I WAS in Dublin on Saturday for a stopover with family en route to Newry for the big football game of the weekend between Clare and Armagh when Lansdowne Road briefly shot across my sporting radar.
Then it stayed with me, and for quite a while.
That notion of actually going to Lansdowne, being on the Havelock Square end of the oldest international rugby venue of them all, rubbing shoulders with strangers, but at the same time sipping from their hip-flasks containing some strong brew.
It would have to be Jameson 12-Year-Old or Midleton Rare, if it was one of the Montenotte crew from Cork who was handing the flask around — only the best, for the best team in the Six Nations and in the world for that matter who only have to turn up in the land of the Rising Sun to collect the William Webb Ellis Trophy and bring it home to the newly established Post-Brexit United Ireland where rugby is now the ‘People’s Game’ to steal Franno’s gospel about the status of the game in today’s modern go-ahead Ireland.
Of course, the rugby cynics out there would tell you there’s a better chance of a Post-Brexit United Ireland than there is of Ireland winning the World Cup — worse still there’s a better chance of Post-Brexit United Ireland than there is of Ireland winning a knockout game in the World Cup — but why not jump aboard the oval ball bandwagon and head down to Lansdowne Road and see and experience — and more importantly drink some stranger’s Jameson 12-Year-Old or Midleton Rare — what all this fuss and hyperbole was about.
It’s not like I hadn’t been in Lansdowne Road before when Ireland faced down the rugby enemy that has always signified John Bull; it’s not like I hadn’t drank from the hip-flasks and sang Molly Malone with the best of them, and the worst of them, but thankfully and mercifully I was never in situ to sing, or even lip-sync Ireland’s Call. That would be a rugby match too far. It would be taking the soup.
I was there the day Mick the Kick himself from Cork in Michael Kiernan hit that drop goal — the score that was made in Munster with a bit of help from Loughrea. The throw by Ciaran Fitzgerald; the high fielding of Brian Spillane — when there was no such thing as lifting — that would have done Mick O’Connell proud; the run by Dónal Lenihan; the pass by Mick Bradley and then Mick the Kick doing the rest.
Aaaaaah, 1985 and the Triple Crown.
It was a great day in the grey Lansdowne Road, one that was only surpassed eight years later when Gaillimh galloped over for a great try in the corner to win himself a place on the Lions squad to tour New Zealand that year.
It was that misty-eyed nostalgia from different rugby eras that prompted that notion — why not go to the match and do it all over again as Ireland rode the crest of the tsunami that was going to lead all the way to Japan and back with William Webb Ellis in hand.
It was decided — I was going; I was parking the GAA pass; I was wrapping the green flag of the four proud provinces around me; I was going to Lansdowne Road; I was a bandwagoner, with the only concession to my singing self being that I wouldn’t sing Ireland’s Call and would instead belt out Tommy Makem’s Four Green Fields instead.
“What do I have, said the fine old woman
What do I have, this proud old woman did say
I have four green fields, each one was a jewel…”
I could try to tap my sister who works with Six Nations sponsor Diagio for a ticket, or failing that I’d take my chances outside the ground in the hope that one of the hip-flaskers might have a spare ticket.
This was the thought process, one that would also involve pints in the Horse Show House or Paddy Cullen’s — both before and after of course — as everyone sang the new Irish anthem of Rugby’s Coming Home (written by
I was ready; ready to go and I even had an old sheepskin coat like the one that Seamus Oliver Campbell wore back in the day that I bought in a charity shop; I knew that would go down well with the hip-flaskers provided they never knew I bought it in a charity shop.
It was then that the notion came crashing down around me — there’s be no Lansdowne Road, Rugby’s Coming Home and William Webb Ellis talk and watching the best team in the world for me; there never could be.
All because the first person I met in Dublin asked me, “are you going to the match”. Straight away I knew that this blueblood wasn’t talking about Lansdowne Road but instead about ‘Crossing the Rhine’ to Croke Park to see the Dubs in action against Galway.
He knew and I knew, it was the only game I could go to in Dublin on Saturday night; that I’d be an imposter rubbing shoulders with all the hip-flaskers with all their hyperbole morphing them into hype-flaskers, with their Jameson 12-year-old and Midleton Rare and their Rugby’s Coming Home and William Webb Ellis Trophy tripe.
And, it was definitely time to go to Croke Park when on the half-time analysis on television Shane Horgan started going on about Ireland establishing a ‘Beach-Head’ in the second half.
I turned off the television, just in case Horgan went full-Winston Churchill on it and said “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
Ireland did surrender and meekly enough in the end while the Dubs are marching on.
There’s a lesson in that — those with the hip-flasks should clear their heads by drinking water instead of Jameson 12-year-old or Midleton Rare, maybe as they go it will douse the hype that’s been built up by those who believe Ireland are the best team in the world.
They’re not; in Japan they’ll be a team that’s hoping to win a knockout game for the first time ever in a World Cup, hopefully do that and see then where it takes them.
As for mé féin, I made the right choice to go to Croke Park, because it was the only choice. It always is, and forever will be.