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We lost. But we won a reputation

SO WE lost. But we should take more from this loss than many of our previous victories.

Irish national teams have done well in international competitions before (both in rugby and in football) and every time they do we rise as one in excitement and pride in the boys in green.

But usually their success is as underdogs, both in betting terms and in terms of on-pitch performance.

Over the decades we have become used to our rugby teams making up with passion what they lacked in ruthless competence.


We accepted -- and possibly took rebellious pleasure in -- Jack Charlton guiding our football team in reducting a delicate passing game into an exercise in long-range bombing which he used to take us to rounds of the World Cup in which we really didn't belong.

Even our chants reflect that reductionist approach to international competition -- "you'll never beat the Irish" has always intrinsically accepted that we are somehow not as good as everyone else.

So we claimed glory from grinding draws by applying tenacity and obstinacy instead of skill.

That's why today's loss -- and the campaign that led to it -- should be a source of greater joy to us than previous successes.

Because we didn't approach it like second-class citizens.


Our guys in New Zealand played throughout with the professionalism, commitment and dedication the same as any of the best teams in the world.

For a country that has had three years of aching international economic embarrassment, that performance on a world stage was exactly what we needed to disprove the developing unfortunate Irish reputation.

Fifteen guys showed that from a tiny population we can take on the best in the world as equals, not hopeful aspirants.

And even off the pitch, we can be proud. Other teams found themselves in the headlines thanks to behaving like teenagers with a free gaff.

Our guys, on the other hand, behaved like consummate diplomats, supported by a cohort of fans who embarrassed neither themselves nor the country.

So we lost.

Yes, for a moment it looked like it might be otherwise.

For a moment if looked to be developing into one of those great games.

For a brief moment after Earls went over in the corner it seemed possible that the momentum could be ours, that we would sneak the win and that in the coming weeks we'd get the chance to sing 'ole ole ole' in the streets once more.

But we got beaten.

And with the loss, the chance of that national ecstasy dissipated. Which frankly, is no bad thing.

Dancing in the streets is ultimately an expression of surprise; it's joy at pulling off the unexpected, at getting a result beyond expectation, at being a lucky underdog.

What this World Cup should teach us is a lesson wider than rugby.


We need to give up the 'worthy underdog' crap we have been clinging to.

We can compete on an equal footing with the best in the world in any context we put our minds to.

Not because we manage to tap into some celtic-twilight-warrior-pride muck but because we can plan, practice, study and work hard.

We should use this team to recalibrate our national standards and learn to take joy from professional performances, instead of lucky wins.

We lost. But we lost well.