5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland Under-19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday week (December 14) has been announced.
There were many pleasing aspects to this game. Individually, each member of this Irish side took responsibility and were clinical in their execution of the basics. Collectively, they produced as good a team performance as we've witnessed at any time in the past. You could ses them encouraging, urging, complimenting, cajoling each other throughout the game and perhaps the greatest testimony to their character came in the dying minutes of a game that was already beyond the visitors.
In those frantic final moments, the world champions, visibly stung by the impending defeat came hunting for a try that would give them some sort of salvation. They were two scores behind and a try would have saved them some face. They are notorious for pouncing in situations like this, late in the game, and one would have forgiven this brave, weary Irish side if they had leaked a try at that stage. Not one supporter would have left Lansdowne Road any the less happy if it had ended 18-16 in Ireland's favour. But the Irish side galvanised themselves once more. It couldn't be said they tackled themselves to a standstill, because they were still standing, knocking down yellow shirts right until the final whistle. It was tremendous stuff, and credit to each individual and credit too, to Mike Ford, their defence coach who will take particular pleasure from this performance.
On a day when Ireland truly perfomed as a team, there were naturally, individuals who rate particular mention.
Ronan O'Gara was awarded the man of the match accolade and few would dispute that, and not just for his six-from-six return. He pinned the Aussies down in the corners and when Ireland were under pressure his clearances were calmly and accurately dispatched.
Full-back Girvan Dempsey has taken more than his fair share of criticism but he rubbished all that with a superb defensive display. He was as safe as houses under the high ball and cleverly ran it back when the occasion demanded.
And what about 'big Vic' ? Victor Costello was another who shipped a fair deal of criticism over his selection and he delivered a tour de force that hugely influenced the outcome of this game. An early hit on Owen Finegan not only set the tone but forced the big lock to retire. Delightfully light-footed over the early metres, Costello gained the sort of yardage that would have grid-iron coaches salivating at the mouth. Vic made the yardage while his back-row colleagues, Keith Gleeson and Anthony Foley ended up as the leading tacklers.
The better the quality of the opposition, the better Gary Longwell performs and he looked more than comfortable in ths type of company. And Malcolm O'Kelly. And Shane Byrne. The truth is that every man-jack of them did their country proud.