Saturday 24 March 2018

No delay in feelings of crushing devastation

Niall Crozier

THE homeward journey following a crushing away-day defeat is never easy. The airport post-mortem is a time for much soul-searching, with the disappointment all too evident. A three-hour delay does nothing to help the mood of people who had set out with much hope.

Friday's night's hard frost, followed by occasional snow flurries on Saturday morning, had singularly failed to cool the enthusiasm of the hordes who travelled to Paris in the belief that they were about to witness a rare Irish victory.

It takes more than a touch of late winter weather to intimidate Emerald Islanders convinced that they will enjoy something few of their predecessors ever did, namely a win in Paris.

That said, Friday night's pre-match bravado may have owed something to the consumption of vin. Even so, there appeared to genuine optimism on the Champs Elysees where the accents of Coleraine, Cultra and Cookstown mingled with those of Clonakilty, Cork and Clones.

Here, to paraphrase Phil Coulter, they were from the four proud provinces of Ireland. Together standing -- in one or two cases, barely -- tall. Shoulder to shoulder, answering the call. Victory in Paris. Allez the boys.

No real misgivings about the French team, though some as to whether or not the Moulin Rouge would accept Northern Ireland banknotes.

I worried that Ireland's record in the French capital was being dismissed as an irrelevance. This team, the argument went, was different -- better than before by virtue of quality and a winning habit alien to most previous Irish sides.

The more they talked -- and imbibed -- the more they managed to convince themselves. Twelve hours later, out at the space-age super-stadium that is Stade de France, the tension began to grow. Anxious glances at watches, further discussion as to what was needed and analysis of who might bring what to the table. That was the drinks order, mind.

With there being no segregation at rugby matches, the travelling Irish were able -- and keen -- to include the natives in the debate, too. After all, we're all Europeans now, oui?

So a little more pre-match assessment and a few more shots of whatever was in those much-used hip-flasks.

'Ireland's Call' was sung with considerable volume. Or so it had seemed. Until the hosts' turn came. Le Marseillaise reverberated around the magnificent stadium, reminding all of who rules here.

Nor was French supremacy confined to the singing contest. It translated to on-field events, too. Beaten, bowed and home late as a result of aircraft problems. There have better weekends spent watching Ireland.

Source: Belfast Telegraph

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