Rory Best believes Ireland have filled the "void" between the northern and southern hemispheres with their historic autumn Test series.
Ireland became the first European team since England in 2003 to register calendar-year victories over the southern hemisphere's big three with their 27-24 win over Australia on Saturday.
Best toasted his 100th cap with a win for the annals as Ireland added the Wallabies scalp to their June victory over South Africa and the November 5 triumph over New Zealand in Chicago.
"It's a pretty big achievement for us to do that," said Best, of Ireland's southern hemisphere clean sweep in 2016.
"It's a good sign for us with the depth that we're now building.
"After the Rugby World Cup there was all the talk about a big void between the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere.
"We didn't think there was a gap 12 months ago, but now we feel that as a team on our day we can compete with anyone.
"To get a result today is very important for us."
Ireland ended the 2015 World Cup feeling they had blown their best-ever chance to reach a maiden semi-final with a frustrating last-eight loss to Argentina.
Hosts England flopped spectacularly and New Zealand collected the William Webb Ellis Cup for the second time in a row.
All four semi-finalists hailed from the southern hemisphere, prompting much soul-searching in Europe.
Ireland's first win over the All Blacks, the 40-29 win at Soldier Field earlier this month, has helped elevate Schmidt's men to new heights however.
And now Best hopes the side can carry that confidence forward.
"We've simply got to keep improving," said Best.
"We know that that's the big challenge, because you look at how Scotland have come along and how England are going now - we'll have to be better in the Six Nations, there's no doubt about that."
Best became Ireland's fifth centurion at the Aviva Stadium, joining Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Ronan O'Gara and John Hayes in the exclusive set.
The 34-year-old produced another stirring performance, as Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose and Keith Earls claimed the vital tries.
Ireland entered the clash without Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and late withdrawal Sean O'Brien, then lost Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne in a bruising encounter.
The hosts wound up with replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion on the wing, but still managed to fend off Michael Cheika's resurgent Wallabies.
Best admitted he was delighted to end an emotional week with a vital victory.
"There's something special in these last 12 months: we've worked really hard on guys being thrown into difficult situations," said Best.
"The way the week has gone and with the disappointment of last week, we talked about losing those guys early in the week, then losing Sean so late, you just hope the squad steps up.
"It was obviously a very emotional day for me, because they're such a great bunch of guys to captain.
"It's obviously very special and very emotional to get to this stage.
"To do it and do it at home at the Aviva Stadium is incredibly special.
"This week it's shown me why Ireland rugby is such a great place to be around."
Australia left Dublin furious with botching several gilt-edged chances for victory, while also carrying rancour over referee Jerome Garces' performance.
The Wallabies will move forward to face England at Twickenham on December 3 desperate to get back to winning ways - but Australia captain Stephen Moore was intent on offering his respect to Ireland counterpart Best before jetting on to London.
"It's important with everything else that went on in the game to mark what's a great achievement for him personally," said Moore of Best.
"It's full credit to him for all the hard work he's put in over his career, and he deserved that tonight."