Professional rugby did not have a happy 25th anniversary. 

First and foremost, there was the coronavirus interruption, which has kept supporters out of grounds since March and cost the global game millions in revenues, plunging unions around the world into financial trouble.

Then there was the issue of whether fans will want to come back given the type of rugby that's being played.

Former Welsh out-half great Jonathan Davies and ex-Scottish captain Andy Nichol have joined the chorus labelling the game "boring".

To the floating voter, modern rugby amounts to eighty minutes of scrum resets, box-kicks and big fellas trying to run over the top of one another.

The Autumn Nations Cup, a competition hastily arranged to cover for the fact that cross-hemisphere travel wasn't possible, didn't exactly get the blood pumping.

"Almost all the games in the Autumn Nations Cup have been tediously repetitive because rugby's over-complicated laws are a 'dogs-body' of technical infringements that force referees to blow stoppages every few minutes," wrote Matt Williams in the Irish Times in early December. 

Most unsettling of all was the case taken by former World Cup winning hooker Steve Thompson and a number of other former professionals over the brain injuries they've suffered. 

Andy Farrell has won six of his nine games in charge in 2020

There was certainly an air of listlessness around Irish rugby at the beginning of 2020, even before reality dawned on the virus. 

Six Nations tournaments immediately following World Cups are typically flat affairs.

The Irish rugby bandwagon is usually a little lighter in the wake of the latest quarter-final shambles. The press corps hasn't let go of said World Cup and the post-mortem is dragging on.

Ireland's rugby community are still fragile after a winter of soul-searching. Drastic change is often demanded.

The quarter-final implosion is taken by some as proof that everything Ireland were doing during the previous 'four-year cycle' was wrong. 

There is much high-falutin' talk of abandoning any interest in winning Six Nations titles and instead building to peak in four years time. For a sporting culture reared on stirring Tom McGurk soliloquies by the Grand Canal, this is a big leap of the imagination. 

The IRFU, acutely aware of the money spinning capacity of the Six Nations, are loath to embrace this philosophy.

The last feelgood Six Nations campaign Ireland enjoyed in the wake of a World Cup was back in 2004, before the fixation with losing quarter-finals had grown into a full-blown neurosis. 

But once Ireland had won the Grand Slam and beaten New Zealand, attention turned to the last big hoodoo. Now it appears that the World Cup is all that matters. 

In 2008, Eddie O'Sullivan was a dead man walking after the horrid debacle in France. Only a Grand Slam would save him; it didn't arrive. 

In 2012, it began with Wayne Barnes harshly penalising Stephen Ferris in the last minute against Wales, handing the visitors the penalty that won the game (he's reffing Wales-Ireland again for the 7,000th time) and ended with an injury-depleted Irish scrum being marched backwards at a rate of knots in Twickenham.

The 2016 campaign - in retrospect not a bad effort in difficult circumstances - felt the most obviously 'transitional' of Ireland's recent Six Nations campaigns.

A draw and two losses in the first three rounds ended our interest in that year's tournament.

At the beginning of 2020, the aftermath of the traumatic 2019 World Cup was still lingering. 

All the talk was of moving away from Joe Schmidt's prescriptive, schoolmasterly approach and towards a more freewheeling, improvisational game which would, the thinking went, nurture the skills of the players and lead to a more sustainable winning model. 

No more stopping debutants in hotels and launching into pop quizzes on set-piece plays; more allowing players to make on-the-spot decisions themselves. 

How were we to breed a generation of Serge Blanco and Beauden Barretts if players have their heads eaten off over minor details in a 'Monday morning review session'? 

"'Detail' has become a dirty word in Irish rugby," Bernard Jackman observed drily in November. 

Andy Farrell said all the right things to chime with the prevailing mood. Whether the dream of a coherent new style has been delivered upon is another question. 

At times, when delivering his upbeat press briefings, Farrell seemed to hide behind the highly convenient 'unseen work' maxim. 

"We're always tweaking things," he said before the resumption in October. "Whether you notice that or whether it's plain to see is another matter."

The Six Nations began well enough, with two home wins.

A shaky enough victory over a seemingly resurgent Scotland was followed up by a far more confidence-inducing performance against Wales - the latter subsequently placed in a less favourable light by the Welsh team's generally dismal form under their new coaching ticket.

Any designs on a Grand Slam were brutally cut down in Twickenham in late February. The final scoreline may not have been as bad as the World Cup warm-up game in August '19 but the manner of the loss was wearyingly familiar.

As of the end of 2020, Ireland have lost four matches in a row to Eddie Jones' England and they've all essentially been the same game. 

Peter O'Mahony fails to meet a cross-kick in Twickenham

Coronavirus intervened and the Six Nations, as in the Foot and Mouth year, finished in October. Public apathy seemed high amidst everything else going on.

A routine win over Italy, combined with England's rather lethargic performance in Rome, left Ireland with the possibility of snaffling an unlikely Six Nations title on points difference.

But France, after years of false starts and faffing around, appear finally to be back to their old selves and Ireland, despite a decent first half effort, ended up well beaten.

Worse again were the defensive frailties revealed during the second half.   

35-27 may not represent a return to the early 90s hammerings in the Parc des Princes but Ireland's game plan was regarded as chaotic and confused, with considerable bemusement over the on-field decision-making.

After Ireland had won the 2018 Six Nations title with a week to spare, Paul O'Connell told the BBC panel that the team's great strength was "clarity" in how they wished to play.

The absence of clarity in attack, and a stuttering lineout, were pegged as big weaknesses in 2020. 

O'Sullivan asserted during the year that Farrell had perhaps "swung the pendulum too far" from the Schmidt approach.  

In his annual media briefing, IRFU high performance director David Nucifora described the 2020 Six Nations as "an average return for us."

The so-so form in the Autumn Nations Cup was put down to an experimental mindset. 

Nucifora's guarded answers to certain questions got Gordon D'Arcy's dander up in the Irish Times column, in particular his curt insistence that the World Cup review had simply been "distributed to the people who needed to read it." 

On the issue of the much lamented 'performance anxiety', Nucifora would only say "it has been addressed." High-performance coach Gary Keegan, Farrell revealed, has been working with the squad. 

He was more forthright on the issue of the South African link-up with the Pro14, expressing full support. The arrival of the four powerful South African franchises would aid the development of Irish by "stretching us and challenging us", comments which could perhaps be read as a nod to the Irish teams all-too-easy domination of the competition in recent years. 

As regards the current make-up of the Pro14, Nucifora would only say "it served its purpose to this point in time." 

Leinster won a third Pro14 in a row in 2020

The tournament has certainly drifted a long way from its original 'Celtic League' branding but the South African arrival counts as some of the best news to emerge from 2020.

The production line continues to look healthy, with the U20s, as defending champions, winning their first three Six Nations before the virus intervened.

Nonetheless, Irish rugby fans have some cause to look to 2021 with anxiety. 

Their coffers hit badly by the pandemic, the IRFU have pressed pause on contract negotiations, despite the fact that over half of the 200 professional players in the country will see their current deals run out at the end of the season.

Given the financial constraints at play, Ferris predicted a number of Ireland's top players may seek a move abroad after the summer. 

Philip Browne wasn't minded to play down the situation at the Oireachtas hearing in September, saying that "the existence of professional rugby on the island will be under significant threat in 2021." 

From this remove, there seems little prospect that the Six Nations will proceed with fans allowed into stadiums.

This being an 'odd' year, Ireland's prospects of winning the Six Nations should be a touch higher than in 2020, with no trips to Paris and London involved.

But as the fallout from this most difficult of years continues, it seems the real action in 2021 will take place off the pitch.