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Thursday 28 August 2014

What a day for an Irishman in France!

Published 18/03/2014 | 05:38

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THE last ten minutes is a blur. After Jean-Marc Doussain missed a very kickable penalty into the goal behind which I was sitting, my mind could no longer process information in the usual way.

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I just remember the white-knuckle, queasy feeling being slighty tempered by the fact I had seen a defibrillator on the wall near the steps on the way into Section 13, Upper Nord section of the Stade de France.

In fact, I was in seat number 13 too, one row back from the edge. When we took our places, I took the 13s as a good omen for the day that was in it – Brian O'Driscoll's last international match, with the Six Nations championship at stake.

But for me, this was about more than just the match, or the championship, or even BOD's final bow. I had travelled to Paris with my French wife and our six-year-old daughter from our home in south west France, knowing this match could profoundly influence the balance of power in my family for years to come. Kim was born in Dublin but we moved to France when she was a baby. So she supports both Ireland and France. This experience could send her one way or the other.

Normally, sporting allegience in our house is relatively harmonious. When France are playing, we all support them, and when Ireland are playing, we support them. But then, every spring, comes Six Nations time and the state of harmony that my daughter normally enjoys is destroyed. Daddy shouts for Ireland, Maman shouts for France. Sometimes, whisper it, Daddy will even shout for England against France if it is better for Ireland's chances. Normal rules don't apply.

So here we are, me in a green jersey, my wife in blue. And in between, our daughter has one side of her face painted green, the other side painted blue, she's wearing a green wig and a blue hat. She reckons she can't lose. All week I've been asking her who she is going for and the answer has always been the same: 'I'm going for whoever wins.' No budging her off the fence.

But now here we are, the match in the balance, and something amazing has happened. Not only is my daughter cheering her head off for Ireland. My wife is too. There's only pride at stake for France. For Ireland, and for O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Gordon D'arcy and co, winning this would mean everything. And the fact that a France win would've given the championship to the Rosbifs of England influenced the girls too – I admit it.

Once the clock hits 70, time seems to speed up. The pressure is getting to me. Ireland have a narrow lead, 22-20. We are vulnerable to any kind of score and France are piling on the pressure. Ireland are just about hanging on. I can barely watch. As time ticks away comes the realisation that if France were to score now, we wouldn't have enough time to go back down the pitch for so much as a long range drop goal attempt. The French crowd smells blood. All around me they are on their feet. Then comes the 'try'.

When I got home on Sunday night the first thing I did was watch a recording of the match, and it seemed obvious on TV in real time that the final pass for Damien Chouly to touch down in the corner, was forward. But in the stadium, we all thought it was a try. Referee Steve Walsh decided to check the video but it seemed academic. For those 30 seconds or more, we were beaten. This was New Zeland all over again. Gut-wrenching stuff.

But then the replay went up on the big screen and a murmur of uncertainty went around the ground from the French. The Irish fans hadn't seen it, we were still on the floor. Then they showed it again and there was a cheer. Forward! FORWARD!

So O'Driscoll got his perfect send off. And I got, probably for one night only, to have a 100pc Ireland-supporting family. Already looking forward to next year.

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