Great Grand Slam memories


It’s the 21st of March 2009, and along with thousands of green-clad Irish men and women, I am in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to witness what up to last weekend was the greatest sporting occasion – rugby-wise – of my life. I most certainly will never forget the nail-biting finale when Wales out-half Stephen Jones dropped a last-second penalty just under the bar. When Jordan Murphy booted the ball into the huge crowd, Ireland had won their second-ever Grand Slam, sparking some of the greatest celebrations of all time.

  I was high up in the seats behind the goal, and at the final whistle I hugged everyone within an ass’s roar of me – Welsh or Irish, male or female, it didn’t matter. We danced and sang as if there would be no tomorrow. Thankfully, despite an abundance of celebratory victory drinks, there was a tomorrow – and nine years later, when we won our third Grand Slam last Saturday, we were still standing, but this time in the newly-revamped Nancy’s (formerly Miss Ellie’s and Jack’s Live Venue) in the heart of Roscommon town.

  Now I have to say that I was a bit reluctant to go to town at all, but as Creggs Rugby Club were hosting a fundraising ‘do’ in Nancy’s, I decided I’d better toddle along, and in truth it was one of the best day’s craic I have had in years.

  The crowd was enormous, and if anything, the atmosphere was even better than at the 2009 game itself, and the singing and roaring as the game progressed was in danger of taking the roof off the re-opening venue.

  It helped that Creggs had won the league recently and that almost the entire panel were in attendance. If they are good rugby players (which they are), then I must say they are every bit as good at celebrating.

  Anyway, back to the Grand Slam game, and, while I’m sure Seamus Duke will have a good bit about it in his sporting round-up, it was in my opinion the best Irish performance of the year. They fairly put Eddie Jones’ men to the sword – it’s doubtful if his ‘scummy Irish’ remark played much of a part in our victory, but I’m sure the surly sourpuss (that’s Jones) was made to regret that he uttered those outrageously stupid and insulting words. He also had a ‘go’ at the Welsh, and if he’s still in his job next season, I’m sure he’ll be reminded of his words when the teams meet in Cardiff.

  Now I know you will say that’s enough about the rugby, and it nearly is…but before I finish, I have to say that I hope that all of those pundits (and in particular, Matt Williams, whose dismal coaching record with Scotland – played 17 and won 3 against such rugby giants as Samoa, Japan and Italy – barely gives him the right to open his mouth) who criticised our play and the gameplan of a proper coach, Joe Schmidt, are hanging their heads in shame as this team celebrates their incredible achievement.

  Before I leave sport for this week, on Sunday night, purely by accident, I happened to tune in to the closing holes of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament, and it was a pure delight to see Rory McIlroy – playing like the player of a few years ago – stride up the 18th fairway, hole a monster final putt, and secure a first win since 2016.

  Other golfers – like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Thomas – come and go as the world number one, but to my mind there is nothing quite as exciting as seeing McIlroy in full flow. Hopefully this win will be the push he requires to take his rightful position as the world’s best golfer.

Sad bereavements

In a weekend of great joy and celebrations, there were also a number of sad bereavements all around the county. Out here in Creggs, we bade farewell to a local GAA legend (a word I don’t use lightly), when the one and only Sean ‘Bags’ Keegan passed away after a brave battle against illness.

  The stories about the colourful goalie are numerous – and mostly true. For many years he was instrumental in keeping our local football club alive, but he will also be remembered for his amazing talent in giving recitations – and never forgetting a word.

  In truth, it would take a full book to fully remember the late Sean, so all I can say is he will never be forgotten while Creggs GAA Club exists, and I express my sincere sympathy to his wife Mary, his sons and daughters, all the extended family and a large number of relations and friends.

  On a personal level, we in the Brandon family said goodbye to our aunt-in-law, Bridie Brandon, formerly of Cloonkeen, Newbridge, but latterly of Cloverhill, and if ever a woman had a great outlook on life, Bridie certainly had. I never saw her in any kind of bad humour, and her love of both bingo and the Rosary were legendary, while her positive attitude made her an absolute joy to meet.

  She used to read this column whenever she got the chance, and indeed she was quick to tell me if and when I got it wrong, which was, and is, often enough.

  So, as I bid farewell to a great lady, and say how sorry I am to her family, I can definitely tell you that the world will be a poorer place without Bridie. May Bridie and Sean rest in peace. Heaven could be a bit livelier this week.

Oval and out? Surely not!

Finally for this week, the big question is has that great GAA stalwart from Ballintubber, Michael Holland, had a major conversion (pardon the terrible pun) to the oval ball?

  Last Sunday week, while his beloved Rossies were in league action against Clare in Ennis, Michael was supporting the Creggs rugby lads in Sligo, where, in fairness, his son Michael was playing very well.

  Then last weekend Michael and his wife Eileen were amongst the lucky Irish people who got tickets to the Grand Slam extravaganza. Somehow I think it may be only a temporary transformation, and I fully expect him to make the Hyde on Sunday when Roscommon will get promoted back to the top division of the Allianz Football League.