Barrie McDermott on: His love for Ireland, 2000 World Cup & hopes for growth

From just speaking to Barrie McDermott, it was very easy to tell just how passionate he is about his time playing for Ireland.

The 48-year-old was born and raised in Oldham but qualified to play for Ireland through his family heritage.

A legend at Leeds, McDermott went on to earn 15 caps for Great Britain and 15 for Ireland.

He recalled: “I grew up in an Irish catholic family so when the international RL opened up for the heritage players in 1997, I proudly played for the birthplace of my grandparents with family ties in Galway.

“At that time I’d already played for GB in an Ashes series so I wasn’t sacrificing my ambition to play games against the elite teams so it was an easy decision for me.

“I was always proud and loved playing for Ireland with a completely different type of player compared to the GB teams I played in. With players like Billy Treacy, Brian Carney, Wayne Kerr and Stevie Gibbons who were more than capable of making it in RL, it is important to promote our game to a wider audience and the Irish mentality and passion is well suited to RL.”

McDermott played in the 2000 World Cup for a strong Ireland side that featured the likes of Terry O’Connor, Brian Carney, Chris Joynt, Tommy Martyn, Steve Prescott and Ryan Sheridan.

The Irish reached the quarter-finals where they just fell short to England at Headingley. But what is McDermott’s favourite memory from that tournament?

He continued: “In the 2000 World Cup opener at Windsor Park we beat Samoa – not only was it a great team performance but the coaching team of Steve O’Neill and Andy Kelly moulded a top class set of players into a top class side.

“I looked around the changing room before the game and thought ‘wow’. Steve Prescott at full-back, Carney on the wing, Ryan Sheridan and Tommy Martyn in the halves, Tez (O’Connor) captaining the side at eight and with a back three of GB player Chris Joynt and Origin players Luke Ricketson and Kevin Campion. They were great players but outstanding blokes off the field too.”

Ireland reached the quarter-finals of the 2000 World Cup

McDermott, now a pundit for Sky Sports, believes there is huge potential for rugby league in Ireland and would love to see them be successful at this year’s World Cup.

He added: “There have been some unsung heroes pushing RL in Ireland such as my good friend and former chairman Dr Mick Molloy.

“We need more coaches to have a bigger reach to engage with kids as well as the men’s teams like Dublin Blues, Treaty City Titans, Carlow Crusaders and Galway Tribesmen to name a few where the game is thriving.

“The domestic competition is growing but if we looked at participation in Ireland, Scotland and Wales as 10-15 year projects with participation levels being the way we judge its success, then quality would come from quantity.

READ: Tyrone McCarthy: Pulling on Ireland jersey is a great honour

“The Provinces all have teams playing so we need to spend time working on relationships with the clubs and its players and find a way to work with Sport Ireland like we do with Sport England and prove we can change lives through sport.

“Domestic Irish players I’ve met over the years had the raw assets to make a go of it, most of them had a background in RU or GAA so the fundamentals were already there. If we can make some inroads into the schools and introduce young players to rugby league, there will be kids that are suited to and enjoy our sport if they can try it at a young age.

“I hope that Stuart Littler (current Ireland coach) the team does well in the World Cup. If he assembles a good squad with the right spirit, then who knows how far they can go?”

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