That was an incredible rugby weekend, with the nerve-shredding rollercoaster of the Six Nations finale on Saturday followed by Ireland’s women lifting their own Six Nations trophy on Sunday after a display of great verve and skill.
I find big rugby occasions like these very emotional now, as does Pauline. Tears, at times, are not far away. We think of Sean – a huge rugby fan – and how he would have loved to share these moments: and how, on some level, he may still be sharing them. He would have been so proud of Ireland.
Sport matters. On some levels it doesn’t matter at all (I have written before of how we operate on different levels); on others it matters a great deal. It can be an arena of moral and physical courage, excitement and skill; the identification it engenders can be uplifting and life-enhancing. At is best, it makes tribalism and/or nationalism joyful and sublime.
People who don’t ‘get’ sport are missing out, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter, yet it can matter so much.
Filed under Ireland, Sport
One of the good things about Ireland, I have often thought, is the lack of emotional distance between people: the fact that we (generally speaking) tend to see everyone we encounter as a potential friend, and are prepared to help when we can, or at least to interact and be friendly. The lack of reserve, of formality, of self-importance. Of course there can be a downside to national qualities like these, but it certainly doesn’t outweigh the upside in this case.
I think this photo, from thejournal.ie, captures the lack of emotional distance well. It shows the rugby player Jamie Heaslip at Dublin Airport yesterday, as part of the homecoming of Ireland’s victorious Six Nations squad, and a young fan. Heaslip is clowning around and pretending to be trying to wrestle the trophy from the boy, who surely will always remember the moment. Heaslip is happily giving something that he doesn’t need to give.
This generosity of spirit – also shown by the other players, who mingled freely with fans and posed in numerous ‘selfies’ – is something we should be thankful for. In the words of an old beer commercial, ‘it’s part of what we are’. It connects us and makes us stronger: we may not have much, but we know what we have.
So, no more World Cup for four years. I thought this was a good one overall, although the goals mostly dried up and caution took over from the quarter-finals onwards (with the obvious exception of Germany–Brazil). The Netherlands couldn’t manage a single goal in four hours of trying against Costa Rica and Argentina. But at least the final was a good game.
In the end it came down to some of the old reliables, after Colombia, Belgium and Costa Rica had looked like they might shake things up. The upshot is that Europe now leads South America 11–9, and Brazil, Italy and Germany between them have won 13 of the 20 World Cups. Why have three countries been so dominant? Continue reading
I first started to follow soccer (called by that name in Ireland to distinguish it from (Gaelic) football) around the time Chelsea played Leeds in the 1970 FA Cup Final. I also started to play it, informally, having acquired my first pair of football boots.
The field behind my house on St Conlan’s Road in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, which has long since been covered in houses, was owned by an elderly farmer named Sonny Hogan. There were no markings, and jumpers served as goalposts in the time-honoured manner. Two arbitrary captains picked teams from whoever showed up – local kids named Toohey, Fahy, O’Regan, Whelan, Hogan, Bergin, Kennedy. There was never a referee.
Sonny used to chase us. Luckily he wasn’t very mobile, but sometimes he would get quite close before being noticed. Someone would shout ‘Sonny!’ and we would pick up the jumpers and the ball and scatter in all directions. Once he left a note on a cigarette packet that said ‘Keep of the grass’, which was ignored.
We played there an awful lot – sometimes morning, noon and night – and must have retarded the growth of a good-sized rectangle of grass, although the field was mown every summer and haystacks appeared (which lent themselves to other games). I often heard the corncrake’s rasp there, but never saw one. Continue reading
Well, that was a great weekend for Irish rugby, with Munster, Ulster and Leinster all winning and all safely installed in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, and the first two having home advantage there: only the second time that three Irish provinces have got out of their groups, the first having been 2012 – too late for Sean. Best of all is that Munster are playing really well.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Heineken Cup in our household from around 2002, when Sean first took a serious interest, onwards. Pauline and Susanna bought into it; for me it was very important and for Sean it was virtually a matter of life and death. He was a huge Munster fan; he also loved Leinster. Ulster never managed to get out of their group during the period of his fandom, and did not share in his adulation. (He actually died on a Heineken Cup weekend – after Munster and Leinster won, and before Ulster lost.) Continue reading
Published in The Anglo-Celt, 3 May 2007 (no byline, but written by me; this is an edited version). This was the last serious rugby Seán ever played – he was 15 years old, and played at full-back.
Sean with blistered feet before the Swindon match, 14 April 2007, Portsmouth
The Cavan under-14 and under-16 squads, with their coaches and helpers, travelled to England on Friday, 13 April to represent Ireland in the South Coast Rugby Festival, a massive event involving 4,000 young players.
Cavan were based at the Butlin’s holiday camp in Bognor Regis and played their matches at Portsmouth Rugby Club, where the recent fine weather had made the pitches as hard as concrete.
On Saturday the under-16s played three matches, against Westcombe Park A, Swindon and Portsmouth. Cavan, with a squad of just 17 players, were at a disadvantage from the start. They lost to a second-half try against Westcombe Park, but really got into their stride against Swindon and led 1–0 [scoring was in tries only] at half-time thanks to a great solo try from winger Conor Kelly and an incredible try-saving tackle by hooker Niall Gaffney. Continue reading
It was so great that on the day when the European football final was Germany v. England, the European rugby final was Ireland v. Ireland … something that would have been a dream come true for Sean.
Pauline, Susanna and I watched it at home and enjoyed it thoroughly, free of the awful suspense of Leinster’s semi-final win in Bordeaux, knowing that it was Ireland’s day whatever happened. But we were rooting for Leinster, just as Sean would have been, even though we live just on the Ulster side of the Leinster-Ulster border. The fact that Sean O’Brien was man of the match yesterday was a nice little bonus.
Kieron King would have loved it too … he lived on the Leinster side of the border and was a fanatical Leinster fan (although he was buried in Ulster … Timmy managed to make a joke about that in his funeral oration).
Sean and Kieron, I hope you enjoyed Leinster’s victory, somewhere, somehow.
Leinster v. Ulster in the Heineken Cup final … Sean would be thrilled. We always hoped that two Irish sides would meet in the final one day, although Ulster’s resurgence was unexpected … we would have expected Munster to be there.
Leinster’s victory in Bordeaux today was one of the true epics … Sean would have loved it, as would Kieron King, a Leinster fanatic. It seems fitting that Clermont’s final attack, when they laid siege to the Leinster line, was repelled by none other than Sean O’Brien.
Happy rugby days in these strange, often difficult but also rewarding times.
It’s been a great weekend for Irish rugby, starting with Connacht’s first Heineken Cup victory, 9–8 against English high-fliers Harlequins on Friday night. Yesterday Pauline and I watched the Leinster–Montpelier match in a pub in Virginia, and the Northampton–Munster match in our local.
Leinster comfortably beat Montpelier 25–3 to finish their group unbeaten, but we had no way of knowing what would follow – one of those stunning, gargantuan performances that Munster have produced regularly over the years, ever since they beat Toulouse 31–25, away, in the 2000 semi-final (clips from that match below).
To play Northampton (beaten finalists last year) away and score 51 points despite being crucified in the scrums was simply amazing, and the emergence of O’Mahony and Zebo this season augurs well for the future. This game summed up why Sean loved Munster so deeply. Continue reading