Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Sunday, February 08, 2009
I can barely bring myself to write this. It's taken me two days to bring myself to perhaps utter in a public domain the thought that must be running through so many Irish men and women's minds... And still I'm not sure if I can bring myself to say it directly. Could this finally be the year where Ireland win the Six Nations?
Oh no, I've said it out-loud! For the last two days I've been afraid to even fully articulate the thought in my head - now, I've definitely jinxed it.
For the last two years that I've been living in Paris I've been waiting for last Saturday's result. At least three times I've had to endure Irish defeats to the XV of France and then face my clubmate's jeering. This was on top of the massacring I would get for my own poor results and served only to compound my embarrassment.
In 2007, Ireland were favourites going into the tournament were playing their historic first match at Croke Park and lost with the last kick of the game as the restart was fumbled and France ran in for a try in the dying seconds. Crushing our Grand Slam ambitions in their infancy. Extra insult to injury was added when we missed out on winning the tournament by a points difference of 4 to France.
In the World Cup in Spetember 2007, we were in the group of death and died. The less said about that tournament the better. This helped to compound a particularly miserable time for me in the Autumn of that year.
And in the Six Nations 2008 we forgot to tackle
At least that tournament saw the end of Eddie Hobbs... sorry, I mean Eddie O'Sullivan... as manager and perhaps saw the death of the cult of the personality that had pervaded the team.
So in some ways the ups and downs of my own performance were being mirrored by the shortcomings of the Irish team (albeit in a different sport, at a different level of performance and being far closer to achieving their ultimate goals before exploding in an angry ball of rage and self-doubt brought on by that unidentifiable Irish-Factor which I will return to later).
For for the last 2 years, and for another five before that, I've been watching Irish teams of various forms and at various stages in their attempts to win the Six Nations hitting a brick wall when it came to France. So much so that we invented a trophy for ourselves seemingly in the "Triple Crown" for the team that beat the three other teams between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.* It was as if we were saying "Sure we'll never beat France anyway" to me.
One can never be comfortable watching Ireland. The match on Saturday was 80+ minutes of anxiety right up to the final whistle, even through the dying seconds with a 9 point lead. France's repeated line breaks particularly at the beginning of the second half when they began to pay dividends were truly gut-wrenching occasions but again and Ireland's defence tracked back and the vast majority of France's opportunities came to nothing.
Quite simply it was an excellent match, both teams were playing at their absolute utmost level and created an amazing spectacle even from a neutral perspective. All over the park there were outstanding performances and for once this actually paid off. So very often as an Irish fan (and this extends beyond rugby) you see excellent performances that end in narrow defeats. That an Irish athlete will be riding high and in excellent form only for them to be chopped down just as the whole country is paying attention and they crack under the pressure of that collective expectancy.
The Irish Factor
That is perhaps the Irish-Factor. That millisecond of doubt that creeps in... Those few crumbs of the remants of Irish catholic guilt that make us instinctually demand just for perhaps a fleeting moment "Do I deserve this?"... The fossil in the tar-pit of our national psychey that prompts us that perhaps not winning is the natural order of things... That all pervasive sense of subconscious inferiority born coming from a backward little, disorganised island on the edge of civilisation.
Our hope is that maybe an individual, or a group, can someday escape this and that maybe this will pull some of us along with it. It won't be our politicians, and it won't be our business leaders... you know, the ones who perhaps should be giving leadership to our nation... and asking a group of athletes to help the country grow up might be a above there station but it might just get the ball rolling. Nothing breeds success like success afterall.
Now as the dust begins to settle, all the talk is of calming down and that this is just the first match - BOD tells us to chill. Kidney as is his want as a great manager and truly classy individual while heaping praise on his players and deflecting it from himself is being sure to instill the virtues of taking each game as it comes (More reaction here).
So while everyone is saying this is just another game, the paradox is that that at once is true and untrue and that only a reflection on the tournament as a whole will prove this. For the players that are playing these games (as any athlete will know) there is only one game to focus on - the next one. For those following this team and has seen them take shape over the best part of a decade and is willing them to succeed on our behalf with every fibre of their body this is just another game... but if we are to look back at this in a few months and this was the start of the road to glory, then I'll never forget this springtime in Paris.
*While the term had existed since 1883 a trophy was only presented for it by Bank of Scotland in 2006. Ireland had won the Triple Crown and Bank of Scotland had just entered the Irish market - mmm, I smell synergy.