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Barrett's Gaelic schooling the real threat to Ireland

SPOTLIGHT: Beauden Barrett seeks revenge against the Irish in Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal, but the All Blacks star owes a debt of gratitude to Ireland because he learned the basic skills thanks to – Gaelic football.

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The 32-year-old fullback has lost more than he probably would care to recall against the Irish, though he was part of the team that destroyed Johnny Sexton and his teammates in the 2019 World Cup quarterfinals.

It is, however, the historic home series loss last year to Ireland that has raised Kiwi hackles – Ireland coming from nil-one down to win two-one.

That was the start of their 17 Test match-winning run.

Barrett, though, was licking his lips in anticipation of ending it in the last eight.

“We learnt a lot during that series,” he said, adding: “It was a challenging time.

“Some of the most challenging times we’ve faced as an All Black team, and personally, losing the series in our backyard,” said Barrett.

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“So, Ireland in the quarterfinals is great, because there are a lot of us who are pretty keen to get one up on them and still we’re hurting from what happened last year.”

Barrett may have learned a lot from that series, but it won’t be the first time the Irish have taught him a lesson.

These, though, helped him hone his skills when, aged eight, he came with his family to live in Ireland.

His father, Kevin ‘Smiley’ Barrett, had secured a job as a farm manager in Ballinacree, County Meath, an hour’s drive north of Dublin.

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‘Sloshing around’

The sole sport at their school was Gaelic football, which involves kicking a round ball.

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So Barrett junior’s ability to kick the ball cross-field for teammates to catch and touch down was learnt from those early days.

“I have no doubt, you can claim fame to that!” ‘Smiley’ Beauden told The42.ie in 2016.

While the Barrett boys enjoyed their time in Ireland, their initial reception at school was one of amazement at their attire, as their father recounted.

“Kane, Beaudy and Scotty were straight into school,” he said.

“The first day, they turned up to school in their bare feet and they got some looks.

“Everyone thought, ‘these poor New Zealand boys without shoes on,’ but that’s what we do.

“They were sloshing around in the snow, it was quite funny,” added Barrett senior, who was also renowned for arriving at rugby training straight from the farm with his Wellington Boots on.

Beauden Barrett recalls those days fondly in his biography: “Beaudy: Skills, Drills & The Path to the Top,” including his amazement that the nearby town of Oldtown had a population of just one thousand people but 13 pubs.

Although he and his brothers went off to play rugby at another town he has positive memories of Gaelic Football.

“I really enjoyed Gaelic football, a fast and skilful game for which you need good endurance and where Dad’s lessons about kicking off both feet proved vital,” said Barrett.

“It was great for my hand–eye coordination and vision, being able to see space on the field.”

The Barrett boys would traipse along too when ‘Smiley’, then 34 and a former second rower with Super Rugby franchise The Hurricanes, turned out for The Buccaneers rugby team.

“His sons used to come to the games,” Joe McVeigh, who captained the team, told RTE in 2019.

“When our out-halves would be doing their kicking practice, Beauden would be under the posts kicking the ball back to the lads.

“I would have joked that Beauden learned his trade at Buccaneers.”

Barney Tighe became friends with the family and used to watch the boys, Beauden and Scott, play Gaelic Football.

“They were very popular in the community and great athletes altogether,” said Tighe.

“We’ve great memories of them.”

Those memories may sour a little come Saturday, especially if a cross-field kick first learned on a Gaelic Games pitch proves the difference.

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