Tuesday 23 December 2014

Old dreamers in stands still rocking to sleep with visions of glory

Published 08/02/2014 | 02:30

Peter Stringer was part of the team that won the Grand Slam in 2009
Peter Stringer was part of the team that won the Grand Slam in 2009

The curse of the crows woke me just before the dawn. The bedroom skylight is directly under their flight path from the rookery of the Parson's Wood to the scavenging lands.

Crows are like bar-room drunks. They raucously announce their every thought to all within earshot. Yes, I had a dream, and it came from that map Google will never track, in the tangled web where old thoughts meet new imaginings in the underworld under the cranium.

The dream was a young boy's dream of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Picture us, the boy and the man, long ago, when as Dylan Thomas wrote 'there were wolves in Wales'. My father was six feet tall but back then I was sure he was 10ft 2ins. So off we went in the slow train, just the two of us, to Dublin, for the big game between Ireland and Wales.

Ireland were no-hopers and Wales were playing for the Grand Slam, with possibly the greatest back line of all time.

Ireland, then as now, were the best team for surprises. Ken Goodall, our young No 8, gathered a loose ball well out the field. Ken kicked ahead over the advancing Welsh. There was a foot race to the line. Goodall won the chase. Try for Ireland. I stood on the seat to see when the crowd jumped up. My father hoisted me up to 10'2. I could see a smiling Goodall running back to the half-way line and all the lads were clapping him on the back.

We won 14-0 and I was hooked on rugby forever. So it is 40 years or so later, I'm still dreaming a small boy's dreams of glory. Yes, I was playing for Ireland against Wales this morning when the commuting crows cawed the premature full-time whistle on the occasion of my 10,000th cap.

We were fortunate to be in Cardiff for two real Grand Slams. My abiding memory on the night Wales beat us to win The Slam were the thousands of flattened plastic glasses under feet in Mary Street.

The crunch was like breaking the thin sheet of ice over winter puddles. No one, not even us, their cracked Celtic brothers and sisters, celebrate a rugby triumph with such unconfined, hedonistic joy.

There was our first Grand Slam in 61 years, when the delighted President McAleese presented the cup. The choreographing of the pack by Peter Stringer, the Ronan O'Gara winning drop-goal, and the last kick near miss by the Welsh are as much a part of our national treasure trove as gold crosses found in sods of turf.

Our neighbours from Wales own a golden treasury. This could be a three-in-a-row season for them. The Welsh travel in their thousands. Many will watch the match in Wexford Town this weekend. Their stirring and soulful anthems will be heard as far away as Dublin. It would not surprise us in the least if the much smaller Welsh force out-sang us in our own ground. The Welsh take their singing so seriously and treat every note and every word with respect and care.

The game could come down to a moment of brilliance. The plot is nicely thickened like a winter stew. St David is the patron saint of Wales, yet the Welsh backs are the Goliaths. The Irish will have to knock the big men down. It's easier to climb a fallen tree and the ferocity of the exchanges on the ground will determine the result. Fast ball for Wales could be disastrous for Ireland.

Wales looked heavy-legged against Italy and I have a feeling we will be helped by the weather. Even the skilful Welsh backs will find difficulty in battling the forecast gales and rain. I believe we can win if we get the breaks.

I witnessed a young boy dream in a suburban back garden on Orwell Road and I saw him kick a ball up against the back wall of his Nana's under the crows' flight path.

The boy plays at 10 today for his beloved Ireland. It's a big job when you're the dreamcatcher for a couple of million but this is where the boy always wanted to be. Dreams do come true.

I can feel it now. I can't wait to get going on the road to Dublin to savour the day and the trimmings. Are we there yet?

Will the story of today remain in our consciousness when time thieves memory? The child we all try so hard to repress renews us. Keeps us true.

The small boys reverie is of what will be, we dream of what was but somewhere in between there is a meeting.

So let our kids dream on. Tell the bed-time stories of old and new glories. And pray that when our children are old and dozy, their slippers will grow studs. For dreaming boys make for dreaming old men.

Irish Independent

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