NO doubt spurred on by a lot of over the top criticism, the Irish team responded with their finest ever Rugby World Cup performance by defeating second favorites Australia by 15-6 at Eden Park, Auckland last Saturday.
While the Irish side deserved some flak for a less than impressive warm-up campaign and a very average opening World Cup pool victory over the USA, they had not become a hopeless team overnight. Nor had Declan Kidney suddenly become a bad coach.
Kidney has a couple of Heineken Cups with Munster to his credit and a Grand Slam with Ireland. Yet, one pundit suggested that he "would put him in charge of the room list."
What might have seemed funny to some observers was, in fact, very insulting. So, it was up to Kidney and his team to put the record straight and prove that they are a team capable of making an impact at the World Cup.
They did it in style in the most trying of circumstances. Australia, after all, recently beat New Zealand to win the Tri-Nations competition and, given the opportunity, are the most dangerous running team at the World Cup.
The key, however, was that Ireland never gave them an opportunity to run. Importantly, Kidney was able to recall a fit again Sean O'Brien to what was a superb Irish back-row.
O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris were all outstanding as the Wallabies found themselves in a huge physical battle. Much has been made of the improved Australian scrum but they were second best throughout against the Irish props Cian Healy and Mike Ross.
Healy, also outstanding in the loose, was a deserved winner of the man-of-the-match award but this was an Irish team which had many heroes. Right from the start, the Aussies knew they were in a game.
The sides were level at 6-6 at the interval with Ireland's points coming from a Jonny Sexton penalty and a drop goal. But, worryingly, the out-half also missed a couple of other goalkicking opportunities.
In the event, the big Irish support at Eden Park need not have worried. The side raised the intensity and took the game to Australia to pull ahead.
Sexton added a further penalty to make it 9-6. And Ronan O'Gara, on for the injured Gordon D'Arcy, then took over the goalkicking duties to land two further penalties and make it 15-6 with 10 minutes left.
As hard as Australia pressed, they could not break through the Irish defense. Indeed, it was Ireland who very nearly added to their total when Tommy Bowe ran most of the length of the field after an intercept.
Interestingly, it wasn't just the team and the coaching staff who were given credit. Gordon D'Arcy went out of his way to praise injured hooker Jerry Flannery who has been ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup with calf problem.
Munster hooker Flannery presented the Irish players with their jerseys prior to the game, a move that D'Arcy described as "inspirational." Quite clearly, it worked as this was a hugely fired-up Irish outfit.
But, as good as they were in upsetting Australia, they know there is still a lot more work to be done if they are to top the pool and hopefully get a quarter-final pairing with Wales. Russia next weekend is unlikely to provide them with a problem but nothing can be taken for granted in the final pool outing against Italy in Dunedin.
"It's important that we don't get caught up in the fact that we've done the job this weekend," stressed one of the Irish coaching staff Les Kiss.
Wing Keith Earls had a feeling all week that there was a big performance in Ireland. "We always had belief in ourselves; we knew our potential," he said.
"Beating Australia in the World Cup has never been done before; it's massive. It's definitely up there but there's a long way to go."
Fortunately, slight hamstring strains to Paul O'Connell and D'Arcy are the only injury worries for Ireland as they prepare for the game against Russia. But another concern for the Irish management team was a post-match comment from Ronan O'Gara that he intends retiring from international rugby after the World Cup.
"It's massive, this is for the Irish side. I'm done with the Irish team in a few weeks," said the 34-year-old O'Gara. "I've had a great time in the jersey but I want this to be the biggest time."
Team manager Paul McNaughton revealed that every effort would be put in place to convince O'Gara to continue. "Undoubtedly Declan Kidney and the management team will be encouraging him to stay on. He's a very important member of the Irish set-up," stressed McNaughton.