A brilliant day out at the rugby!
After all the years of covering sport and as an avid sports follower too, it took until last Saturday for me to attend a home game in the Six (and before that) Five Nations Championship and thankfully I picked a very good game to open my account in that regard.
After losing to Wales and after watching England handing out a thrashing to Scotland the previous week, my expectations were low on the way to the match on Saturday morning. While I was still really looking forward to the match, I would have been happy if Ireland were still in contention at half-time. England were long odds-on to win.
Having got there in great time and parked on the north side of the city we took the DART to Lansdowne Road and not 30 metres from the gates of the station were the turnstiles of the Aviva – what a service that is! There should definitely be a DART or LUAS stop at Croke Park. It is something that is missing badly at GAA headquarters.
We made our way down to Lansdowne Rugby Club where the bar was packed. It was still possible to get a drink and the many TVs there were showing France v Wales. There were plenty of English fans there too and the atmosphere built up nicely as kick-off neared.
We took our seats in the South Stand and the atmosphere was electric as the teams took the field and the game started. The Aviva is a magnificent stadium but I was struck at how much smaller it is in comparison to Croke Park.
The announcement was made that Jamie Heaslip would be replaced by Peter O’Mahony from the start and what a change that would prove to be from Ireland’s point of view. There was a ten minute delay as the game between France and Wales went on to the 100th minute but it only increased the tension.
It was clear from the kick-off that Ireland were in no mood to allow England to win the Grand Slam and set a world record unbeaten run in their own back garden. It wasn’t long before ‘The Fields Of Athenry’ was ringing out all over the ground as Ireland got stuck into the ‘old enemy’.
Johnny Sexton was coming in for special treatment from the English players and loud boos rang out as he suffered a number of late hits. But with O’Mahony ruling supreme at the line-out, it was clear this was going to be a titanic struggle and no foregone conclusion.
After swapping early penalties, Ireland surged ahead after 25 minutes when Iain Henderson’s try brought a mighty roar from the home crowd and a Johnny Sexton conversion was the cue for another deafening rendition of ‘The Fields’. Not alone were Ireland in contention at half-time, they were ahead 10-3.
The second half was a hugely intense and hard hitting affair. In the 51st minute, Farrell narrowed the gap with another penalty for England but once again the majestic Sexton was equal to it with a brilliant penalty from 40 metres in the 63rd minute. Four minutes later, Farrell reduced the margin to 13-9 and although Ireland were dominating, a try would have seen England win by a point. But it was amazing to report that England never threatened the Irish try-line.
The English supporters tried to lift their side with ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ but it was totally drowned out by an increasingly confident Irish crowd who sensed that a sensational win was actually going to happen.
When the final whistle went Irish fans went wild and while the championship trophy was presented to the England team they looked thoroughly miserable. Ireland had cost them the Grand Slam, the Triple Crown and the world record too.
Anyone who thought that this match would not matter got their answer. It was a day out that I will never forget and another thing off the bucket list!
Fears for Rossies in Croke Park
No one expected that Roscommon were going to set the world alight in Division One of the National Football League but last Sunday’s display against Monaghan was very disappointing and worrying going forward. Against Tyrone, Donegal and Kerry the team were competitive but against Mayo and again last Sunday against Monaghan, they were not.
Monaghan were by far the better team and they could have won the match by fifteen points at least. We were beaten in most positions on the field and our lack of physicality is a worry for later on in the year, never mind the league.
Now the team head to Croke Park on Saturday and even if Jim Gavin fields a second string they have so much talent on their panel I would fear as to what might happen to Roscommon on the night. I just hope we do not get hammered – and that could happen!
I would have been one of those who felt that our best chance at gathering a couple of league points would have been in the final league game at home against Cavan but looking at them playing against Mayo last Sunday I am not so sure.
One thing is for sure, if Roscommon play as poorly in Croke Park on Saturday or on Sunday week in Hyde Park then they will end this campaign without a point which would be very disappointing.
There will be 11 weeks for the team and management to get ready for the championship when the league is over and we will need all that time to prepare. Criticising the players or the management is a pointless exercise but the facts are that we have been out of our depth in Division One this year and it is a big change from last year when we qualified for the semi-finals with two games to spare. A mountain of work needs to be done if we are to be able to compete at the top level.
Scoil Mhuire gear up for All-Ireland tilt
This Saturday Scoil Mhuire Strokestown will contest the All-Ireland ‘C’ football final when they take on Baganelstown and underage football in the county needs a boost and this would be the perfect tonic at just the right time. Under Aidan Dooney this is a very talented team and hopefully they will have the bit of luck you need on the day to get them over the line.
Cheltenham total may never be beaten
What an incredible Cheltenham it was for Irish winners with 19 over the week. Most observers were hoping that the Irish might get into double figures but the total they ended up with will probably never be equalled again. When Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh started to win on Thursday it was game over for the home team.
ITV took over the coverage this year and while it was slick, I preferred the old crew that were on Channel 4 for years past. With the notable exception of Tony McCoy, who was excellent, there were a lack of real characters on ITV’s programme but maybe it’s just me. Give me Derek Thompson, John McCrirrick and Ted Walsh any day.
Rory in form at the right time
Rory McIlroy is coming into form at just the right time a couple of weeks before the Masters at Augusta. He finished just two shots back of the winner at Bay Hill last weekend and after a terrible first round he burned it up after that. It will be interesting to see what price he is to win at Augusta. At this stage he looks the one for me.