What a difference a week makes. Sorrow and agony after the terrible defeat against Spain, followed by the mother of all sighs of relief after the defeat against Italy. Ireland are now looking to wrap up qualifying in Parma on Saturday with a win over Scotland, which could seal their place in next year’s World Cup finals in New Zealand.
The pressure in that Italian game last Sunday was enormous, the performance against Spain was poor, and although the 15-7 win was far from flawless, they got the job done.
“We used that pressure, we didn’t get into our shells and we didn’t hide,” says Eddie McMahon. “But pressure is part of elite sport, it’s part of international rugby, and I think everyone coped with it very well, and I saw it as an incentive to beat us and to be better on the pitch.”
“I think the same will happen this weekend as well,” he says confidently, but there will be a lot of pressure on that first place in a group where the four teams have five points in their final matches – and only the first will be safe. The qualification for the tournament, the World Cup, and the runner-up have to go to the rematch at a later time.
What will be in Ireland’s favor is that they will know exactly what to do against Scotland, with Italy’s game against Spain taking place early in the day. Records can be decisive: If Spain beat Italy by one more point, when they beat Ireland, nothing Adam Griggs’ team can do against Scotland will be enough to get past the group. But if Italy wins that match, Ireland just needs to match their score to improve.
For McMahon, who plays rugby with the Wasps after moving to England two years ago, not qualifying for the World Cup is unthinkable.
“It would be very disappointing because the sacrifices people made for this shirt were extraordinary,” he says. “From the age of one to 40, I’m talking about the girl you might not see here, who works at Interpros and trains because a phone call might suddenly mean she needs her. It would be devastating, but we don’t think about it. We love the pressure because we want to be on board. That plane to New Zealand.”
The village of Kilmehill in County Clare will be particularly interested in the Sabbath, as two of its natives will likely play their part. This represents about 0.6 percent of its population, which is far more than most villages can boast.
McMahon and Emir Considine grew up playing Gaelic football together, winning a football match with Claire for Palace in 2008. “I was 14, she was probably only 16 or 17. We’ve known each other for a long time, I think it’s cool We’re back. In the same team and we’re pushing for elite performance in whatever team we’re in. It’s a good relationship, a beautiful part of the country.”
Lockdown was sent home to McMahon from England, where he spent his time working on the family’s farm for four months. He laughs: “I wasn’t unemployed, there were so many jobs to do. I couldn’t imagine being trapped in London without a place to go, so I got home to Claire very quickly.”
The 27-year-old made her Ireland debut in 2018, but since then her career has struggled with injuries most of the time, not least when she broke her Achilles tendon.
That experience, she says, made her hungrier for success with this Irish team.
“I may not wear hats, but I’ve been around for a long time now and I know what that means for girls here and for those who haven’t been selected, and how important it is for us to get the job done this weekend.”
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