On the wings of glory: Irish team flies out as epic bid to win World Cup takes off
Published 17/09/2015 | 02:30
Wales is only a hop, skip and jump across the sea, but the short journey marks the beginning of an epic bid for glory for the Irish rugby team.
Led by their captain Paul O'Connell, the 31-man squad left for the World Cup with their kit bags on their backs and the hopes of the 32 counties resting on their shoulders yesterday evening.
It was a particularly poignant departure from Dublin Airport for the 35-year-old Limerick man, as this tournament marks his last outing in the Irish jersey before he retires from international rugby.
The father of two paid tribute to his teammates, who were in high spirits as they departed for their Welsh base in Newport.
They are due to take on Canada in their opening pool game in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon.
"The group has worked incredibly hard over the past 10 weeks and we are excited about the journey ahead," he said last night.
"The group is very tight, they are very excited."
This is the experienced player's fourth World Cup, and he said the group dynamic changed after the squad announcement.
"Everybody has a little bit of pressure off them when they know they are on the plane," he said.
"We still had two tough training days on Monday and Tuesday. But everybody has come through that now and everybody is just excited to get going."
A team of 20 IRFU officials and coaches also joined them on the plane, which had pictures of squad members Conor Murray, Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw and Tommy Bowe emblazoned across the side.
Under the watchful eye of Ireland's head coach Joe Schmidt, the men in green will take on Canada, Romania, Italy and France in the tournament's crucial group stage clashes.
They then hope to progress to the quarter-finals, where their dreams of raising the Webb Ellis trophy aloft fell short after being defeated by Wales in New Zealand in 2011.
However, the team are tipped to do well this year and last night had a 3-1 chance of reaching the final on October 31, according to Paddy Power.