Sunday 22 January 2017

'When we scored, I didn't know whether to celebrate or to cry'

Furlong and Carbery epitomise a new generation of Ireland stars who have made history

Published 07/11/2016 | 02:30

Ireland players Tadhg Furlong and Ultan Dillane celebrate victory
Ireland players Tadhg Furlong and Ultan Dillane celebrate victory

Tadhg Furlong's ability to hold it together through his interview is almost as impressive as his performance against the All Blacks.

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On just his second start for Ireland, the Wexford man was outstanding at Soldier Field. In front of the watching Warren Gatland, he put himself firmly in Lions contention.

What was remarkable about Ireland's most famous day was that the faces were not all familiar.

Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell were in the stand, Sean O'Brien was in Italy and Peter O'Mahony at home with Keith Earls. Iain Henderson, Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson would also have been involved in different circumstances.

Yet here they were, the new kids on the block making plays against the best team in the world.

Furlong, Joey Carbery and Ultan Dillane, three products of club rugby shining on the biggest stage. Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip and Rory Best drove the performance, but the next generation were not found wanting.

Epitomised

Furlong epitomised the effort. The No 3 jersey has effectively been the sole possession of John Hayes and Mike Ross for more than a decade.

Their heir has arrived and while he can scrummage, he also offers so much more around the park. So, the native of Campile attempted to control his emotions and sum up the day.

"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," he said. "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 stepped pretty late into a team that has been building for a long time. It is just such a proud moment.

"When we scored that last try, I didn't know what to do, to jump up and down, to cry, I just didn't know what to do.

"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.

"There is immense pride to be Irish, immense pride to be where I am from, pride in my club back home.

"I'm a proud Wexford man so to be one of the first people to do it is a huge thing.

"It is just a hell of a day to be Irish, isn't it?"

Having signed a new contract that takes him to the 2019 World Cup, Joe Schmidt is consciously looking to grow a squad that can endure injuries without declining in quality.

With Marty Moore now at Wasps and Mike Ross - who picked up an injury while playing for Leinster - now 36, Furlong looks like the main man to anchor the scrum around for the remainder of this cycle.

O'Brien, O'Mahony, Earls and Henderson could come back in against New Zealand on Saturday week, but if not he now knows he can trust the men who took their spots.

"One of the ways to try to build depth is to show confidence in people," he said.

"You know if you have someone who is a fantastic player and they are not quite Test-match fit so you go with someone who you believe is Test-match fit who is developing as a really good player, I think it keeps a bit of pressure on players.

"Because they can be the best player but not necessarily get selected if they are not fully fit.

"At the same time it grows the group a little bit, I think the coaching staff and the group themselves are committed to trying to grow a really competitive 32 [-man squad] and beyond, the more the better.

"But, yeah, we probably left a few guys back there but we brought a few guys with us who worked incredibly hard today."

Nobody has risen as quickly as Carbery though as he enjoyed his debut just a week after his 21st birthday and on the back of only five starts for Leinster.

Born in Auckland, raised in Athy, Co Kildare and finished as a player in Blackrock College, UCD and Clontarf; his first appearance was the stuff of dreams.

He appeared to find the post-match interviews more unnerving than playing the game, but having helped close out a historic win and then marking his first cap with a rendition of the Friends theme-tune, 'Ill Be There For You' in the dressing-room, he reflected on a whirlwind season.

"It was a bit crazy but I didn't really think about that, I went back to basics and did what I normally do," he said. "It's unbelievable.

"Well, rugby ... even today, you go out and you do the same things week in and week out, no matter who you're playing against.

"It's a dream come true, really, to play against them...and to win, to win for the first time ever, I can't believe it.

"I tried to just stick to the plan that we were doing and we were well prepped throughout the week and prepared for every situation.

"So we just came out and we knew what to do. It was easy when I came on because everyone was so clued in."

He went home with Aaron Cruden's jersey as well as his own. The first of many.

Irish Independent

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