Friday 28 April 2017

Lions pride sweeps country as 11 Irish players get the call

Munster’s CJ Stander with his wife Jean-Marie Neethling. Photo: Leon Farrell
Munster’s CJ Stander with his wife Jean-Marie Neethling. Photo: Leon Farrell

Ryan Nugent

The pride of Lions was felt across Ireland, from a GAA club to the school that is celebrating its 10th tourist with the elite rugby team.

It has been an anxious few weeks for Ireland's Lions hopefuls as they awaited the selection of coach Warren Gatland. But the celebrations could begin for 11 stars as well as their families, friends, rugby clubs and schools.

St Mary's College is celebrating a remarkable 10th Lion to come from the school - after Jack McGrath joined Jonathan Sexton in the squad.

It's a "phenomenal achievement", according to head of rugby at the school, Steve Hennessy. "It's a pity the schools are off this week, but the euphoria of it all will continue into next week."

Meanwhile, Munster man CJ Stander had blocked out any thought of selection leading up to the announcement.

"He really didn't think that he'd be selected," his wife Jean-Marie Neethling told the Irish Independent. "It would obviously have been a dream, but I don't think for him it would ever have been realistic.

"We purchased a house a month ago, so I've been doing stuff with that all morning and I wasn't anywhere near a TV. I got the news from friends on my phone. We'll have some good food to celebrate, that's how we like to do it."

At New Ross rugby club in Co Wexford, a group of five or six were waiting by their computers to book flights and accommodation in New Zealand once the name Tadhg Furlong was read out.

Robbie Henshaw in action against Scotland during the Six Nations Picture: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw in action against Scotland during the Six Nations Picture: Sportsfile

Despite being a shoo-in, his former coach at the New Ross club, Tony Brazil, insisted that nobody was counting their chickens. "There's a few of us going to support him - you'd have to, wouldn't you?" he said.

"Once the announcement was made, we were on to one of the lads to look up the flights and sort out the Airbnb. A small little club like New Ross now has a Lion - it puts us up there with the elite.

"He'll be getting inundated with texts, but he'll be just focused on the game at the weekend, that's just how he is."

Skills

And even the GAA can join in the celebrations. Leinster star Robbie Henshaw will too be making a tour debut - but many of his ball handling skills were taught on the GAA pitch.

"His hand-eye co-ordination is incredible, I'd say the GAA would have helped with that," Athlone GAA official David O'Connell said. "There's huge pride all around the town, be it oval or round ball. You can transfer the codes very easily."

Forwards Iain Henderson, Sean O'Brien, Rory Best and Peter O'Mahony, plus backs Conor Murray and Jared Payne also made it into one of the most competitive Lions squads in recent memory.

Irish Independent

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