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Saturday 20 January 2018

A rare time for grown men to cry – for all the wrong reasons

Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

FOR 79 minutes we dared to dream that this would be the day. Ireland would make history and finally bring down the mighty All Blacks for the first time ever.

As our green heroes led New Zealand 22-7 at half-time in the Aviva yesterday afternoon, there was a pinch-me mood of disbelief in the stands.

There were fireworks on the sidelines at the start, but it was the rousing thunderclap of three Irish tries that shook the stadium to its core.

Ireland blitzed the stunned Kiwis with three scores in just 17 minutes; Conor Murray and Rory Best fired the opening salvos.

And when Rob Kearney ran most of the length of the pitch to touch down, the middle-aged man from Offaly sitting behind me in the stand said: "This is a night when grown men will cry."

At the end, we were crying in the stands all right – men, women and children – but for all the wrong reasons.

Tears of joy turned to bitter tears of sorrow, and for the Leinster fans it was not just because we will still have to hear about Munster and how they beat New Zealand 35 years ago.

Alone it still stands, and probably will do for many a long year.

With the clock stopped at 80 minutes, Ireland was still leading by five points and on the brink of a glorious victory when up popped a New Zealand replacement, Ryan Crotty, to score in the corner.

With a name like Crotty he must be Irish, and we were left wondering in a bemused way why his forefathers ever left these shores. Damn them for doing so.

A raucous, rambunctious Aviva

that buzzed and roared, hollered, and almost rattled its glass walls for all of 80 minutes was stunned into silence.

A few dozen Kiwis raised their arms. Until then, we did not even know they were there.

The Irish fans would have settled for a draw at that point with the scores at 22-22, but New Zealand still had the conversion for a win. Aaron Cruden's first effort was wide, but the Irish players had charged it too early, and the All Blacks out-half succeeded with the second attempt.

VETERANS

It was a night when the Irish rugby team restored its reputation despite the gut-wrenching loss.

The veterans on the team – Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy – were fighting for the pride of a generation. BOD was like the old soldier out for his last big battle.

The most gratifying aspect of this pulsating encounter was that the Aviva crowd also showed, for once, that it can bring atmosphere to an occasion. The noise was almost deafening from the off.

In recent matches, genuine rugby fans were annoyed that the IRFU had resorted to piping 'The Fields of Athenry' over the PA system in a vain bid to create the right buzz.

This time out the audio pyrotechnics – including manufactured drums and synthetic heartbeats – were superfluous.

The crowd sang 'The Fields' for a time in the second half, and this time it was the real thing. But the fans mostly made an endless throbbing, indistinct din that warmed the heart while we were winning. It was all the more thrilling, because the Irish supporters came with low expectations.

John Purcell, up from Cork with his son Conor, said before kick-off: "I just hope we are not embarrassed. You just have to keep the faith, and hope for the best. At least, we'll be able to enjoy the Haka."

A Kiwi translated the words of the Haka: "I die! I die! I live! I live! I die! I die! I live! I live!" As a piece of poetry, it is not really up there with 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', but as a sporting battlecry it has never been matched.

HONOUR

After this heartbreaking loss in the Aviva, this Maori lyric could surely be adapted into an Irish version: "I live! I live! I live! I live! I die at the end!"

One had to feel for Sean O'Brien as he stepped forward to receive his glittering crystal 'Man-of-the-match' award.

The disconsolate 'Tullow tank' was empty – and ashen-faced. You would have forgiven him if he he had dropped the crystal gong there and then.

Seldom must such an honour have seemed so hollow.

New Zealand did not so much grasp victory from the jaws of defeat – as reach down our throats and tear it out.

Irish Independent

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