Ireland’s young guns come of age on Soldier Field
Next generation stand up to the All Blacks on field of dreams
Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane celebrate beating the All Blacks. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
They don’t say much. Well, Tadhg Furlong is a great talker but in the others - like Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier - we see the intellect and character, we see it in how they move, how they stare back with nonchalant faith in their natural ability.
“I just told him he has balls of steel,” said Rob Kearney of Joey Carbery after the 21-year-old kicked the ball dead on his debut. Ireland player 1081, the unbeatable one. Check his docket.
“To come on and he looked so comfortable when he kicked one really important ball down into the left corner and one kick at goal,” added Kearney. “It’s fairytale stuff for him, isn’t it?”
Joey is just a kid? “Exactly, he probably doesn’t even appreciate it.”
He will. It changes soon as Seanie O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson return.
It remains unclear whether Paddy Jackson will be available for Canada so Carbery might add to his 20 minute cameo in Chicago at next Saturday’s homecoming (45,000 tickets sold and counting).
“Yeah, it was a bit crazy but I didn’t really think about that, I went back to basics and did what I normally do,” said the outhalf who guided Clontarf to the AIL as recently as May.
Hard to believe it’s the start of your test career? “Aw, crazy. I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable.
“It’s a dream come true, really, to play against them . . . and to win, to win for the first time ever, I can’t believe it.”
Born in Auckland, before moving to Athy as an 11-year-old, the All Blacks were his boyhood heroes growing up.
Aaron Cruden gave him a real black jersey. Told him to keep his.
“I always practice it during the week and when I’m needed to step up, I’ll step up.”
Another beginning was Tadhg Furlong. Mike Ross went off injured playing for Leinster on the weekend so the safety net is gone with Marty Moore at Wasps. This was the 23-year-old Wexford man’s second start in green. He already looks like the resident tighthead.
“It is weird to be in the team, to beat the All Blacks for the first time, it is overwhelming in some ways, just the joy, the pride,” said Furlong. “It’s just amazing to be a part of it.
“The atmosphere of the crowd, looking up into those high-rise stands, it seemed never ending, it was incredible. The fans, their support, they lifted us when we needed them to.
“We emptied the tank. All week we have been building up to do something that has never been done before. It is incredible to be part of that. I suppose I stepped pretty late into a team that has been building for a long time. It is just such a proud moment. When we scored that last try, I didn’t know what to do, to jump up and down, to cry, I just didn’t know what to do. In a weird way, it takes hold of you.
“Oh by God, what a performance from the lads, it is just amazing to be part of it.
“There is immense pride to be Irish, immense pride to be where I am from, pride in my club back home. I’m a proud Wexford man so to be the first person to do it is a huge thing. It is just a hell of a day to be Irish, isn’t it?”
Josh van der Flier arrived after 25 minutes to make 13 tackles and suffer immense punishment over the ball from New Zealand’s ferocious dipping shoulders. And still: “It was great fun out there with the atmosphere and everything like that. You didn’t have time to get tired.
“It’s always cool playing against players you’ve watched or looked up to.”
Three young men, 13 caps between them, one All Black scalp.