by Tadhg Peavoy
Shared experience is what bonds a society and pulls a nation toward cohesion and discussion. Wales 15-17 Ireland, the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, 21 March 2009, is a case in point.
Let’s face matters, we are in a rut. Financial institutions are collapsing, job cuts are continuing every day, a depressing gloom has surrounded the nation for the last number of months.
Ireland’s glorious Grand Slam success has given a chink of light through which we can all peer, however, and glimpse toward a positive future.
I travelled to Cardiff at the very last minute; a spur-of-the-moment decision to jump on a ferry and cull a lift from a work colleague. As we drove from Holyhead to Cardiff - through the Welsh mountains and valleys - I thought back through my sporting memories: Italia 90, Korea 2002, Aston Villa League Cup wins in 94 and 96 – all great memories; but I wasn’t there.
This was the first chance in my life to see Ireland achieve sporting history in the flesh.
Luck was to be with me throughout this trip. Last minute tickets, free accomodation at an old housemate’s flat in nearby Bristol and a lift the whole way from the ferry port were bestowed upon me.
And, as we were all to find out on Saturday evening, luck was the name of the game as, wait for it, the luck of the Irish came through and with a rub of the green we found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and Irish eyes were smiling.
The atmosphere that ensnares these RBS 6 Nations games is beyond comparison – the clashes are quite simply the friendliest sporting events one can attend. While the players batter everything they possibly can out of each other on the pitch, the fans hug the life out of each other off it.
As soon as I stepped onto the train from Bristol to Cardiff, I met an Ulsterman who is part of the Royal Navy and his English girlfriend. We talked about rugby, the recent flaring of violence in the north and the party atmosphere in Cardiff that awaited us. Then a skin-head Welshman walked-by and complemented me on my black beret – which I was sporting for the day.
Walking up to the Millennium Stadium, it seems like any other modern sporting venue. In all honesty, when one gets inside, it appears far from ordinary. It is a breathtaking cauldron of noise and colour. The raking of the stands is almost completley vertical – meaning that wherever one sits, one is right upon the action.
The game itself - analysed ad nauseum, and rightly so, in the press – is hard to expand upon, from what has already been written. It was a crack-a-jack, rope-a-dope encounter. Steven Spielberg would have been hard-pressed to come up with a better denouement. In fact, Uri Geller must have been behind those posts, bending spoons or whatever he does to conjure up miracles.
In describing the atmosphere inside the stadium, there were two standout moments. Firstly, when Bread of Heaven was sung with aplomb and no little emotion as Welsh men of all shapes and sizes cried for their country. With Wales just two ponts behind at 12-14, the Dragons could smell the blood of the Irishmen and their fans smelt it too.
The John Hughes-penned hymn slowly swells and reverberates around the stadium, like an eerie echo, into an all-encapsulating rendition. This is not a song to shout down with a chant, this is a song to sit back and admire – which is just what the Irish fans did. They sat back and absorbed the spiritual atmosphere that briefly descends on the ground when the hymn converts the stadium into a temple.
The other moment is, of course, that moment prior to Stephen Jones’ last-minute missed penalty. It was a life-flashes before your eyes moment as the out-half stood up to smack the oval pig-skin toward the posts. I wonder was Vincent Clerc watching with a sense of deja-vu.
As we all know, Mr Jones missed – by a whisker. Thank you Stephen, we needed it.
The next thing I knew I was being embraced, by an Irishman on one side and a Welshman on the other. 1948 was a long time ago and the Welsh themselves could not help but be happy for a slumbering giant to return to rugby’s top table.
Cue the celebrations. Which the following video describes better than I ever could:
If you were lucky enough to be in Cardiff, keep an eye out for yourself as Tadhg meanders through a sea of green revellers, camera in hand!
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