Ireland’s ‘Grand’ Year of Rugby

Posted on November 30, 2009

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They say the last time Ireland was in recession, our sports teams did well. Now, being only a nipper I have but vague memories of the ’88 European Soccer Championships and Italia ’90, Brit-busters, etc. If it was Irish Soccer’s turn to brighten up our last recession, it certainly seems as though it is the turn of Irish Rugby in this one, (though one cannot fault our soccer team’s performance in the World Cup Qualifiers this year, but we’re not getting into that.)

 

The Rugby year is over for Ireland and well, what a year it’s been. This time last year, we were taking a good, long look at ourselves and wondering were the finest crop of Irish players since Lord knows when, ever going to utilise their talent to its fullest. A terrible World Cup campaign was followed by a dreadful 6 Nations campaign in which we managed to win only two games, against Scotland and Italy. This time last year, we were dead and buried. Exit Eddie O’Sullivan.

 

Enter Declan Kidney. In hindsight now, it appears as though we said goodbye to your average party magician and brought in David Copperfield.

 

So to commemorate the wonderful year of rugby (and drinking) that we’ve had, I’ve picked my top five moments of Irish Rugby 2009. Here we go….

 

 

1. Grand Slam Victory over Wales: The headline of The Independent the next day summed it up: “Bliss it is this dawn, to be Irish”, a quote stolen from William Wordsworth and reworded but couldn’t have put it better myself. From O’Driscoll and Bowe’s early second half tries to the end of match drop goals and nail-biting finish, it was just pure poetry. I must admit, I didn’t actually see Stephen Jones penalty dropping short because I couldn’t bear to look. The sweetest victory, long overdue, and made all the better by Declan Kidney’s immense modesty in the aftermath, despite the fact that he’s clearly done something very, very right with this team.

 

2. French Game Aftermath: Coming off the back of 6 consecutive losses to the French, this win was sweet enough as it was but there was also another memorable moment from my point of view. As the final whistle blew and the usual formalities were carried out …) the camera focused on a shot of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell embracing. Now, in my opinion, even if Ireland had done nothing else for the campaign, this would still have been one of the most important pictures of it. We all know that the relationship between Munster and Leinster was more than just rivalry. Whatever Declan Kidney did or said when he came into the fold, bridged a gap and this picture was the symbol of that. And whatever about the rest of the tournament, this would still be one of the most important moments of it.

 

3. French Game: The whole lot of it. The pre-match hype or lack thereof. We were suffering from the aftermath of a dreadful World Cup and 6 Nations, wondering how in the name of God we were going to lift ourselves from those harrowing days, thinking with meeting France first, our campaign was over before it started. Only Brent Pope had faith in Ireland, believing from the off that they could do it. After the French game, the rest of the nation believed it too. As Tommy Tiernan might say (except the other way around), it was like moving from a negative to a photograph such was the turn around in Ireland’s play in the space of a few months. Declan Kidney had been a firm favourite in Munster, it seemed he’d started off on the right foot with Ireland too. Little did we know what was to come.

 

4. England Game: It’s always sweet to beat the English. There probably isn’t a nation in the world that wouldn’t agree. And by the narrowest of margins aswell. But the defining moment of this match wasn’t a moment at all. It was a player. A captain. Brian O’Driscoll looked as though he should have been in Beaumont towards the end of the game. He was staggering, broke up, I daresay he hardly knew where he was. Cut to a shot of English players on the bench with ice on knees, groins etc while O’Driscoll soldiered on, on the field, having contributed a vital try and then had seven shades of shit knocked out of him, from largely illegal challenges. But still, he stayed on the field. If there was a moment to raise the banner of, “In BOD we trust”, this was it. A captain’s performance from start to finish. O’Driscoll hadn’t been playing terribly well in the latter days of O’Sullivan’s management. This campaign showed a phenomenal return to form, and his resilience in this match showed that the player we all feared “past it” was anything but.

 

5. South African Win: The only moment not to be picked from the Six Nations. I could have widened the margin from international rugby and picked Leinster’s Heineken Cup win here but it would have been from a biased point of view. In addition to this, the South African game deserves it’s place for the simple fact that they’re the World Champions and we beat them. Just as we beat England in 2004 when they were fresh off the back of a World Cup win. Johnny Sexton’s foray into international rugby continued with another impressive performance kicking all the points for Ireland’s 15-10 dispatching of the World Champions. A fantastic end to a fantastic year. Roll on 2010.

 

Top Five Scores:

  1. Jamie Heaslip – France
  2. Brian O’Driscoll – France
  3. David Wallace – Italy
  4. Tommy Bowe – Wales
  5. Ronan O’Gara – Wales (Winning Dropgoal)