It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the winter is having a hard time leaving and the trees are waiting impatiently to be covered in leaves. The air still plays host to that cold Irish bite, and we play host to our rugby neighbours.
We stroll by the canal in gloves and hats and green and come over the bridge at the Grand Canal Plaza to see the Aviva rise up before us. In the distance, the Dart cuts a clinical line through the south side, sidestepping Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire, all the time carrying people to the same place we’re going. We stop at Slattery’s where the usual blue is replaced with grass green, but the black stuff has stayed the same. We say things like ‘he has a lot to prove today’ or ‘could be his last game for Ireland.’ We catch the eye of Rob from work across the bar and nod and think green suits him better than a black suit. Then when that’s all done and said we squeeze in with our wives and kids, our mums and dads, our husbands or wives, but always with our 51,699 neighbours. We hum the national anthem and reluctantly sing Ireland’s Call, then for forty minutes we watch twenty-three of our countrymen fight and dig and scrap. The gladiatorial nature of it all. The man in the middle from yet another place blows the whistle and we go find some more of that black stuff before we momentarily dissect the previous two-thirds of an hour, but then it all starts again and more twists and chapters are added to the narrative. He blows for the last time and we start dealing with emotions, be they joyous or disastrous, and we leave, slowly.
We exit onto Shelbourne Road and faintly mutter things like ‘he’s come on a lot since his Blackrock days’ or ‘the scrum was a nightmare’ and then we go somewhere warmer, via Pearse Street or Sydney Parade or that casual meeting with Gerry & Kate from down the road. We curl up close on a bar stool or a couch or at a kitchen table and say ‘he should have made that tackle’ and ‘he took his try well though’ or ‘I think Paddy knows his father.’ And then it’s evening, and we lament what Mr. Hook has allegedly said while we were out, and wait patiently for him to plead his case the following day when we watch the Old Enemy take on the New Enemy. The fire is put on and more things are said about the new lad at 12 and the old lad at 13, reading from the same script distributed across the country.
This is my favourite time of the year, and try as you may, you cannot help but be forever in love with the atmosphere and unity and hope that Brian and Paul and international rugby bring. This weather and this annual tournament always bring out the best in us all, as romance and magic shoulder their way into our lives every February.