What we witnessed on Saturday morning from Wellington was the greatest Irish team success in the history of our great, if relatively small, sports-daft nation.
And may we please be spared the pig-ignorant comments from a begrudging element on this little island as to the ‘friendly’ aspect to international rugby. There is no such thing.
Yes of course, beating the All Blacks in a World Cup or obviously reaching the semi-final is still to be achieved.
But beating New Zealand on their own patch in a Test series is like taking on Brazil in football and beating them twice over a three-week period in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
As I was reared on both footballing codes, my passion for the round over oval ball cuts even deeper still.
I am extremely passionate about both so when Ireland succeeded, be it in Dalymount in a ‘friendly’ back in the day, or a Euros or World Cup, I felt the same pride every Irish citizen feels, supporting the beautiful game.
It is in that context that this extraordinary achievement by Andy Farrell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and every single one involved at the coal face should be measured.
To witness the emergence of this Irish squad as a serious force in its own right over this series has been hugely uplifting.
The generous comments from Áras An Uachtaráin and Dáil Éireann is not band-wagoning, but a reflection of the feel-good factor of Ireland’s performance on the foreign fields of the standard-bearers for world rugby.
In the opening game of the series in Auckland, we sold ourselves way short with the final scoreline and 23-point deficit was in no way reflective of the 80-plus minutes that had gone before.
That said, in purely psychological terms the damage done could have been ‘series over’ before even setting off south for Dunedin.
And that is what makes this achievement so special: turning around a two-match loss (having been beaten by the Maori in the opening game) into a comprehensive 3-2 net outcome of the tour. The 2-1 in the Test series the most relevant statistic of all. Let’s be clear. No World Cup quarter-final ceiling was broken on the back of two comprehensive wins on successive Saturdays over the All Blacks.
The pool draw for next year’s World Cup is still horrendous.
However, for Irish rugby and for Irish sport to date this was unquestionably our most meaningful team achievement ever.
I was involved with Munster in 1978 and Ireland in ’79 in Australia so I do have a fair grip on what it takes, even if the game has transformed with professionalism in the interim. There were no friendlies then and there are no friendlies now.
But back to Wellington and the heroes of the hour. I am loath to single out individuals as over the last fortnight, and to some degree in the opening Test too.
What struck me more than anything was the cohesive physicality and close-knit interaction between those wearing green, irrespective of their shirt number.
It was almost like the individual and collective role reversal of century-old habits with green bullying black and in their own backyard like never before.
In the first Test, we made handling errors and paid a heavy price.
In the second, we cut mistakes to a minimum and in the process put together almost a complete team performance but in the ‘Cake Tin’ on Saturday we pieced together the near-perfect team delivery.
It was akin to a relentless full-court press.
Even better than back in November in the Aviva when the All Blacks were at the end of their highly demanding season.
It took a while to warm to Farrell the coach tactically but I can say that talking to those whose opinion matters most – the players – we now have a rather special coaching talent not even close to hitting his prime.
This was all about the collective but Josh van der Flier alongside Sexton was our most towering influence.
James Ryan (who has been relatively unmapped of late), Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong and Dan Sheehan (yet again) delivered contributions for the ages.
And the one sure-fired certainty, Farrell will keep them balanced and on track. It is his league upbringing, he knows no other way.