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Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 15:30 UK

Hard-nosed Ireland ready for battle

By Phil Harlow

Irish teams competing under the pressure of a World Cup environment don't always have the happiest of records.

Roy Keane, the combustible captain of the Republic of Ireland football team, stormed out of his side's training camp in Japan before the 2002 World Cup after a furious row with boss Mick McCarthy about the standard of facilities and a perceived lack of professionalism.

Former Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane
Roy Keane ended up walking his dog back in England while the 2002 World Cup went on without him

Keane said he was sick of a happy-go-lucky "give it a lash" approach in Irish sport - but the Ireland team travelling to Australia for this month's Rugby League World Cup have no intention of making that mistake.

"We've been planning for this since the day we qualified against Lebanon last November," Ireland team manager Mike Callaghan told BBC Sport.

"All the hard work and attention to detail we've put in over the last few months will stand us in good stead when we actually start playing. It's been a very hectic few months."

With the sport still in its infancy on the Emerald Isle, Rugby League Ireland cannot contemplate the level of resources available to their football counterparts.

But the Irish set-up has done everything possible to ensure the campaign - which begins against Tonga in Parramatta on 27 October - goes smoothly.

"We've had a delegation go to Australia to look at the training camps and hotels and meet local business people," said Callaghan. "We then employed people there to help finalise all the little things that go into a World Cup. It's a very professional set-up."

Ireland have had to cut their cloth to some extent, flying out on the same plane as England but making do with standard seats while Tony Smith's men enjoyed the benefits of business class.

Wigan and Ireland's Pat Richards
Richards helped Wigan into the Super League play-offs this season
And head coach Andy Kelly has had to take time off from his day job as a self-employed kitchen fitter in order to make the trip down under.

Nevertheless, Ireland, who reached the last eight on their World Cup debut back in 2000, are not going along to make up the numbers.

With the likes of Pat Richards, Eamon O'Carroll, Michael McIlorum, Gareth Haggerty and Wests Tigers prop Ryan Tandy on board, they have plenty of top-level experience in their ranks.

"I feel we've got a very strong squad," added Callaghan. "We'll certainly have the team spirit that will carry us through games. Everyone's working together and we've got a fantastic bond.

"The lads have been doing a lot of work in the gym on the weights, and they trained in the climate chamber at Liverpool John Moores University - our conditioner is a lecturer there - to get accustomed to the heat and humidity they'll encounter in Australia."

Ireland will also benefit from the huge experience of Barrie McDermott and Terry O'Connor, who both played for the Wolfhounds in the 2000 tournament, during their World Cup campaign.

McDermott is Kelly's right-hand man, while O'Connor is assistant to Callaghan, helping deal with the off-the-field logistics.

"They've both been there and done it," said Callaghan, who was Leigh Centurion's general manager during the club's time in Super League.

Barrie McDermott
McDermott will bring both spirit and exerience to the Ireland squad

"They are Grand Final winners and former GB and Ireland internationals. We can draw on that knowledge and experience."

Ireland have got one eye on the long-term future, with the aim of moving up the world rankings and becoming a more established force on the international scene.

"It's about what we can learn from this as a group and take forward for the years to come in the European Nations Cup and so on," said Callaghan.

"What bodes well for Ireland is that we have four players from the domestic competition who have made the grade to play international rugby league at the World Cup. The playing standards there have shot up in the last two years and over the next few years we're aiming to develop that further.

"We have to be realistic. Rugby league is a very minor sport in Ireland at the moment with the competition from the gaelic sports, rugby union, football, horse racing and so on. But there is so much potential over there."

We'll see just how much in the next few weeks.

see also
Britain plans 2013 World Cup bid
17 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Ireland suffer White injury blow
09 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
World Cup qualifying
29 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
Draw revealed for 2008 World Cup
19 Apr 07 |  Rugby League
Keane v McCarthy: blow-by-blow
28 May 02 |  Rep of Ireland
Keane sent home
23 May 02 |  Rep of Ireland
The Irish revolution
05 Nov 00 |  Group 4
England storm into last four
11 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Rugby League World Cup 2008 fixtures
08 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby League World Cup squads
14 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby League World Cup on the BBC
06 Oct 08 |  Rugby League

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