Tuesday 20 February 2018

Heavenly intervention sparks one of the great comebacks

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Northampton captain's housekeeper took the matching sitting ducks from the mantelpiece to make room for the Heineken Cup and the urn containing Leinster's ashes. Leinster were so far off the chase at half-time they couldn't even hear the huntsman's horn.

Sexton had a big cranky head on him at half-time. His team spent more time on the ropes than the bum of the month.

"I don't want to be remembered as the man who was at the end of the biggest hiding in a Heineken Cup final." Yesterday, he told us he was "totally calm". 'Calm' was said in a calm way as if to emphasise the importance of keeping the head. "I just said, 'this thing can be done'."

When Leinster came back out they were more afraid of Sexton than Northampton.

The front-row dominated the Saints, so much so that the Northampton front three were substituted long before the end.

The men in blue showed courage, daring, ingenuity, intensity and at times controlled recklessness. They ran the ball from so far behind their own lines, one Nacewa attack started out in the field kitchen.

Leinster produced the most magnificent 20 minutes of rugby in Heineken Cup history. Sean O'Brien, now at blindside, carried with such savage momentum that a brick wall would have been no more of an obstacle than a daisy chain.

The tears were flowing when Jonathan scored his tries. I was seated in between his lovely girlfriend Laura and his dad Jerry. There were more hugs than a Mary McAleese state visit. Five of us sat on three seats.

On Friday morning the young lad sent me to see Daddy John, who is Jonathan's grandfather. He defined the role. Sweets, games of pool, videos under the duvet, big dinners with steaks swimming like basking sharks in granny Brenda's gravy and always the kind word. The prayer was said.

Daddy John, so named because he thought 'grandad' would make him old, blew a kick over the bar when the ball hit the post. Daddy John passed away this Christmas.

Joe Nolan was there, too. Joe, president of beloved Bective, coached Jonathan when he was on the U-6s. Jonathan loved Joe.

Joe steered a banana kick sponsored by Fyfes through the posts. Joe dropped dead outside Cardiff Castle after this year's Ireland v Wales game. We left six red roses where he fell.

I believe in heavenly intervention. I'm lying here now in the cot in a flat somewhere in Cardiff trying to type through the tears. Some genius will make a fortune if he invents windscreen wipers for reading glasses.

There was a call just now from Jonathan's mammy Clare, who was at home minding her hairdressing shop in Rathgar. He got a lot of the artistry from her side. That woman could put a perm on Keith Wood. She told us Dublin was gone mad.

Their team had only half as many Heineken Cups as Munster on Saturday morning, but now they are on level terms. The rooftops of Moyross are booked solid for Saturday's Magners League Grand Final.

There's nothing more daunting than staying in private houses. I always have this terrible fear of mistaking the wardrobe for the toilet and instead of ending up in Narnia, you find yourself in the local emergency ward.

The roof might be in danger though. The father of the No 10 is snoring happily as I write. I'd say he's dreaming that some day his young lad would score two tries in a Heineken Cup final.

Dreams really do come true. Laura turned to us at full-time and asked "did this really happen?" It did Laura. It did.

You have to have a godfather even at a baptism of fire. I hope this won't be seen as boasting but would ye mind awfully if I was the first to christen this one 'The Jonathan Sexton Final'.

Irish Independent

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