On the 24th of November, I suffered the greatest sport related emotional trauma that I have ever, and most likely will ever, experience in my life.
With 30 seconds to go, Ireland led New Zealand 22-17, the latter currently representing the greatest team to have ever graced the sport of rugby. All was going well, Ireland were ‘picking-and-going’ to see out the clock, looking to seal Ireland’s first ever win in the history of the game against the Kiwis, the greatest day in our country’s rugby history beckoned. But then Jack McGrath gave away a penalty at the break down for going in off his feet and from my seat in the Aviva I shared an overwhelming sense of ‘I know what happens next’ with 50,999 people. The whole stadium knew you cannot give these All Blacks an inch because they will take a mile. And they did.
The visiting team then ran some of the most potent attacking rugby I’ve ever seen along with flawless ball retention and Ryan Crotty scored in the corner, taking advantage of an exhausted and heartbroken Irish side. On the controversial second attempt, Aaron Cruden converted the try and New Zealand won 22-24. This completed their unbeaten season, a feat never before achieved by a rugby side in the professional era.
I left the stadium in tears, and I was not alone. I mean, to think that the heart and intensity that my country’s national team displayed in the second half was rewarded with nothing but a loss and an alleged ‘moral victory’ is too much for me to handle. When I saw Rob Kearney on his knees below his own posts, watching the winning kick go over, having put in the display of his life, scoring a try against the greatest team in the world, I shared his distress. And so did everyone else in the country.
“Sean O’Brien said that Ireland had “come here to win”, and being interviewed as man of the match, we could see that the strongest man in the country, the Tullow tank, would soon be in tears when the cameras were turned off.”
Kearney followed his visible dismay with strong words after the match. “I hope all 23 guys in that changing room are devastated. That’s been the worst finish to a game in my entire career.” The man was hurt and he wasn’t afraid to show it. We can’t blame him. To have come so close to the greatest day of Ireland’s rugby history, and to have it snatched away by ruthless blood thirsty Kiwis, it was too much to bear.
Sean O’Brien said that Ireland had “come here to win”, and being interviewed as man of the match, we could see that the strongest man in the country, the Tullow tank, would soon be in tears when the cameras were turned off. What ambition, to strive to beat the All Blacks, and to have come so close, just thirty seconds, he couldn’t handle the devastation.
Gordon D’Arcy in his post match interview called this the “low point of his career”. In terms of heart break, he’s probably right.
When asked if he would have taken the draw, Joe Schmidt said that “a draw would have been a loss” for his side, and it’s easy to understand what he meant. To have dominated New Zealand for long spells, only a win would have been reward enough.
However, the bright side must be looked upon, Schmidt also said “the measurement of progress is whether we can reproduce it” and this is where we must try and console ourselves. To have gone 19-0 at one point against the best team in the world is a massive achievement, and one from which we must build. To have seen the likes of Devin Toner, Conor Murray and even Dave Kearney play the game of their lives, out-classing their Kiwi counterparts, is massively encouraging for the future. After the depression following the performance against Australia, this showing must at least be greeted with optimism, forgetting momentarily the result. Just look at the heart and skill that Ireland showed. Rory Best cleared out a ruck with what turned out to be a broken arm, and his try in the early stages of the game stemmed from some amazing rugby patterns and set plays.
Every point Ireland scored, they earned. If Jonny Sexton had managed to shake off that eternal and inexplicable terror a place kicker faces, that silent kick, the one time in the game when everything stops and goes quiet and you do your best to put negativity and ‘what-ifs’ out of your mind, if he had not missed that penalty in the last ten minutes, we would still be celebrating. I think it speaks volumes that despite having completed an unbeaten season, New Zealand did not celebrate in the changing room after the game, they knew they had been let off the hook. And what’s more, I imagine they empathised with the overwhelming dismay of the 51,000 people in attendance, and indeed the 4 million people around the country. But here we are, our dissection of the redundant ‘moral victory’ is over, the momentary repression of the result of the 24th of November is done, and we’re back to reality. We came so close and we came up short in the face of the greatest day in Ireland’s rugby history. The All Blacks left Dublin with the lady called victory, and we went home alone, to listen to RTE’s post match montage of clichéd Amy Winehouse music.
We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times, You go back to her, And I go back to Black.