Forgive me Declan, health for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last confession and these are my sins. I did not believe you when you insisted that this Irish rugby team was not far off from a big performance. I shouted some not so nice things at your players as they were swept aside by England in Lansdowne Road four weeks ago. I even predicted that not alone would your players be annihilated by the impressive looking Australians, view but they would also be beaten by a Italian side driven by revenge over their undeserved defeat to Ireland in the six nations in February. Worst of all, I started to believe the false Gods of the RTE panel. For all of this, I am deeply, deeply sorry.
There was something extra special in beating the Aussies on Saturday morning. Where Ireland have had their World Cup demons following them since 1987 and Australia have arguably been the main beneficiaries of this. Cast your mind back to 1991 and Gordon Hamilton’s late try that had surely given us a famous quarter final win over the Wallabies. Except it didn’t. Michael Lynagh went over the Irish line minutes later, Australia won the match and went onto win the World Cup. Even more recently, David Humphries lined up a drop goal with minutes to go to take a potential two-point lead with only minutes to go. Predictably enough considering our luck in the tournament over the years, the kick drifts to the right and wide. Australia went onto top the group, play Scotland in the quarter final and lose narrowly in the final to England. We got hammered by France.
Have exorcised these demons, are Ireland now genuine World Cup contenders? Probably, but only because of what our victory against Australia has done to the draw. Should we beat Italy, who will be looking for blood following the daylight robbery in Rome last February that was Ronan O’Gara’s last-minute drop goal, then we shall most likely face Wales. We have no problem beating Wales, having done so eight times in the last eleven meetings. This will then be most likely followed up with a semi-final tie against England or France. At this stage, a performance similar to that against Australia would be required for any chance of a victory. Something surpassing that would then be required for victory in the final against whatever southern hemisphere team comes from that side. Are they really capable of three huge performances in the space of three weeks? It seems a bit unlikely. Nonetheless, we now have hope. And Sean O’Brien.
Dublin following their immense victory over Kerry on Sunday now have more than hope. They have the Sam Maguire. And Stephen Cluxton. Nobody could begrudge Dublin of their victory following the most dramatic conclusion to an All-Ireland football championship since Seamus Darby stopped Kerry’s drive for five in 1982. It probably surpasses that as the Cluxton’s defining moment displayed great skill under the greatest pressure that any sportsman could ever face. One would have sympathy for Kerry being a victim of these great GAA moments if it weren’t for the fact that Sam Maguire has already made thirty-six trips to the Kingdom. Nonetheless, for bringing a shuddering halt to the Tyrone empire in the quarter finals and coming back from the dead in both the semi-final and final, this Dublin team completely deserve their All-Ireland medals.
We are now living in the first days of the Dublin empire. What is already a fairly youthful team will only be boosted in the coming years from those involved in Dublin’s under-21s All-Ireland victory last year and those involved in the minor final defeat on Sunday. These up-and-coming players will be entering a team who have banished the tag of chokers, a team who are the fittest team in the country and a team who are now All-Ireland champions. If you tie this underage development with the money that the Dublin county board are still able to go to from the multi-million Vodafone sponsorship deal of last year, then Dublin are going to be a formidable unit for the next decade. Gilroy’s army are on the march.