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On Tour: Kangaroos take flight

Usually it takes the Australian team hours to get out of the dressing sheds following a Test match. But after their match with Ireland there is no time: the team needs to get out of the sheds and get to the airport for their flight back to Manchester.

In record time, the Kangaroos have conducted their media interviews, spoken to the Australian ambassador, eaten their post-match meals, washed, dressed and left the iconic Thomond Park in Limerick.

It is 11:40 pm after Australia have defeated Ireland 50-0, and both teams have made their way to Shannon airport to get a chartered plane out of the country and back to Manchester.

The two teams are side by side waiting to check-in. There is no-one else at the airport – the place is deserted.

While players, coaching staff, a selection of journalists and World Cup officials mill around waiting to go through to the gate, Daly Cherry Evans takes a seat by himself on the floor in the middle of what would presumably be a busy area of the airport on most days. The Man of the Match takes out his laptop and Skypes home to catch up with his girlfriend and baby child.

Cherry-Evans has done everything asked of him by coach Sheens and hasn't done himself any harm tonight with a grand performance against Ireland. He is pushing hard for either a place on the bench or a starting role. 

But for now he has other priorities. He has wowed the World Cup, and while the teams wait to check-in he is doing the same with his family.

You can hear the Irish singing songs waiting for the plane throughout the ghost-town like airport. It has been a tough few weeks for the Irish team and this is their last chance as a team; it's essentially their Mad Monday. And they are set on entertaining themselves and their fellow travellers with their songs.

On the flight, the Australian team are seated at the front of the plane; the Irish in high spirits are behind them. There are plenty of spare seats in the cabin.

It is not long before the whole Irish team is belting out a really bad version of Don Maclean’s American Pie as the plane and cabin crew go through their regular pre-flight routine. There is clapping and singing throughout the aircraft, and some of the Aussies join in as the chorus hits fever pitch. It is clear that despite the 50-0 scoreline the Irish are in good spirits and looking to have a good time.

A guitar is uncased and more songs are belted out – some better than others. It is clear Mad Monday will start at 20,000 feet in the air.

The singing only stops to allow the flight crew to go through the safety messaging. In fact, the plane cannot take off until the safety demonstration has started, meaning the singing must be interrupted… momentarily at least.

It is not until about 12:30am that the plane leaves the ground.

The Irish are trying to engage the Australians, some of whom are exhausted and ready to sleep. The first of the Aussie anthems is attempted as a poor version of Men at Work’s ‘Land Down Under’, but it ends quickly to raucous laughter following an over enthusiastic rendition of “vegemite sandwich’. This is followed by “Tie me Kangaroo down sport” – that one gets a reaction as the Kangaroos players giggle and clap the creativeness of their colleagues.

The sense of camaraderie during this World Cup continues. 

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The plane eventually lands in Manchester Airport at 2am. The two teams board their separate busses. But then, Ireland captain Liam Finn steps on the Kangaroos bus to address the team. It is unprecedented and completely unscripted.

Finn has noticed that Brent Tate had his family on the plane, his two young kids exhausted and rag-dolled across any shoulder they could find, totally exhausted and asleep.

Not that he needed to, but the Irish captain wanted to apologise and make sure his team had not offended anyone with their banter. He also wanted to thank the Kangaroos for the contest and singled out Cooper Cronk for giving him the time of day to talk footy and get advice. Cronk had sought out the Irish halfback to swap jerseys after the game. It was a moment Finn admitted he would never forget.

Finn explained to the Australian team that it was Ireland’s last night together and they were just having fun. Not that it had caused any grief from the Australians, it was all good humoured.

But Finn was genuinely apologetic when he realised that Tate’s young kids had been on the flight and trying to sleep on the plane, and also very thankful to the Aussies for chatting to him about the game.

It was a touching moment – the Australians, to a man, applauded after the Irish skipper had finished talking and wishing the team the best for the World Cup.

Finn is all class. With that, he stepped off the bus, and the Australians made their way away from the airport with another day of the Rugby League World Cup done and dusted.

The Kangaroos now set their sights on the USA – the surprise packet of the World Cup. But that's another story.

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