IRELAND have been a World Cup success story again but frustrated captain Liam Finn says the country will only ever start fulfilling its potential in the sport once a professional Dublin club is allowed to join Championship One or above.
The Wakefield Trinity scrum-half has enhanced his own reputation further with some quality displays Down Under, helping the Wolfhounds to a brilliant 36-12 win over Italy in Cairns before pushing Papua New Guinea so close in the sweltering heat of Port Moresby.
Unfortunately, that narrow 14-6 defeat – Ireland trailed just 8-6 until the final moments of a punishing Test match – means they will not be able to reach the quarter-finals even if they do, as expected, beat Wales in Sunday’s last pool game at Perth.
Nevertheless, Mark Aston’s squad have won an army of new fans for their excellent approach, committed nature and no little skill, just as they did when shocking Samoa to reach the last eight of the 2008 World Cup the last time it was held in Australia.
Finn, 34, is a veteran of that side and has proudly been captain for the last five years.
“It has been another good tournament for us,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
There’s all this talk of a New York club joining after Toronto, yet no signs of one from Dublin…? It is frustrating for lads who play over there.Wakefield and Ireland’s Liam Finn
“That win over Italy was a performance that went really well. I think their guys under-estimated us, thinking the Queensland Cup is better than Super League. Clearly, it isn’t.
“And the experiences in Papua New Guinea were just absolutely brilliant. Anyone who enjoys their rugby league has to go there if they get the chance. You have to see it to believe it.
“People talk about professional footballers and how they must feel but this was something else; fans were chasing after our bus, just wanting to touch us while the atmosphere in the ground at Port Moresby was unique to anything I’ve ever felt anywhere in the world.
“The noise they made – not just getting behind their team but cheering Ireland, too, if we did something good – was amazing.
“We visited a school which was fascinating. If they break the rules there they get rubbed by itchy leaf! And they just wanted to give us things, even though they have nothing themselves.
“Obviously, though, it is gutting to know even if we beat Wales we’ll be going home.
“We knew we didn’t have any room for error against PNG and one try is going to cost us a place in the quarter-finals. It’s pretty tough to take being so close.”
Sunday is almost certainly going to be Finn’s final World Cup match for Ireland, the nation the Dewsbury-born schemer – he qualifies through his late father Brendan, who hailed from Wexford – has represented so well since debuting in 2007.
But, despite advances, he added: “It’s the same old, same old. Ireland will only start getting better when we get a Championship or Championship 1 team based there.
“I know they are trying to do it. Our team manager says a sponsor is ready to go and all the plans are in place but apparently they seem to be getting knocked back due to no room. There’s all this talk of a New York club joining after Toronto, yet no signs of one from Dublin…?
“It is frustrating for lads who play over there. They need somewhere to play; they can’t be expected to pack in their jobs and come over to England just for a chance with someone like Coventry Bears.
“They need their own team, their own identity and I do hope they get it as, at the moment, that’s the real stumbling block.”
Finn, who holds Ireland’s record for caps and points-scored, faces a familiar face on Sunday given Wales are coached by John Kear, his head of rugby at Trinity. Their opponents have endured a miserable tournament after heavy defeats to Papua (50-6) and Fiji (72-6).
Former Castleford Tigers half-back Finn said: “I’ve actually just walked John back to his hotel after a civic reception event here in Perth! We’ve been chatting. He’ll have Wales fired up for Sunday; they’ll be a lot better against us.
“We’re more familiar whereas before they were facing Jarryd Hayne and loads of Fijians they’d never seen before. It’ll be a lot tougher but we want to sign off with another win ourselves.”