When Captain Essex and his crew brought our chartered flight to a halt on the tarmac at Dublin Airport on Sunday shortly after 4.20pm it signalled the end of an adventure that began the previous Thursday morning.There was an air of excitement and expectation even though it was only 5.15 am as the Irish squad, management, IRFU officials, supporters and the much maligned media assembled for check-in prior to our departure for Krasnoyarsk, Siberia for the RWC qualifier against Russia.
The flight itself was uneventful and we arrived in Moscow where we had to stop and re-fuel and more importantly take on board a Russian navigator to guide us through the second leg of our journey. With a 7 hour time difference, it was almost 5am local time when we hit the ground at our destination and after a swift transfer to our hotel, courtesy of a police escort, we discovered every Irishman's worst nightmare, there was a 24 hour bar in the hotel.A swift drink or two was needed to settle in and the more enterprising even had breakfast before retiring for the night.
The idea was for the squad to train on Friday morning but coach Eddie O'Sullivan rather wisely decided that his charges needed lots of rest and it was 6pm when the players came face to face with the Centralny Stadium for the first time.
Basically it's a soccer stadium with the pitch surrounded by an 8 lane running track and was transformed into a rugby pitch for this game. The night prior to the game was spent researching by the members of the travelling media, with various colour pieces being planned about the City and more importantly its inhabitants!
Match-day arrived accompanied by 23 degrees of sunshine and we looked forward to the evening kick-off. The stadium was built many years ago and whilst it was top of the range at the time it has fallen into decline since, as a broadcaster it was nightmare stuff as there was only 1 telephone line for use by the Press.That meant the game had to be broadcast by RTE Radio via Satellite but that only added to the adventure.
The result is confined to the history books with Ireland recording a 35-3 win and there were smiles all round that the goal had been achieved and can be completed when Georgia visit the newly laid pitch at Lansdowne Road on Saturday next.It was a lifetime experience visiting Siberia, the people were welcoming, but even on the journey to the Airport you were struck by the poverty that surrounded Krasnoyarsk. However there is hope as a new generation emerges from the shadows in a City where the temperatures will plummet to -30 in the coming months.
The only hiccup over the weekend occurred ironically when we touched down at Dublin Airport, after landing and taxing to our allotted parking berth we discovered that we could not leave the plane as a suitable set of steps could not be found. Almost 25 minutes later and the steps arrived but that was little consolation for some UK based travellers who had missed connecting flights, hard to believe that we look down upon our noses at some so called backward countries yet we cannot get our own house in order on occasions..