In 2007, Irish rugby was giddy with proclamations of going to the World Cup to win the Webb Ellis cup. As the third ranked team in the world, why shouldn't Ireland have a legimate shot at winning the tournament?
We all know what happened after that, with a painful exit at the pool stage after struggling through games against France, Argentina and Georgia.
Lessons were learned, and the idea was that Ireland would play down expectations as only we do. Joe Schmidt came in, promptly played down expectations after his amazing work with Leinster. That Ireland are now entering a World Cup as back to back Six Nations champions, with their highest ever ranking of second while expectations remain relatively in check speaks volumes for what Schmidt has done.
There has been minimal proclamations and announcements from players. Until now. First, captain Paul O'Connell admitted that Ireland could win the tournament before vice-captain Jamie Heaslip made the 2007-esque statements.
When asked if Ireland could be counted as one of the teams that could realistically win the Webb Ellis trophy, O'Connell said to the Irish Independent:
I think that's fair. There's no doubt that we're far from favourites going in to it, but we know that, on our day, when we are firing on all cylinders, that we can do damage to teams. The problem is that there are probably a lot of teams who feel the same way.
While O'Connell is very reserved, Heaslip is a lot more bullish. In his new column in the Players Tribune, Heaslip's positivity is palpable:
Let me make something clear: We’re not going to England to get to the semi-finals and be knocked out. I want to win the damn thing!
Heaslip speaks about the unity in the team even though the provincial rivalries between players is akin to the Manchester derby:
It’s like Manchester United versus Manchester City or the New England Patriots versus the New York Jets. But over time, we’ve realized that once we get into camp — into Ireland mode — the provincial rivalry has to be put aside.
That tribal passion we have when we play for our clubs, we all combine it to become one united, crazy, mad, passionate, tribal Irish team. The result is that the intense pressure we put on each other on the professional level is unleashed on international sides.
It's certainly a change of tune from an Irish camp, with senior players buoyed by the increasing confidence surrounding Irish rugby.
How Joe Schmidt reacts we wait and see.
Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE