Mud, sweat and tears - that was just getting to the game

Ireland's women win grand slam Parabiago, Milan l March 17, 2013 Italy 3, Ireland 6

CHAMPIONS: Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan lifts the Six Nations Trophy as her team-mates celebrate the Grand Slam victory in 2013. Picture credit: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

David Kelly

Luigi and Paddy are having a Mexican stand-off except Paddy is so tired he is draped inelegantly across an algae-infested chair that probably should be residing in some South Dublin suburban skip.

It had been a long day. Turns out this weekend Paddy picked the wrong ball game. And then, in an effort to get to the correct ball game, Paddy flew to the wrong airport.

And now Paddy was in the wrong hotel, in the wrong seat, talking to the wrong person at the wrong time.

Hardly the ideal way to presage what would be the most momentous day of the year in Irish international rugby.

We are in Milan. Or, rather, we are in Milan's sullen teenage offspring, Parabiago. Well, somewhere to the east of Parabiago.

And did we mention it's snowing?

Before we meet Luigi, we say farewell to Emilio, with whom we have spent an interesting half-hour since his taxi arrived at the wrong airport.

Or maybe it was his fare who arrived at the wrong airport.

Whatever, from either a snow-strewn runway in Malpensa or Linate, we navigate a white-carpeted, bare-knuckled rural version of the Monaco Grand Prix.

"Si! Si! Si!" he urges, as he deposits me in dank darkness outside a building which is doing a more accurate impression of a run-down ranch than it is a "golf and country club hotel".


Our plea is met with quizzical shoulder-sagging indifference, perhaps because it is disseminated in Leaving Cert French.

Having been deposited in another icy puddle, we exchange awkward "ciaos" once more; as he leaves, a pang of regret grips my ignorant unilingual tongue. He feels like the only friend I have.

That feeling is intensified when we meet Luigi. Luigi makes one pine for Emilio.

"Cerveza, por favor," I posit with a polyglot poise worthy of Del Boy.

"Only beer in other hotel," replies the hirsute, haughty host.

"Luigi, let me explain something to you ..." But by this stage, Luigi has exited stage left.

And so to bed, cursing Declan Kidney and his empire, whose dramatic fall in Rome preceded this last-minute swerve to this hellish near neighbour of the back arse of beyond.

All this for a group of amateurs? Amateur women at that. (Girls? Women? I wasn't yet down on the nomenclature).

Without the professionals creating one piece of history, there would have been even fewer witnesses to another.

Ireland's women's rugby team on the verge of a Grand Slam.

Who knew? Then, not many. Easy to think now, with 2020 vision, that many cared for their fortunes when not even the IRFU cared for their fortunes.

RTE, in the days before they lost so much more sport that they had to start showing so much more women's sport, were also diverted from Rome, so too two other journalists.

What we witnessed on a suburban Sunday mud-bath would become headline news and, in its own way, a seminal moment for how women's sport in Ireland would be treated from this day forward.

For now it wouldn't be enough to pay it lipstick service; it would be treated on its merits. If it sucked, we would say so. If it was great, we would say so.

Even the locals can't tell me where their national women's team are playing.

The singing in the rain acts as an auditory GPS; a vast swathe of Irish voices have travelled to witness history. From New Zealand, the United States, Australia. Even Offaly!

The match is atrocious, a pathetic fallacy to complement the freezing, driving rain that has rendered the surface a ploughing field. Grace Davitt concedes an early penalty and Italy lead 3-0.

The metronomic Niamh Briggs levels it; Marie Louise O'Reilly soars to steal a line-out; Ali Miller crashes into a try-saving tackle; Sophie Spence, English by birth but Irish by blood, barrels forward.

Then the dashingly dishy Lynne Cantwell (we later tell her so) drops her hips in Drico-like poetic motion and creates a chance. But it stays 3-3. The weather remains biblical. The supporters remain singing. Ireland are stuttering towards the line. Briggs makes it 6-3.

Italy pummel proudly on their home mud. Briggs' boot repels. One final attack, a green body poaches. It's Neville. Is it legal? "Of course it wasn't bloody legal," says the then captain, and future professional referee.

The players conduct interviews, shivering, in towels, either en route or returning from showers; later, there is an almighty session.

Paddy returns - late - to his abode and there stands the host, proudly proffering a bottle of Peroni.

"Luigi," you beckon, "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship..."

In this series, our writers have selected their favourite sporting moment at which they were in attendance, either in the press box or in the stand