Sport Six Nations

Saturday 24 March 2018

Fans want grand-slam send-off for centurion Paul O'Connell

Paul O'Connell wins possession in the lineout
Paul O'Connell wins possession in the lineout
Ireland supporters, and uncle and aunt of Ireland captain Paul O'Connell, Bob and Eleanor Quilty, from Killinlick, Co Wexford, inn Cardiff yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran
Paul Byrne from Dublin and Denis Keane from West Cork in cardiff ahead of the match. Photo: Matthew Horwood
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

We've been here before. On the verge of greatness but consumed by nervousness.

But the Irish fans were marching through the streets of Cardiff last night with an unusual air of expectation.

Brian O'Driscoll got the what was described as the "perfect send-off" last year with a Six Nations championship - but everyone wants a Grand Slam for Paul O'Connell (below inset). The mood is that if the Munster man's troops get over Wales then it ours for the taking against Scotland.

Among the Irish scrum in the stands today will be O'Connell's proud father who told the Irish Independent he believes the 35-year-old will retire after this year's World Cup. Michael O'Connell said all the family would be in the Millennium Stadium to share in the Ireland rugby captain's 100th international cap.

"I think he'll finish at the end of the year after the World Cup," said Mr O'Connell.

"He hasn't said anything to me but I'd be very hopeful they'll do well in the World Cup and he'd be happy with that," he said.

"Any parent whose son is playing, as he gets older, especially with rugby's attrition rates, you'd be concerned after every match.

"But, thank God, he's had a good run of it now and, hopefully, he'll be able to get to the end of the line without any other injuries.

"I often say to him there is life outside rugby as well."

Read more: Paul O'Connell: I want to get my body back to where it was in my 20s

That might be true but this weekend the lives of the thousands of travelling Irish will be totally consumed by rugby.

Last night the message was clear: 'Stay calm and paint the town green'.

"If we can win the breakdown, we will win the match," mused Sheamus O'Riordan from the Curragh, Co Kildare.

His friend Martin Ryan took a more humorous outlook: "Listen, there's more chance of Seán O'Brien shaving his legs and putting on fake tan than the Welsh beating us tomorrow. The Welsh for the singing, the Irish for the rugby," he said.

As match fever moves up a few notches today, the town's pubs have prepared for battle. From 10am they will open their doors for fans thirsty for victory.

O'Neills bar, the epicentre of Irish craic, have drafted in extra staff to work 17-hour shifts for the occasion.

There will be a lot of mind games between now and 2.30pm when the roar goes up in the stadium.

As rain trickled down Welsh fan Craig Fox says it's the reason the Dragons' coach Warren Gatland has, for the first time, agreed to an open roof: "It's all tactics, he wants to psych the Irish out. The Welsh are well used to playing on home soil in the wet."

The Irish team even got a special message all the way from the United States where the Taoiseach is celebrating all things Irish ahead of his St Patrick's Day visit to the White House.

Enda Kenny told the Irish Independent that his message was "Go get 'em."

Mr Kenny intends to try sneak away from his minders to catch some of the game between breakfast meetings and the parade in Atlanta.

"We love the Welsh but they are our mortal enemies on the way to taking out Scotland for the Grand Slam. So Irish pride, Irish personality," he said.

Don't worry Enda. There's no shortage of that in Cardiff right now.

Irish Independent

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