Sport Rugby

Thursday 26 April 2018

Irish warriors can't land killer blow against English

Sinead Corcoran (girlfriend of Jack McGrath) and Holly Carpenter (girlfriend of Cian Healy); Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sinead Corcoran (girlfriend of Jack McGrath) and Holly Carpenter (girlfriend of Cian Healy); Photo: Gerry Mooney
Avril Kerin and Cherlaine Wright. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Meadhbh Aherne and Kate Prendeville. Photos: Gerry Mooney
A dejected Rob Kearney at the final whistle. Picture: GERRY MOONEY.

BARRY EGAN in London

AS Brian O’Driscoll’s final game at Twickenham, this was supposed to be the stuff of a Hollywood movie script. Drico wins Triple Crown for Ireland at Twickers with a last minute try. Somebody fluffed their lines, sadly.

This historic game, which should have been a triumph to  live long in the memory of Irish fans across the world, ended in nail-biting heartbreak for the Irish.

Hearts were aflutter earlier when Ireland hero with the matinee-idol looks Rob Kearney heroically dashed through the English to score that try. And when Johnny Sexton converted it through the posts there was an outbreak of  euphoria, not least when Sexton not long after put Ireland into double figures.

A TV camera cutaway of England head honcho Stuart Lancaster showed him gurning distractedly, like a bulldog chewing a wasp. But that was the high water mark. And as the tide turned, the hope in Irish hearts started to slowly recede, as the English came back to 13-10.

But the close scoring game always left a glimmer of hope, and right to the end the Irish warrior spirit kept pushing — but it was just not to be.

More than 25,000 Irish  had descended on London for the battle and before a ball had even been kicked, they were in fine form.

Adrian Delahunty, from Thurles, made his presence known outside the train station in Twickenham. “Come on, ye boys in green! We'll leather them on the pitch!” laughed the London-based builder.

His wife Bridget, an East Sussex woman, wore her English jersey but diplomatically said she would cheer for both Ireland and England.

In fact, compared with the sometimes frosty relations between the Irish and Welsh rugby teams, there was an air of entente cordiale in London this weekend.

Treacie Linnane from Roscommon said it was a great weekend for Irish supporters. “Our boys are the best in the world,” she said — and we almost were.

Many had travelled a long way, hoping for the friendly gods to smile on Joe Schmidt's team yesterday, so Ireland would bring home the Triple Crown. But the baleful gods had their day.

Philip O’Dwyer of Tipperary flew over from the States, where he is director of youth rugby at Boston Irish Wolfhounds, to watch King Drico and Co take on the auld enemy. “Ireland are going to beat the English. Here's why,” Philip insisted in his yank-Tipp accent.

Even in defeat there was no despair. “It has been a great trip for me. I'm happy I came over,” he said, adding that he was flying home to Boston tomorrow morning.

Former minister Conor Lenihan flew in from Moscow while current minister Phil Hogan flew in from Dublin.

“Sport gives everyone a lift, no matter what sport you are involved in or you follow. And it’s a great distraction from some of the troubles of recent years,” said Mr Hogan, though I wasn’t sure what troubles he was been referring to.

Sheila Bailey, CEO of the Ireland Fund Of Great Britain (the charity beneficiary of the Ronan O'Gara testimonial dinner in London last week), told me: “This is probably BOD's last international against Ireland's greatest rivals. It’s great to be here for that.”

Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley was in the crowd, convinced it was going be Ireland’s day. “It’s a wonderful occasion: O'Connell, O'Mahony, Healy, Johnny Sexton — these are today’s Irish heroes.”

There was a fair smattering of fans enjoying the banter and a few songs in The Cabbage Patch and The Eel Pie pub, but most of the Irish were in The William Webb Ellis (named after the inventor of rugby) on the London Road.

In the Barmy Arms, a riverfront pub in old Twickenham, U2’s Beautiful Day was on the jukebox as the sun beat down on Irish fans by the Thames, flowing fast and deep after last week’s storms.

Streaming out of the stadium, the replays and debates began. They continued late into the night. Someone said they thought Irish fans didn’t want just rugby, they wanted Sexton and Drico to transmit something magical from the pitch. And they did that. It was a match to remember, full of tension, passion and brio from the very first moment.

It was an  emotional experience. Hearing the Irish fans in near delirium sing The Fields Of Athenry is as much about pride in the oul sod as it is about sport. And it’s got to be said that the English supporters sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot with equal gusto.

Rugby occupies an untouchable place in the soul of the Irish people and Brian O’Driscoll has a place in their hearts — the last Cuchulainn.

But yesterday England became a foe that even he couldn’t slay.

Sunday Independent

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