SATURDAY, 6.50pm It was too good to be true. The championship, in Paris, in Brian O'Driscoll's last match. Fairytale endings like that only happen in Disney movies. With Ireland only two points in front, there was an inevitability that France would rip our guts out and hand them to us on a plate.
Losing to New Zealand in November was horrendous, but Damien Chouly's try in the corner is a sickener for the ages – one we'll have nightmares about in the nursing home. As Frenchmen whoop and yelp with joy all around me, I’m rooted to my seat. A minute or so left, France three, maybe five, in front, it's gone.
I'm sitting in the near-empty stadium a full hour before kick-off. I'm with my wife, who’s French, and my six-year-old daughter who was born in Dublin but has lived most of her life in France.
This is a special day for our family. We like to think we are a three-person microcosm of the wonderful relationship between the two countries. We kindly gave them Johnny Sexton. They kindly didn't give us Johnny Hallyday. I ask my daughter who she’s going to support, but she just sticks to her Solomon-like line: “I'm going for whoever wins.”
She reckons she can't lose today. She's going to have her gateau and eat it. And I'm not brave enough to tell her that if it's a draw, England will win the championship.
This is her first international match and I'm well aware it could be a formative experience. Growing up in France, it would be only natural that at some stage she decides to support France over Ireland. But I'm thinking that if Ireland could somehow win this match, I'll have an ally in the decades to come.
Referee Steve Walsh has thought: “Try, eh? We'll see about that! I'll take a look at the video and make it a bit more dramatic and painful for all involved, like they do on X Factor.”
The seconds tick past as, head down, I await confirmation of our fate. Then the fella beside me is saying “En avant, en avant” and I look up. Steve Walsh is signalling.
No try! Forward pass.
Play starts again. It's a blur. It's excruciating, toecurling, buttockclenching stuff. Then suddenly, it's over.
Brian O'Driscoll makes his way determinedly towards the corner of the pitch directly in front of us. Around his neck is a medal. His international career is over. A step or two behind him, Paul O'Connell has the Six Nations trophy in his hand.
The rest of the Ireland team are scattered about, hugging, dancing, celebrating arm in arm as they near the end of their lap of honour.
A scrum of photographers parts to let O'Driscoll pass. He embraces his wife Amy, and the cameras flash all around them.
I can only imagine what they are saying.
Brian: “Blub blub . . . we did it . . . blub blub.”
Amy: “Yeah, great, but can we talk later? I have Disney on the line, they want me to play myself in the movie of your life. And they're also talking to Fassbender.”
Having lingered to soak up the celebrations, we join the crowds descending the steps to the Metro. I'm giving my exhausted daughter a piggy-back. As the crowd slowly proceeds through a long tunnel, a lone voice starts. “Loooow lie . . .” and the whole crowd joins in for a wild, joyful version of The Fields of Athenry.
All are smiling, Irish, French, random Parisians. And my daughter sings every word. So thank you, Brian. Your work here is done. Enjoy your happy ever after.
MARK HAYES IS A FREELANCE JOURNALIST BASED IN FRANCE. MMARKHAYES@GMAIL.COM