Saturday 10 December 2016

Ireland live the American Dream with an epic 40-29 victory over All Blacks

After 111 years and 28 attempts without a win, history is made as Joe Schmidt's Ireland team defeat the world champions

Stephen Rae

Published 06/11/2016 | 02:30

Coach Joe Schmidt thanks his players Photo: Getty

Chicago turned green last night as tens of thousands of Irish fans celebrated the famous victory over the All Blacks.

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After 111 years, Ireland's call was answered and the boys in green ground out a historic win. At the end of the day, the scoreboard read Ireland 40, New Zealand 29.

Simon Zebo celebrates with teammate Jonny Sexton Photo: Getty
Simon Zebo celebrates with teammate Jonny Sexton Photo: Getty

It was the upset we all hoped for.

The mood in the city - already exuberant after the Cubs won the World Series - was pulsating. All day long there was an upbeat feel in the Windy City, helped by an unseasonably sunny 20 degrees.

As the throngs marched from downtown to Soldier Field, I overheard one Irish American woman tell her pal: "This is like Grafton Street on All-Ireland day."

The command and control centre for fans during the build-up was The Gage Bar and Restaurant on Michigan Avenue - owned by Senator Billy Lawless. Galwegian Mr Lawless himself helped many fans get tickets - which by now will be collector's items.

Fans in the Soldier Field watching history being made Photo: AP
Fans in the Soldier Field watching history being made Photo: AP

Many of Ireland's top CEOs rubbed shoulders there with fans who had filled Aer Lingus flights all week long.

From the outset, Schmidt's players gave every sign their American dream would come true. The green banners throughout the famous ground showed the Irish diaspora had turned up. It roared its support and approval, but quietened to salute the memory of Anthony Foley. The Irish team saluted too, forming a figure of eight as the All Blacks performed the Haka.

Then battle was joined.

After an impressive first half, the Irish led 25 to 8. There was an inevitability that once play resumed the Kiwis would seriously up the tempo - but the Irish matched the world champions in intensity.

Former Ireland and Munster captain Paul O'Connell with former New Zealand and Munster player Doug Howlett Photo: Sportsfile
Former Ireland and Munster captain Paul O'Connell with former New Zealand and Munster player Doug Howlett Photo: Sportsfile

The departure of talisman Johnny Sexton meant replacement Joey Carbery was confronted with the biggest challenge of his young career.

Meanwhile the All Blacks powered on. A series of well-taken scores - and suddenly New Zealand were only four points adrift. Agonising from an Irish point of view.

But the dream refused to die and a Robbie Henshaw try - converted by Carbery - provided breathing space as those last seconds ticked away. And then the sudden realisation. The century-old logjam had been broken. We had beaten New Zealand.

Supporters remained at Soldier Field long after the game to celebrate the result. Huddles right across the stadium sang out The Fields of Athenry.

Conor Murray going over for Ireland's third try Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray going over for Ireland's third try Photo: Sportsfile

Said Padraig Power, commercial and marketing director with the IRFU: "We are thrilled for the Irish fans who have flown thousands of miles to be here. The town is awash with joy and celebration."

Celebrating with fans after the game was former Ireland captain Paul O'Connell. Paul, whose new book is topping the bestseller list, was the perfect ambassador for rugby as he mingled with fans as they gathered here during the week.

It was well after dark when many fans departed Soldier Field for the Marriott, Intercontinental, Westin and Sheraton hotels which were full of happy Irish.

Top of everyone's lips were the heroic performances of Conor Murray and Simon Zebo. Rising star Joey Carbery was also commended for his accomplished delivery of Joe Schmidt's plan on introduction off the bench.

"Rarely has a first cap had such an impact on the game by ensuring the game was played in the opposition quarter and lifting the pressure off the Irish defensive line," said TG4 analyst Eoghan O'Neachtain after this magnificent game.

Donnacha Ryan celebrates Photo: Getty
Donnacha Ryan celebrates Photo: Getty

Earlier fans had difficulty finding the entry points to the stadium because of poor signage. It meant many hadn't taken their places for kickoff.

Later the bars closed early as staff told the celebrating visitors the stadium was shutting down at 6pm.

Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip with the flag Photo: Getty
Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip with the flag Photo: Getty

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