Tommy Conlon: The Power and Glory of a Remarkable Ireland Grand Slam
On the weekend of wearing the green, it has rarely been worn by anyone better.
Rugby team that have set the standard in Irish sport for almost a year have broken another by doing what was expected of them and withstanding the pressure that was on theirs well before the Six Nations Championship began shoulders weighed down.
They went out and fulfilled that expectation without collapsing under the anvil of their demands. Wales, France and Scotland were duly dispatched and tonight crossed the finish line with a furlong to go, defeating a brave England.
In a day of power and glory, they won their country’s fourth Grand Slam. They were expected to win it; They struggled at times, but they won the Northern Hemisphere rugby grand prix.
It’s an achievement that will be celebrated not only in the green surroundings of Irish rugby’s traditional mansion, but in a nation that has embraced the sport in the 21st century like never before.
An ever-growing number of admirers recognize the conveyor belt of brilliant players who fill the green jersey in this era of unprecedented success, and also cherish them as outstanding role models.
First among these contemporary greats is the captain, the elder statesman, the man of all seasons. Jonathan Sexton limped off with six minutes to go, a thunderous wave of applause greeting him as he took the final steps of a storied Six Nations career.
The 37-year-old had lasted long enough to set the tournament’s all-time points record with that swan song, and with a few more swipes of his boot eclipsed old boy Ronan O’Gara’s statistical milestone.
Of course, it was just a footnote in its own priorities: price was the thing.
Ireland had had a miserable grand slam throughout the 20th century. That makes it three in 14 years of this century. And not only that, but the first ever claimed at Lansdowne Road.
Shortly after the final whistle, the table leader was summoned to a TV interview. “Couldn’t catch up,” beamed Sexton in the delirium of a crowded Aviva Stadium, struggling to be heard The Fields of Athenry echoed through the arena. “Honestly, I couldn’t make it up,” said the notoriously demanding perfectionist, finally sounding like a man who is at peace with himself and the world.
“It’s like living in a dream, I actually worry about waking up in the morning,” he laughed, as if it were a mirage that would vanish with the dawn.
In all likelihood he tried his fair share of saluting the dawn last night, and if he didn’t quite pull it off at his venerable age, there were undoubtedly some of the younger brigades who did.
“Damn it, what a team, what a team,” he marveled at his comrades in green. “What a group of coaches [they] us so well prepared. We didn’t do anything they told us to do,” he added with a wry smile. “We did exactly the opposite, we made it difficult for ourselves, but to come here and win Patrick’s weekend, that’s incredible. What a day.”
In the traditional manner of Irish favorites in any sport that can’t take the pressure of expectations, it could be said that this Irish team too have worked hard to take that final step to glory. But it would be more accurate to say that it was their opponents who gave them a hard time.
England arrived in Dublin after suffering historic humiliation at the hands of France last weekend. And not for the first time in our history together, England’s difficulty should be Ireland’s opportunity. We should roll her back to old Blighty.
But this was a group of players in white showing up to fight for their dignity. And that was a deeper source of motivation than showing up to fight for silverware – as Ireland had to do.
England was unwilling to allow a coronation. They made it very, very embarrassing for the home team. They turned the game into a suffocating war of attrition of muscles and nerves. And even when they were reduced to 14 men for the entire second half, they still made it a contentious fight riddled with tension and mistakes.
It wasn’t until Robbie Henshaw slipped over after an hour that the watching Irish audience, both home and abroad, could finally untie their ties and think about getting the champagne out of the ice bucket. By then it was stale beer threatening to turn into bitter ale.
But Ireland have played like the elected champions all spring. They had shown their courage, bottle and class as required. If they couldn’t say goodbye with a bang this weekend, they’re not the type to play with that kind of vanity anyway. They do what they have to do, be it difficult or easy.
They put a lot of pressure on in the last game, they took England’s best shots and they stayed the course.
https://www.independent.ie/news/tommy-conlon-the-power-and-the-glory-of-a-remarkable-ireland-grand-slam-42393637.html Tommy Conlon: The Power and Glory of a Remarkable Ireland Grand Slam