Monday 24 October 2016

Some of us were not made to sit on horses high up over the battlefield

Tranquil pleasure the nation's reward after heart-stopping Paris end-game

Published 22/03/2014 | 02:30

Fergus McFadden celebrates with Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland after winning the Six Nations Championship
Fergus McFadden celebrates with Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland after winning the Six Nations Championship
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland celebrates with Fergus McFadden as the final whistle is blown and Ireland win the Six Nations Championship

The watching of the match is a pure pleasure now. Like sinking into a hot bath after a hard day. Then you rewind the TV to watch the best bits again. It's the very same as turning on the hot tap for a refill, with your curled-in toes. The ease and the stress-free surge renews and restores. Wordsworth describes the experience 'as emotion recollected in tranquillity.'

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We've already written about the game, but like the Christmas turkey, there's enough meat left to knock the second day out of it. The most common remark from the Irish we met after the Six Nations grand finale was that "you couldn't enjoy it." Strange that. But true. The tension was gnawing away at nerve endings like the off-piste Japanese rat that plunged the infamous Fukushima nuclear plant near Tokyo into darkness around this time last year.

The mayor of Paris gave us free train rides to make up for the high levels of air pollution in the city. Just to breathe was impossible in that last, few minutes, but the gasoline fumed air wasn't the cause of our discomfort. It was the match that never rested. The match that stole our breath away.

I have a hazy recollection of a movie where this distressed woman went into a panic attack in a train hijack, or then again it could have been a runaway train. Either way there was a loss of control. Like the mad match, you were taken on a crazy journey with no stops until the end.

The man sitting next to the hysterical lady took his bagel out of a brown paper bag. The usual Holywood cure for hysterical people in the movies was a slap across the face, but the man who was sitting next to the screaming lady made her breathe in and out of the brown-paper bagel bag. The hysterical lady was in great old form after the intervention by the kindly man until he was shot by a hijacker, presumably for not minding his own business.

But nobody near me had a brown bag. Then the heart started pounding. I was going to ask someone to wallop me across the face.

I had no travel insurance. Ryanair charged a fortune for the flight and there was no way I was giving them any more. That would make it three iconic Irish writers who died in Paris – me, Jimmy Joyce and Oscar Wilde.

The terrible recall, the awful déjà vu of the All Blacks' last play try was waiting to happen all over again. There was a sense of inevitability. The feeling that we in Ireland were life's victims.

Or maybe we were eternally cursed because a foolhardy Irish tourist gave his girlfriend a french kiss up against the slanty wall of Tutankhamen's isosceles tomb. We should have been more detached, us old pros, but it couldn't be done. Some of us were never made to sit on horses, high up over the battlefield.

When Jonathan Sexton was stretchered off, we feared the worst. He's much better now. We did our own check up. "Where's the Eiffel Tower?" we asked him on Monday night? He got that one. Jonathan gave us some fright. Rugby is a dangerous game.

Sexton scored two great tries and nailed that second half pressure penalty to win the Six Nations, but if we had lost he would have shipped a share of blame due to the two missed kicks in the first half. But he was saved by the intervention of three of his less experienced team-mates. "Merci," he said to them. The French is getting better every day.

Only now in the calm after the storm can a proper report be written of the game's last plays.

The French were singing La Marseillaise, as if they had already won. Up the field they swept. Exhausted Ireland were outnumbered and outflanked. The clock was ticking away faster than our hearts.

Dave Kearney took a massive gamble. The French looked certain to score in the corner. All they had to do was transfer the ball efficiently, but out bolted Kearney who left his wing to get to the giant second-row Pascal Pape.

Kearney didn't quite nail Pape before he got the ball away, but he did enough to ensure the final pass dribbled forward. The wait for the TV ref's call was excruciating. Most of the French in our stand thought it was a try.

This French man in a purple trousers celebrated by kissing his young son who was also wearing purple trousers. They're mad for the purple pants in France.

The RTE viewing figures will be given at around a million, but the real numbers for that last play will be just five. The famous five; with hearts and lungs as sound as a smith's bellows.

The rest of Ireland were out in the garden, or in a toilet, or under a hedge, or hugging each other for comfort, unable to watch, praying like mad, and breaking into old jars of left-over valium from the time the oul fellah had the bad back or the mother had the change or ransacking drawers for brown paper bags.


The try was disallowed. Scrum for Ireland. Dave I hope you still have the programme we gave you at the back of the posts where ROG scored his famous drop-goal to win the Grand Slam in 2009. Now you have two winning programmes. And Dave, you're in this one.

Back into the house with the one million. Ireland lose the scrum. The French have it. They're setting it up for the drop-goal.

Back out again go the million. The million pine for Brian. Will his last cap end in tragedy? The off-the-fags smokers are mummified in nicotine patches. An old lady told us she blamed herself for not replacing the red bulb that was supposed to light up The Sacred Heart.

The two relative rookies Devin Toner and Chris Henry saved the day. They grabbed the Frenchman carrying the ball and embraced him in a suffocating waltz. The rest of the pack back them up.

You could pack the Irish eight into a lunch box. They are all for one and one for all. Mr Walsh, the referee, gives the scrum to us and with a dramatic flourish he blows the final whistle. Ireland are the Six Nations champions.

Back in go the one million to the TV.

The French father and son in the purple pants stand to applaud both teams. So do the rest of the 80,000 in the ground. So do we all. Even now a week on, the encores are still being clapped in every part of our country and our collective unconfined joy has not diminished one bit.

Irish Independent

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