The home of Irish rugby has never known an evening like it. Ireland were made to fight harder than predicted for the Grand Slam but the fight just made it all the sweeter in the end.
When Johnny Sexton lifted the Six Nations trophy and the Triple Crown was held up by James Ryan and Garry Ringrose, the supporters inside the Aviva Stadium let out a Lansdowne roar the likes of which this place has never heard before. A first ever Grand Slam in Dublin. Some things are worth waiting for.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell started off his tenure three years ago by saying the team needed to stand for something like true Irish grit. This shone through in full glory on this grittiest of days.
This is an Ireland team that manages to meet with the challenge of the day. They quietened Cardiff. They out-flaired France. They entertained an Italian revival. They mined gold from a potential Murrayfield misery. They hung tough with England. They’re the best Ireland team we’ve ever seen.
And all captained by a man who will forever have this fairy-tale ending to his Six Nations career. It was Sexton who constantly cajoled his teammates through the shaky periods when they looked rattled. But Ireland, as is their wont, found a way.
When Sexton left the field with an injury after 73 minutes it was met with a standing ovation and applause that will live long in the memory of everyone here.
But how Ireland had to fight. Amid all the wild pre-match predictions this would be a cakewalk was the question of what our old friend adversity would have in mind for Ireland?
Well, what about the one about England turning up. You could see it in how Maro Itoje jumped on the spot during the anthems like a boxer. And come out and fight they did. Two Owen Farrell penalties had them into a 6-0 lead and a nervousness descended in the Lansdowne crowd. It wasn’t meant to start like this.
The England line-speed hunted Ireland and the collateral damage was Ireland passes going awry. Heck, even Mr Reliable Hugo Keenan shanked a kick, to the shock of just about everyone. The penalty Ireland got after 18 minutes was a drumroll for Sexton to become the Six Nations all-time record points scorer which he duly kicked to go out on his own above Ronan O’Gara. That was one box ticked.
This was far from a procession. Ireland’s opening try after 33 minutes felt like a pinprick to a balloon of tension. Off a brilliant pre-planned line-out, Dan Sheehan bulldozed his way over. And then it was England’s turn to deal with adversity with a red card to Freddie Steward after his elbow made contact with Keenan. A 10-6 lead at half-time and an extra man — surely Ireland would walk away with it now, right?
No, Ireland had to dig deeper again. When Farrell kicked his third penalty to reduce Ireland’s lead to 10-9, even the stadium commentator tried to get inside England’s heads as he accidentally said Ireland 10 England 0. But Ireland finally turned the screw with try number two.
It was back to basics off a five-metre scrum and over to Robbie Henshaw to cross. OK, can we finally enjoy this now?
Ireland went about adding the extras the crowd wanted. A sumptuous offload from Jack Conan saw Sheehan score his second try after 68 minutes.
When Sexton added the conversion he raised his hands in the air and did a celebration almost like O’Gara did after he kicked that drop-goal in Cardiff for Ireland’s second Grand Slam back in 2009. And with England down to 13 after Jack Willis was sent to the sin-bin, Rob Herring scored Ireland’s fourth. No nation has known a group of hookers quite like the one Ireland has.
The celebration was what this ground had waited for. No-one wanted to leave. The Ireland players and some of their kids did a lap of honour and the majority of fans stayed on to applaud on this historic night.
But even though it was a finale, this didn’t feel like an ending. There’s more to come. There was the series win in New Zealand series. A first Grand Slam in Dublin. If there’s history to be made then this Ireland team has a way of making it.