“Whoever wins on Thursday will be a very good international schools side. And whoever finishes second won’t be far behind”. So says Irish Schools manager, Barney McGonigle in an extensive interview
The following has been edited from an interview with Barney McGonigle, Irish Schools Squad Manager, prior to the announcement of the Irish Team for the Test Match with Australia (For team announcement, click onto the Irish Schools Diary section).
“The performance over the last two games has really shown that we’re on the right track. The New South Wales team were the divisional champions and Australia A were obviously a fine side. We’ve six out of six and that’s a fine record for any side to have in Australia. But we’ve no illusions – we’ve a big game on Thursday and it’s by no means a foregone conclusion. We’ve a lot of work to be done between now and then. We know that whoever wins that game is a good side.”
“As for Thursday, they’re the home side. But it’s hard to gauge how the Australians are feeling – the people who we’ve been dealing with are very much the Irish community and they’re very much pro-Irish. We’ve picked up a lot of supporters along the way, from the host families especially, which is very much a tribute to the boys themselves.”
“But the Australian team will be well prepared, and they’ll have analysed us the same way as we’ve analysed them. We’ve done well and we seem to be peaking at just the right time, but it’s hard to call. It remains fifty-fifty.”
“Our rolling maul has worked well off the lineouts. We’ve scored a penalty try off it in the last two games. When you’ve someone like Devin Toner, who’s 6’10”, and the strength and experience our pack has, right throughout the pack, then that’s something they’re going to be looking at. But there’s a lot more than that to this Irish team, and we’ve a lot to offer behind as well. Recently the displays of the backs has been very good.”
“The Australians have a lot of fine players themselves. They have four of the team that played last season, and boys who played in South Africa in the U-19 World Cup. So they have a good degree of experience.”
“We have a good mix of youth and experience. We have some who played in South Africa, too but also six boys who would be eligible again next year and a number of young 18 year olds.”
“As regards the fact that they have selected ten of the New South Wales side that we played and beat, it works both ways. While we beat them deservedly in a very tight game, they will also have taken confidence from pushing us so close, and they’ve obviously got a number of additional players coming in as well, including a couple that we haven’t seen at all, so they’ll be looking to spring a couple of surprises.”
“After the performance against Australia ‘A’, pretty much all positions are up for grabs. The boys on Sunday did Irish rugby proud and they have asked questions of us as a selection team. We’ve got a very tough selection job to do, not just with the starting fifteen. There’ll be three boys left off the squad who will be absolutely devastated that they’re not on, and they’ve got every right to be devastated. That’s where we are at the minute. The boys have worked extremely hard, as have Peter and Keith to develop them as players and individuals, and they have put it up to us. So it’s not going to be an easy decision, but that’s what we want.”
“Whatever happens in the last match, I have received letters, phone call and emails describing to me what a pleasure it has been to have these boys staying with them, how well they have integrated into their host families, and thanking the Irish Union, through me, for sending these boys to Australia. Our hosts have been absolutely superb wherever we have been – starting off in Singleton, on through Oakhill College and I’ve no doubt it’ll be the same here with the Marist College and the Irish Club in Canberra. It’s been a challenge for the boys to integrate and every one of them has stepped up to that challenge, and they’ve done Irish rugby proud.”
“We’ve got a clean bill of health – everyone’s available for selection – and our thanks go to Doctor Wilson and David Lyons (Physio) for their efforts in that regard. The group has bonded very well and Diarmuid Laffan has done a very good job both on and off the pitch and he deserves great credit.”
“We’re very positive, but one thing’s for sure. Whoever wins on Wednesday will be a very good international schools side. And whoever finishes second won’t be far behind.”
Click onto the Irish Schools Tour Diary for the announcement of the team to play Australia Schools on Thursday, 12.30 local time (Thurs, 03.30 GMT).
Messages of support for the team can be sent to Barney by fax to 0061 262396289