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Winning is not enough - manner in which Ireland play the game matters for future

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Peter O'Mahony on the Ireland Rugby Team's return at Dublin Airport from the Rugby World Cup. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Peter O'Mahony on the Ireland Rugby Team's return at Dublin Airport from the Rugby World Cup. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Peter O'Mahony on the Ireland Rugby Team's return at Dublin Airport from the Rugby World Cup. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

For a child growing up in 1980s Ireland, there were the Triple Crowns in 1982 and 1985.

After that, the most enduring flashes from memories through the decade were not the Grand Slams by England (1980), France (1981 and 1987) and even Scotland (1984).

Far from it.

All of those 'other nation' achievements were insignificant, serving only as statistics for the roll of honour.

No, it was that intoxicating taste of 'French flair' and those wonderful wizards in Blue that thrilled and endured.

To see Serge Blanco in his pomp was to have a seat front and centre at the French ballet.

The will o' the-wisp Pierre Berbizier was given freedom to pass and probe by those jail-breaking forwards Philippe Dintrans and Robert Paparemborde, as well as swashbuckling Jean Pierre-Rives.

The boys back in rural Ireland in 1980 would take to the fields, scrapping for the right to be Blanco or Rives, not necessarily Rodney O'Donnell or Fergus Slattery.

Seven years later, the swaggering Philippe Sella, majestic Denis Charvet and elegant Eric Bonneval had rivals from Ireland's own hypnotic heroes.

The silky Brendan Mullin and that pass-master Paul Dean were among those who won through a wide-reaching plan, not just the 'boot, bite and the bollock' that had always been a guaranteed Irish trademark.

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However, there have been too few Irishmen pulled from the hat of magic.

Simon Geoghegan was one. Brian O'Driscoll another. Too few, too far apart.

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony stepped off the plane at Dublin airport on Tuesday evening and into a conversation on Joe Schmidt's legacy.

"I think, for me, he's changed the prospect and the outlook on rugby for young generations, which is probably the biggest thing you could say about any person's career.

"There are kids in Ireland now, who will be expecting to be successful, expecting to win trophies regularly," said the Corkman.

In Schmidt's time, Ireland have grown used to truly competing and often winning all the way up to the World Cup, where the wheels have come off as the unimaginative Irish playing style has proved limiting.

In 2015, Argentina dared to dazzle with their wit and width at the World Cup.

They turned Ireland inside-out and upside-down with their commitment to 'champagne rugby.'

It took them as far as the semi-final.

In 2019, Japan built on the shock they caused against South Africa in 2015 by mesmerising Ireland and Scotland with the speed and accuracy of their passing.

It took them to the quarter-final for the first time. The very thing missing form Ireland's game, especially in 2019, was what drove Argentina and Japan - a relentless pursuit of space.

To get the ball there, you have to move it quickly, accurately, something not highest on Ireland's list of priorities.

Schmidt's legacy of winning was not enough to take Ireland where they have not been before.

The good news is that this is the era of the exiled Simon Zebo, Jordan Larmour, Joey Carbery, Jacob Stockdale ... and who knows else on the way.

Once upon a time, these skilled backs had their heroes too. It is likely O'Driscoll was foremost among them.

It is not only winning that causes a young boy or girl to dream of growing into a green shirt.

It is how you do it that can catch the imagination.

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