by Conor O'Shea
At the start of the campaign we thought it would come down to Ireland v Wales for the Grand Slam in the Millennium Stadium and so it has. This Irish team have set up another 'where were you' moment in Irish sport.
Everyone remembers where they were when Barry McGuigan floored Eusesbio Pedroza at Loftus Road to win the World title, when Eamonn Coghlan kicked off the bend in Helsinki to fulfil his destiny, when Ray Houghton scored against England in Euro 88, when David O’Leary scored his penalty against Romania in Italia 90, and when Padraig Harrington hit “that” five wood to the 17th to secure his second British Open.
You could go on and on and I am not old enough to even begin to remember Ronnie Delaney or our last Grand Slam team of 1948. Sport is made of memories and a core of this group of Ireland players has given us plenty of those already whether it has been in the green of Ireland winning Triple Crowns or the red of Munster winning Heineken Cups. Win next week and it will top the lot of this group’s list of achievements and write them into sporting immortality in Ireland.
Sport - also plenty of near misses
But reminiscing on some of those great moments in Irish sport made me reflect on the other side of sport and where the expectation is dashed. Seamus Darby scoring to stop the great Kerry team of the 70’s winning their five in a row, Coghlan’s Olympic misses, Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci bursting our bubble in that same Italia ‘90, all of Harrington’s near misses, McGuigan losing to Cruz in Las Vegas.
That is sport; nothing ever goes quite to script and that is why we live the emotions the way we do. This Irish team will be only too aware of what England’s World Cup winning rugby side went through four years of disappointment running before finally winning their Grand Slam in 2003. They were mugged time after time but kept on coming back for more. One big difference is that England probably thought they had to win, Ireland travel to Wales knowing they face the hardest match of their championship, there will be no complacency.
Wales were awful at the weekend against Italy but will be back to their best for the Millenium clash and will pose questions all over the pitch. The beauty of this Irish group is, in true Declan Kidney style, they will roll with the punches and come back off the ropes looking for more. Their performance against Scotland was pure Kidney.
Scotland performance was classic Kidney
Outplayed for the majority of the first half Scotland failed to convert their superiority into points and yet again it was Brian O’Driscoll who provided the match defining moment. His tackle on Phil Godman at the end of the first half, a try which if not stopped would have given the Scots a 19 – 9 lead and would have put a different complexion on things. That tackle, followed by two minutes of continuity play by Ireland provided the springboard for the second half.
I have to say I love watching this team play. To a man this team fight for each other’s respect, the young guys like Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney, and Stephen Ferris fight and have earned the respect of their peers in O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara. John Hayes continues to defy logic and Peter Stringer not only delivered a master class yesterday he also emphasised the skill that is team selection. France and England can’t get selection right and they have more resources to call on. With limited resources Declan Kidney invariably gets it spot on. Over to you Mr Kidney: who do you leave out next week??
A lot will be said about the championship being in our hands even if we lose to Wales and that is true, they do have to beat us by more than 13. I don’t think they are capable of that but this will be another nail biter. It is true that our first championship for 24 years would be a worthy achievement but this team and some of the individuals within it deserve more than that. Sport is harsh in the sense you don’t always get what you deserve but they will want the Grand Slam badly. The stadium which has seen Munster unforgettably reach their holy grail of the Heneiken Cup after all those near misses could host this Ireland team reaching theirs and it would be no more than they deserve.
Let’s enjoy it for now and we’ll analyse the game to come during the week.