PJ Cunningham: Sexton holds key in Ireland’s World Cup smash ‘n’ grab

PJ Cunningham Sexton holds key in Irelands World Cup smash n grab
23 June 2018; Jonathan Sexton of Ireland celebrates after the 2018 Mitsubishi Estate Ireland Series 3rd Test match between Australia and Ireland at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Around this time next year we will get a very good idea of whether Ireland are once again flattering to deceive when it comes to rugby World Cups or whether we are the genuine articles that right now we think we are, writes PJ Cunningham.

Any follower of the game needs little reminding that even when we had the so-called ‘golden generation’ of O’Driscoll, O’Gara and O’Connell, we never progressed beyond the quarter-final stages of the competition.

Today, we are ranked number two in the world – only behind the all-mighty All-Blacks. That high rating for Joe Schmidt’s men comes about largely by our amazing Six Nations Grand Slam last spring which had one defining factor – Johnny Sexton.

You don’t need me to remember how he culminated that 41 man move in Paris to kick that huge drop goal which turned our evening – and season – from one of gallant loss into one of amazing possibilities.

In turn, that became an even more exhilariting reality as Ireland claimed the Slam in Twickenham against an England team that were made to look decidedly sub-standard.

We now have the Autumn internationals upon us and the Six Nations are ahead of us early next year nbefore we can truly evalaute how Ireland’s standing will be in the run-up to Japan.

One constant that will be needed is the current Irish outhalf Sexton, who is considered the best organiser of a team on the field of play.

He will turn 34 next July so it is a question of minding him physically through the coming months. The Leinster, Ireland and Lions playmaker is always a big tackle target for opposing teams – with many hits coming illegally.

As well as being an on-field general with an ability to create required strategies while operating on the the hoof, Johnny is a warrior who can take and give hits like few other playmakers in the business.

While Scotland will provide a tough opening in the land of the rising sun, should we beat them, Russia and the hosts, we will probably meet South Africa in the quarter-finals.

With Sexton at the helm, I’d fancy us to have a real chance of making it to the semi-finals. And once you get that far, well it’s a one-off and a bit like a smash ‘n grab situation, anything can happen.

Sheedy the master of the one-in-a-row

They say you should never come back in sport but Liam Sheedy looks to prove that old adage wrong by stepping in for a second time to the Tipperary hurling hotseat.

When this banker cashed in his chips with the Premier County in 2010, he had just led them to All Ireland glory over Kilkenny in such a manner that it looked like there would be many more successes in the following years.

One title since under the tutelage of Michael Ryan is all the county has to show in terms of Liam MacCarthy wins – a huge underachievement when you consider they had also won the U-21 title in 2010.

Originally when they notion was floated, Sheedy responded: “Whether it’s me or Nicky English, there’s always going to be names like that bandied around but ultimately, it’s a massive, massive commitment and they’ll need a bit more spare time than I have.”

PJ Cunningham Sexton holds key in Irelands World Cup smash n grab
17 July 2017; Antrim Celtic Challenge Squad members at a personal training session with former Tipperary star and Director of Munster, Bank of Ireland Liam Sheedy. Antrim were one of the six counties to emerge as winners in the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge finals. Antrim defeated North Cork in last month’s finals, played at Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow. The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is a 32 county hurling development competition for 16 and 17 year old participants. Over 14000 players from around the country took part in the 2017 competition. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Now he’s had a conversion on the road to Damascus. And with good reason. Like Sheedy when I look at the Tipperary panel, there is no dearth in talent; the problem has been discipline and man-management.

As a man entrusted by a bank to be a senior national figure, the 48-year-old knows how to run a tight ship and keep morale high at the same time.

His return will bring out the best in those still around from 2010 and will give directions to those who have come along since but may have somehow lost their way.

In my view, Tipp under Sheedy will have more of a say in the All Ireland series next year than Waterford, Clare or Cork in Munster while they will also be ahead of Wexford, Dublin and Kilkenny on a wider sweep.

That only leaves Limerick and Galway and I think Galway will be the bigger threat of those two.

The end game will be decided by the team with the burning desire– and Sheedy’s own great hunger for another one-in-a-a-row will be huge. Expect him to do that and then move on again.

Prediction of the Week – It won’t happen overnight but somewhere down the line, don’t be surprised to hear that Kieran Donaghy – who announced his retirement from playing with Kerry last week – one day takes up the reins as Kingdom boss.

Playback of the Week – It was like old-times to see on Sunday Tiger Woods out last in Atlanta when he went head to head with Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship in Atlanta and destroyed the Northern Irishman.

It will be interesting to see how much confidence he takes from this weekend heading to Paris for the Ryder Cup beginning on Friday morning.

Rory was heard to utter a profanity when asking if it was possible for one of his drives to end up on the fairway… auguring not well for his personal role in this weekend’s big clash between Europe and the USA.

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Rugby World Cup countdown clock is ticking for Ireland

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