?


Irish Rugby’s biggest, most well-received test result has come at a time where soccer and the GAA have relative slumps – and has a real opportunity to harness national adoration into something more permanent.

The way the majority of Irish people digest sport is Joe Schmidt and co’s biggest asset.

While context may dictate and determine just how important a test match truly is, it goes beyond the point for most. An Irish team are achieving a lot at international level.

Whatever logic suggests that they’re one of only eight nations that could occupy top spot regardless of form indication is unimportant to the majority of those who digest sport sparingly in this country.

And while their enthusiasm may be lacking, their eagerness to partake in a successful sporting entity certainly is not.

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The notion that rugby purists aren’t enjoying it is tainted, regardless of project player debate, AIL disconnect and elitist schooling academies that provide the majority of the household names at that level being inaccessible to the majority of the general public.

People are enjoying this and it’s easy to do so.

It’s very hard to take a day off in rugby – and that applies to tests. The attrition required to actively compete, let alone win, means you’re never truly taking it easy. This is attractive.

Martin O’Neill is boring an entire nation to tears and Dublin’s hold on Sam Maguire won’t end as long as their lopsided funding, and Mayo’s self-pity continues to exist.

With a new generation about to embrace the meaty pleasures of sporting unpredictability and recklessness, it would be a far easier choice to nail your colours to rugby than elsewhere.

Success is addictive, and until a sporting nation wishes to up their fandom to a level where they want to embrace all facets of the game’s wider context, the country will have to make do with the stuff that’s easier to stomach.

Even the Irish government’s suspiciously-expensive communication department couldn’t rattle up a positive spin on Cyrus Christie in central midfield.

At grassroots, it’s possible rugby participation levels will never reach soccer.

Not only are there significantly more clubs to join at local level, but the sizeable gains that rugby has made in terms of numbers still don’t even come close to soccer – and it’s hard to see those eye-catching increases continue in the same trajectory – World Cup success or otherwise.

While saying that, at local level, GAA will always be king because of parish-shaped identities that you’re branded with from a young age in rural areas.

League of Ireland isn’t well supported, and the Premier League is the de-facto dream in this country – not playing for Shamrock Rovers, unfortunately.

But for every single excuse soccer can churn out and for all the tribal heroics that the GAA would like you to believe on their behalf, no entity has actually gone and achieved what this rugby crop, not only could do, but are favoured to do.

It’s not wide of the mark to claim that Robbie Keane’s goal against Germany at the World Cup in 2002 will always be more celebrated, despite being a group game, than any match-winning try that could be scored in Ireland’s favour in Japan next summer.

But it’s also not wide of the mark to accept that continued success to the extent that Joe Schmidt is producing would close that gap significantly.

Despite the ludicrous slogan. This isn’t rugby country – but it could be.

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