‘We believed’ – Ireland U20s’ journey to the World Championship final in their words

JOHN FALLON IS the only reporter from Ireland covering all of the Irish games at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester.

He has interviewed most of the Ireland players and management over the past few weeks.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Here, Ireland chart the story of their march to a first-ever final in the U20 age grade, in which they will take on England on Saturday evening [7pm, TG4] at the AJ Bell Stadium.


“All set now, it’s just countdown time. The weather has been fantastic, the facilities are incredible. The place here is something else.

“Just the facilities and even the grass is just incredible. It’s a great surface to play on, great venue, so it’s a great stage to be at. No complaints really, we are just looking forward to getting going.”

James Ryan at the captain’s run prior to the opening match against Wales when they got their first glimpse of the multi-million pound Manchester City Academy Stadium.

Captain James Ryan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’ve had a lot of problems with injuries this year and did a lot of work to get myself in here to start in that team. I’ve done so much work to get back in and then to get just three minutes is not the best.

“I may have to get surgery on it, it was dislocated. It happened in the tackle. Once I hit the tackle I felt it was gone, I couldn’t wrap it and I knew I was in trouble.”

Prop Conor Kenny, whose World Championship campaign ended with a shoulder injury after just three minutes of the opening game against Wales.

Prop Conor Kenny. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We are absolutely delighted. First-half we made seriously hard work. We gave them three relatively easy tries and we put ourselves in a really bad position. Luckily but for three missed kicks we could have been in an even worse position going into half time.

“In the second half we managed to hold onto the ball, get through a few more phases and impose our game on them a little bit. When we did we got a bit of success from it.”

Flanker Greg Jones after the 26-25 win over Wales, having been 17-0 down after just 20 minutes.

Greg Jones, back row. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“It was my first 80 minutes since December, so the last ten or 15 minutes I didn’t have much in the tank but credit to the team everyone put in their fair share of work, and to get the result it was brilliant.

“I’m just delighted to be playing fit and to get the win,”

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Out-half Bill Johnston after the win over Wales.

Alas, his tournament ended when he suffered another shoulder injury early in the second half against New Zealand.

Munster’s Bill Johnston. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“I started roughly around 11 or 12 with Shannon Estuary back home in Shanagolden in County Limerick.

“It’s not far from Tarbert, but it is not really a big club. I don’t think they have ever had a senior side but they are trying to develop it as much as they can. It’s mostly minis.”

Prop Ben Betts, now with Young Munster, on how he was introduced to rugby with the small Estuary club.

Tighthead Ben Betts. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“If we just stick to our systems and we really put our heart to it, there is no reason as to why we can’t win that game.

“We are looking to win a World Championship. We need to take each game at a time and beat every team that we can.”

Scrum-half and Sligo RFC man Stephen Kerins prior to the second pool match against New Zealand.

Scrum-half Stephen Kerins. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“We were behind our captain and we covered the pitch. If their players wanted to eye-ball our guys they had to go from sideline to sideline.

“It was that green wall that they were going to experience for the 80 minutes.”

Head coach Nigel Carolan on how the Irish squad lined up right across the pitch from sideline to sideline when New Zealand were doing the haka.

Head coach Nigel Carolan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It is still quite unbelievable but we believed all week that we could do it and all of the hard work paid off today.

“We made a bit of history today but we knew that it would be very hard from the get go. We knew that we couldn’t have a start like we had against Wales. We had to put in the work from the first whistle.”

Loosehead prop Andrew Porter after the historic 33-24 win over New Zealand, the first by an Irish men’s national side.

Loosehead prop Andrew Porter. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I didn’t think it was a yellow card personally but you can’t really go back. When I came on I had to do something to make up for it and thankfully I got a breakaway there for the try and got seven points back on the board.”

Hooker and Ulster U20 captain Adam McBurney, who scored a decisive try after spending ten minutes in the bin against the Baby Blacks.

Hooker Adam McBurney. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“It is something I had always … you dream of those moments, the end of the game, you have to score, you need a score to close out the game.

“To be honest, it was unbelievable, I can’t really put it into words.

“The ball was just there at my feet and luckily I picked it up and went over.”

Number eight and Player of the Tournament nominee Max Deegan on the try he got to finish off New Zealand.

Number eight Max Deegan. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“It was crazy during the Six Nations thinking we had 20% of the starting team coming from Sligo at the same age-group.

“If you told someone that five years ago they would have said you were crazy.”

Lock Cillian Gallagher, who is only 18 and underage again for this tournament in Georgia next year, on how so many players from Sligo RFC have been capped for Ireland this season.

Prop Conan O’Donnell, who was on the team last year, was ruled out through injury this time round but Gallagher — another whose tournament was cut short by injury — Stephen Kerins and Matthew Cosgrove have been flying the flag for the Yeats County.

Second row Cillian Gallagher. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“Never ever. I feel I am Irish. My whole family is Irish, Irish blood.

“Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to play for Ireland, always since I have touched a rugby ball.”

Scrum-half Niall Saunders – who joins the Harlequins academy this summer – on following in the footsteps of his father, former Ireland captain Rob Saunders.

Saunders [right] with back row Kelvin Brown. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“That seems to be question I have been asked a couple of times, is it about the performance or is it about winning?

“The answer I come up with is the performance; people want to see performance. Particularly the performance people who are building players of the future.

“I don’t think there is a player or a coach here in Manchester that doesn’t want to be a world champion and that entails winning, so the combination of both and putting these players into this environment is outstandingly good for their development.”

Assistant coach Conor Twomey on putting the focus on player development or winning matches.

Ireland celebrate their semi-final win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He’s a massive help to me.

“He gives me a few words of encouragement before games. He’s always by my side throughout it so delighted to have him.”

Paul Kiernan on his dad Michael, the Triple Crown drop goal hero.

UCC centre Kiernan captained the U20s in the win over Georgia when the sons of two other Irish internationals — Terry Kennedy Jnr. and Rob Saunders’ son Niall — were also in the starting XV for the 35-7 victory.

Paul Kiernan carries. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

‘We do get a good bit of free time in fairness.

“Last week we got to go to Alton Towers and that was great craic!”

Leinster wing Matt Byrne on life in camp for three and a half weeks.

Wing Matthew Byrne. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I spent five and half years in their [Newcastle United FC] academy when I was little.

“There sort of came a time where I had to chose between rugby and football and I was lucky to get a scholarship to go to boarding school and play rugby there.”

Out-half Johnny McPhillips, who grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne but with mum Honor from Waterford and dad Tony from Belfast, the lure of the green jersey was too much for a player capped at U18 level by England.

Out-half Johnny McPhillips. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He is a super operator and key member of our team. Lar does a great job and the lads really get on with him.

“He has a great way of doing things.”

Irish team manager Hendrik Kruger on the invaluable contribution of kitman Lar Hogan from Limerick.

Kitman Lat Hogan. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I’m a Chelsea fan! I had never been to Old Trafford.” 

Wing Hugo Keenan ticks another one off, after going to Manchester United’s ground with the Ireland squad to watch Soccer Aid.

Left wing Hugo Keenan. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“We are well looked after and we manage to get away from rugby for a time.There is a pool hall over the road so we spend a good bit of time over there.

“Conall Boomer is a good man for that, he’s my roomie as well. He is very good.”

Cashel man Sean O’Connor is no slouch with the cue himself, apparently.

Second row Sean O’Connor. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“It’s a great occasion to look forward to. We’re going to do what we’ve done for the last four games and follow the process but in that we’re going to enjoy it and enjoy the experience and that’s important, to embrace it.

“We’re in a World Cup final.

“We’re going to go through our process, get the stuff right that we’ve got to get right and enjoy the occasion as well and give it a right rattle.”

Assistant coach Peter Malone looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with England.

Source: David Davies

Ireland U20 World Championship squad:


Andrew Porter (UCD / Leinster)
James Bollard (DUFC (Trinity College) / Leinster)
Vakh Abdaladze (Clontarf / Leinster)
Adam McBurney (Ballymena / Ulster)
Vincent O’Brien (Cork Con / Munster)
Conor Kenny (Buccaneers / Connacht)
Benn Betts (Young Munster / Munster)
Cillian Gallagher (Sligo / Connacht)
James Ryan (Lansdowne / Leinster) (captain)
Sean O’Connor (Cashel / Munster)
Evan Mintern (Cork Con / Munster)
Greg Jones (UCD / Leinster)
Will Connors (UCD / Leinster)
Max Deegan (Lansdowne / Leinster)
Kelvin Brown (Shannon / Munster)
David Aspil (UCD / Leinster)
Conall Boomer (Ballymena / Ulster)
Adam Coyle (Naas/Leinster)
Matthew Cosgrave (Sligo/ Connacht)


Stephen Kerins (Sligo / Connacht)
Niall Saunders (Epsom College)
Bill Johnston (Garryowen / Munster)
Johnny McPhillips (QUB / Ulster)
Conor O’Brien (Clontarf / Leinster)
Shane Daly (Cork Con / Munster)
Brett Connon (Newcastle)
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD / Leinster
Paul Kiernan (UCC / Munster)
Jacob Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins / Ulster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s / Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD / Leinster)
Matthew Byrne (Terenure / Leinster)

Not Considered due to injury:

Conan O’Donnell (Sligo / Connacht)
Shane Fenton (Young Munster / Munster)
Peter Claffey (Galwegians / Connacht)
Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch / Ulster)
Jack Power (UCD / Leinster)

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