Win, lose or draw, these heroes will give their all for the cause
Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30
Rivers define county borders. Lake waters lap on several independent republics and the coastal mountains are the walls that keep it all from spilling over into the seas that surround us.
The island of Ireland is a small enough place for all the talk about it. You could fit eight Irelands into France and still have room left for another three or four counties.
Our country is united today behind our team, yet you could jump a narrow dyke and find yourself crossing over into another county while still in mid- air.
Townlands are independent republics in themselves within fiefdoms and baronies.
The subtle changing of cadence in an accent can be detected on the other side of a bridge.
Ireland from the air is a patchwork of small and big fields with rivers winding easy and slow or quick, through meadows and towns.
The great cities make towns smaller every day, like the teenager outgrowing his father.
But every small village has a GAA field with four posts of parallel and opposite exclamation marks, as if to say, "look at us here in this speck of a small place and look at we've managed to build and maintain."
And so, on this the weekend of the All-Ireland Club finals, when small places take giant steps to glory, we must honour the achievements of those who keep their games and their home places alive, be it in city or country.
The GAA unites us in our love of the game, but every man and woman fights for the glory of their small place. This is as it should be.
We cherish diversity yet sometimes there is a fierce desire for unity and today is such a day when we come together to cheer for an all of Ireland team against the might of France in a citadel in Paris – a city famous for storming fortresses and for long sieges.
Yet we dare to dream in a big place where we have only won just the once in 42 years.
Seconds of ad time will fetch thousands. Gasps and sighs will take the place of coherent speech. Will it be wake or a prance?
The fact that today is Brian O'Driscoll's last game in an Irish jersey will ensure the faithful will sit on flanks of sofas and on cushions placed strategically on sitting-room floors.
Bar stools will be warm enough to reheat dinners. There will be floods of tears when it ends for Brian but will the tears be happy or sad?
There are some who are obsessed with the Grand Slam. It's all about who brings home the trophy.
I have never heard of an All-Ireland-winning team handing back the cup because they lost in the province and journeyed through the qualifiers.
Not that many of us Irish play rugby. Until recent times, most of our top players came from less than a dozen schools where the GAA was a foreign game.
Rugby has become more inclusive. The game is growing, but it is still very much a minority sport.
This evening the Irish home and abroad will watch in their millions and yet rugby is only our fourth most popular game.
The heroism of it all appeals most to our sense of mad, but heroic self- sacrifice for home and fatherland.
So many of our players put their bodies in the way of fierce collisions. I have often seen bad Irish teams, but I have never watched a cowardly Irish team. This side are up against a nation of 60 million and we need to be braver and smarter.
O'Driscoll's passes fool giants into clambering on to the wrong branch of the beanstalk. Johnny Sexton sells dummies for a living and he gets hit off the ball in every game, but he would die rather than give in. Peter O'Mahony would dip his hands in a barrel of siege tar to retrieve the ball. Paul O'Connell, our much loved leader, is honest, brave, intelligent, heroic and skilful.
Heroes all. Win lose or draw this Irish team will give their all.
The French are fighting like a bag of cats right now, but you couldn't trust them to misbehave and underachieve. We must play better than we have ever done before to win.
I have a feeling the French will produce their best this evening, in patches anyway. When that intense pressure comes on, we must stand firm.
There may be even more danger when we are attacking. France love to pounce on errors and can go the length of the pitch in an instant.
We are in a final against England, too, but we are not playing each other. I doubt if they will beat Italy by more than half a hundred points, but at least we will know our target before kick-off. Come on Italy.
France will hardly pop open the champagne if they beat us yet again. For them it's a match; for us it's a quest.
Sixty million they have to pick from. We are a country desperately in need of 'what you see is what you get' heroes.
We were shamed before all of Europe when our economy collapsed. Now we can show who we really are, show our men as warriors and thinkers.
How we'd love for Paul to walk through the giant eye of the Arc de Triomphe with the Six Nations trophy held high by the ears on a famous night when a small place finally reclaimed her pride.