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Ireland to 'Ride On' with a little help from folk legend

First it was triple All-Ireland football winner Robbie Kelleher, financial sage and an improbable four-time All Star from the shadows of left corner-back.

Then Shane Lowry, an amateur Irish Open winning golfer. Next, Michael O'Leary, bete noir of the public sector and champion of the global entrepreneur.

Last of all, as the extended Irish squad assembled for the final time in their Carton House base after this most tiring of all Six Nations championships, Christy Moore and trusted sidekick Declan Synnott pitched up to entertain the troops.

And, thus, with every sinew stretched and each analysis DVD played to exhaustion, a final fillip with which to bound into action as Ireland seek to end a championship of vacillating emotion on a high.

"It's nice to bring people in to talk to them about things that are not rugby related," explained team manager Mick Kearney before the departure for an unprecedented fourth away trip of the campaign.

"The players would always challenge the management to bring in someone quite interesting, so you always try to get someone that they will find interesting to listen to."

Moore is an institution in Irish camps, having made an appearance in each of the last six years.

"I'm sure Christy will be looking for a couple of singers to get up and join him," joked Kearney, referring to the extended squad's renowned interpreter of 'Ride On'. "Damien Varley may get up there and do his impersonation. Kevin McLaughlin is a singer as well.

Important

"All the extended squad are invited as well, which is important for us, because it's been a long campaign and everyone has played their part. So, it should be a good night."

Sitting among it all will be one of the coaching staff who might squirm at the sense of green-tinged revelry were it not for the fact that, after 10 years as part of the Irish coaching staff, he is virtually an adopted Irishman himself.

Mark Tainton, the Irish kicking coach, now doubling up in attack with Les Kiss, is as Bristolian as Ian Holloway. But the fifth column within Ireland's set-up won't wince an inch. Even if deep down, he may not demur should his home country prevail in the Twickenham shoot-out for second place.

"It's not a difficult week at all," he smiles. "I've been here a number of years now and we always have a bit of craic about what's going to go on and the songs that will be sung. I'm sure that will happen as well with Christy Moore. No, it's fine. The guys know where my loyalties are and they're happy with that."

His primary task will be to ensure Ireland finish the campaign on a high, casting further back into the memory a disappointing third successive defeat to Wales on the opening weekend.

The northern hemisphere's quirky schedule means that, just as the Irish are forming into a cohesive attacking unit, they will be dispersed until the daunting summer tour to New Zealand.

"It's an old cliche, but we're not looking beyond this weekend," he insists. "We're taking it one game at a time and totally focused.

"We're still working on our attack this week -- different aspects where we feel we might break them down.

"And once this game is over we'll review the Championship, the pros and cons from it, and we'll assess after that and plan for the tour to New Zealand. In certain aspects, when we're down in deep areas of the opposition half we've looked very threatening and have come away with a number of scores.

"The England defence has been solid... so the players are under no illusions how difficult it's going to be this weekend. We do believe it has improved, but there's room for further improvement as well."

Tainton also refused to be miffed at Stephen Ferris' suggestion that England are bad losers -- because so are Ireland.

"I don't doubt that they are bad losers -- they're no different to ourselves. If you're used to winning games, then anytime you lose you're going to be a bad loser.

"It's as simple as that. I don't think he was being derogatory in any way about England itself."

Irish Independent