Sunday 22 September 2019

'We're here to win' - Irish fans ready to rain on Wales' Grand Slam parade

Ireland fans in Cardiff ahead of the Wales v Ireland match at the Principality Stadium on March 16.
Ireland fans in Cardiff ahead of the Wales v Ireland match at the Principality Stadium on March 16.
Ireland fans Tracy Nolan, Caroline Sexton, Edwina Deering and Gwen Deering in Cardiff ahead of the Wales v Ireland match
Ireland fans Leona Cantillon and Helena Quilty in Cardiff ahead of the Wales v Ireland match
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

There were no less than 13 flights heading from Dublin to Cardiff. It was some sort of exodus. One way traffic.

Perhaps they were offering cheap seats on the way back over, for those wanting to escape the chaos of Brexit.

This weekend in Cardiff will be chaotic, too. But nobody wants to miss it.

It was early, and busy at the airport as the long weekend dawned over the horizon. The coffee shops were suspiciously empty, the bars less so.

With turbulent weather, some fans felt like they'd personally played the full eighty minutes by the time the plane, as wobbly as a French full-back, touched the tarmac in Wales.

The drink suddenly looked less appealing.  Glasses went unfinished. Well... at least for a short time.

Storm Gareth has been blowing for days, driving in like a rolling maul that just cannot reach the tryline. Strong Welsh name, Gareth. Could it be a harbinger of doom... and if so, for which team?

The filthy weather meant supporters were talking about one thing (apart from the filthy weather) - would the roof be open or closed? Could they not just have it half open in fairness? Or could they not put a roof over the whole of Cardiff and let us enjoy the weekend al fresco?

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Gwen and Edwina Deering, Caroline Sexton and Tracy Nolan from Nurney in Co Kildare were sheltering from the elements in O'Neill's pub. They'd bumped into Joe Schmidt on the way into town. "We just got off the bus and there was Joe."

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Ireland fans Tracy Nolan, Caroline Sexton, Edwina Deering and Gwen Deering in Cardiff ahead of the Wales v Ireland match

He was heading for a meeting, rather than a drink, they clarified. Probably a meeting about that blasted roof.

Mark Cooling wasn't sure the row was worth it. He was certain the atmosphere would be far better all round under cover. Without disrespecting Schmidt, he said, "if we are going to win the World Cup in Japan we shouldn't be worrying about things like roofs".

But as the topic raged like the weather outside, Helena Quilty was adamant that Ireland were better than Wales in the rain. "When the roof is closed the noise is incredible, it is like Wales' 16th man," she said. "It'll be better for Ireland with it open."

She was confident, but not hugely so. "Wales are the one team I don't enjoy us playing.... because it's a tough game, not because of the craic," she said.

She had no qualms with the Welsh, she explained, having picked five in her fantasy rugby team. "It's doing okay ... mainly because of all the Welsh lads."

Sharon Coffey from Killenaule, Co Tipperary and Winnie Korean from Dunboyne were even more hard nosed. "We are just here to win."

They didn't even care about the possibility of handing England the title.

"We need to win ahead of the World Cup... that's what we are building towards."

Richard Smyth from Aughrim was not even worried about the Red Rose pipping the Celtic nations to the championship. "I've backed Scotland," he said with confidence.

It will be perhaps the biggest sporting occasion Cardiff has seen in modern times. An unprecedented 275,000 people are expected to pour into Cardiff city centre - and with the stadium holding a mere 74,000 every ruck and roar will reverberate through the nearby pubs and rugby clubs.

Plans for an outdoor big screen were abandoned in the face of the gale, so the pubs are expecting a field day.

The Owain Glyndwr pub is named after Wales last great patriot (Alun Wyn Jones excepted) and is situated just 200m from the Principality Stadium.

It ordered 127 barrels in ahead of the big weekend, and is clearly expecting to cater to many travelling fans. One third of the entire order is Guinness.

Bernadette O'Neill from Ballinalee and Blaithin Brady from Mullinalaghta in Longford were over with a group for a long weekend - and were fully aware of the import of the occasion.

"If Wales win the Grand Slam, this place is going to go off," said Bernadette, looking around the already-packed pub.

"It's like the calm before the storm."

As more flights battled through the wind and rain and dusk fell on Cardiff, the downpour became a torrent. Certainly, the Irish were here in force, to rain on the Grand Slam parade.

Online Editors

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