Saturday 16 November 2019

Billy Keane: Irish roar silenced on day Drico will come to see as best of his life

THE English arrived in their tens of thousands. Many were without a ticket. You'd have a better chance of getting into a royal wedding with a toaster under your oxter. But they were happy just to be here for the weekend in the company of their friends.

The English rugby supporters are big spenders and low maintenance. If England's soccer supporters tore up Lansdowne Road and threw it at us, the rugby fans more than made up for the louts. The nobility of this camaraderie brokers a realisation that folk are the same everywhere, if only you give them a chance. And we did. Off the pitch is grand, but on it isn't. And in the end England not only outplayed us but outsung us as well.

When the English team came out of the tunnel they must have wondered if they were in the wrong stadium. Most of the Irish were still making their way from the pub. Arriving late to Lansdowne Road is as fashionable as a bride turning up well after the appointed time at a wedding.

Both sides started nervously. My theory is the Irish lads picked it from us. The stakes were high and tension transfers like a virus.

Simon Zebo, the hero of Cardiff, went off with a bad injury. The young lad was devastated. Sporting history isn't always written by the romantics. It is highly unlikely he will play for his country again this season.

We were in England's half for most of the first half-hour. Then England made a couple of rare excursions up the field and got six points up. It was so unfair. Like a lad who buys a girl Jagerbombs all night, only to see her leave with a cuckoo man when the music stops.

The fumbles continued and went viral.

Then Jonathan Sexton went down. Off he came. It was his hamstring. The news isn't great. It was a bad enough tear. He too will be heartbroken.

It wasn't going to be our day. Our two best players gone and the game but a pup. I should have known. From the window of the train on the way up I saw a man herding sheep with a fox terrier on the Curragh.

Ronan O'Gara came on for Sexton and he got a great cheer.

The crowd sang, a bit, but not all the time.

They came down from the west upper stand at half-time. Solid, sensible men, well wrapped up against the cold and the wet. Men who would know whether their wives liked their eggs soft or hard. Men who could always be depended on to pay the mortgage and do the right thing by the family. Solid men and sensible men. Good men all.

Loud and boisterous they are not. Displays of emotion and mad fits of roaring do not come naturally. I often wish they would give away their tickets to cheerleaders. The fans seemed to need revving up. Just before the start of the second half the DJ played 'Riverdance' or some sort of feisty gig and shouted: "Let's hear it for Ireland!" It annoyed me. This is a match, not a nightclub, and the cheering should be organic. I would love to tell you of the mighty Irish roar. The 16th man. But it wasn't there. This colour writer can only write in black and white today.

The Old Master put us level. Ronan O'Gara did all he could. He owes us nothing. Ronan looked small from way up high in the stands. It wasn't that he has shrunk. The rest have just grown bigger and stronger.

That drizzle kept on falling and so did the wet ball. It was the kind of a drizzle you know will not go away, like lower back pain, taxes and meat scandals. Persistent as an itch it is – the winter version of the summer spoiling drizzle that drips down beachside caravan windows like falling tears and fogs up the inside with pervasive breath vapour.

IT wasn't all bad news. Amy and Brian had a lovely baby girl. There are more important things in life than rugby, and the little girl had the great sense to make her debut in good time for her dad to get back to the match. Dad didn't play too badly, either.

Her smile will cheer up Brian. In time, or maybe right now, he will come to see this wet Sunday as the best day of his life.

There's still hope for Ireland. England must go to Cardiff, and I would be surprised if they beat Wales. Ireland could still win the Six Nations.

We will leave you with a story of hope and glory on this, the day before pancake night.

Ireland lost to France in 1974 in the very first game of the championship. We were still in with a chance on the last day of the competition, but only if impossible results went our way.

Ireland finished their schedule of games and Moss Keane went home to Kerry to get his shirt washed.

Moss couldn't watch the game on the TV and he climbed Currow Hill with his dog Fenton to get away from it all. He descended only when he knew the matches were over. His mother was waiting at the door. She had all the news.

"Moss, ye won the Five Nations. And I'm making pancakes for the supper."

Irish Independent

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