It began with a small quiet trophy won in a small quiet corner of Ireland.
His story with this Island started there in Wilsons Hospital school in West Meath, where he won. An important word that would follow him around and one he could always beat his critics with but never did.
Many Kiwis started out in Irish rugby in the same small way; Gatland, Brewer, Mitchell, Kidd. Some involved provincially or with Ireland. Bringing the standards of that rugby mad island many miles away to this Island, like missionaries bringing their religion with boot, bite and bollock, instead of prayer.
None of them, however, ever had the ability of Joe Schmidt.
The record is etched. The critics silenced. The fools learned. Old Hooks and barbs silenced for good.
The ever-growing list of accolades is as exhaustive as it is impressive.
Two European Cups, three Six Nations Championships (Grand Slam x1), a European Challenge Cup, a Pro12 title, and a central role to a Top 14 win in France. Oh, and a Ranfurly Shield in his native land.
Joe Schmidt has been a busy man.
When Schmidt was appointed it was said he was going to be our greatest coach. We few lost faith and it wavered, the World Cup a bitter pill to swallow, but how wrong we were.
He felt the World Cup loss a million times more, having invested his life and reputation into the campaign, only to suffer the injuries and eventual exit.
Schmidt’s reaction was to turn things around. Three players for every position, a new generation.
So what if its “boring” (Matt William’s words) or prescriptive? It’s winning rugby with a blend of golden youth, built on painstaking work and dedication.
It seems Joe, as he is affectionately known by the Irish support, finally trusts how good we are.
It proves what he always said; time would be needed, as it was a much shorter window than provincial coaching. Ireland’s greatest coach making his critics look like fools.
Rob Kearney too, unlucky not to be nominated for NatWest 6N Player of the Tournament, answered a lot of his critic. Ignoring the unwise harshness and ranting of the bar stool pundit, he delivered in spades, quietening the people who never put an ounce of work into their craft like the man of Cooley.
Pure artistry and bloody-mindedness. Revisionism perhaps, reality yes.
Irish Rugby and its continuing success is built upon hundreds of great provinces, clubs and schools; the volunteers , minis, mums, dads, partners, coaches, players both professional and amateur, analysts, and all the legends from the mists.
It’s easy from the cheap seats. It’s bloody hard work past the white wash in the game of hard knocks and broken bones. The Brophys, the Hurleys, the Healeys all those unsung heroes known to their own tribes.
Rugby may not be the people’s game (whoever the” people ” are) but it’s full of great people. A game built upon friendship, hard work and sacrificing yourself for the collective, for the team; knowing they will do likewise.
That is rugby’s DNA. It’s 41 phases and a drop goal, all heroes built equally. A blur of cogs in a green machine.
How lucky we are that bloke from Wilsons Hospital came back and made Irish Rugby his life’s work, and added his very own DNA and relentless drive to a group of fantastic Irish rugby men.
Here’s to Joe Schmidt, Ireland’s greatest ever coach.