Thousands of Irish rugby fans made the trip to the Cardiff on Saturday. They travelled from all over Ireland and from around the world. They dreamt of a Grand Slam and they sang their hearts out. Amongst their number were the intrepid members of the Irish Rugby Supporters Club Charter group.
The Irish Rugby Supporters Club has been running an official charter to some of the away games for the past couple of seasons. Our first trip was to Cardiff in 2007 while last season saw us visiting Twickenham. This year we decided on Cardiff again as it is always a favourite with fans.
How lucky we were in our choice.
Gathering in Dublin Airport, we were just a few among many hundreds more waiting for a flight. The nerves were evident. Excitement mixed with trepidation. Would this be our year or would we fall at the final hurdle?
As ever we were well served by Aer Arann and their crew. Those of us who have had the privilege of being flown by Pilot ‘Schumacher’ knew what to expect when we landed in Cardiff but the sight of him donning the green jersey and locking the plane before hopping on the bus to the game is always fun.
Cardiff was awash with red and green. Shoppers and match goers mingled on the streets around the stadium.
Watching France ‘turn up’ against Italy was one thing but most of us could not concentrate on the Calcutta Cup match. We felt the need to be in the stadium, as though us turning up early would make the game start quicker.
Gate 1. Entry D2. Aisle 439. Block N2. Rows 1 and 2. Seats 1 to 35. We took our places, flags ready, voices ready. Dreams ready. But would they come true or would they be shattered?
We hailed our team as they warmed up. We roared for Rala. We prayed for the result. And then finally it began.
It was agonising. It was torture. Watching the highlights on ‘Against The Head’ last night, one could see the intensity of the first half. Going in 6-0 down seemed scant reward for our efforts.
On the day it felt like the world was against us. Still we sang, we roared ourselves hoarse.
Then up stepped our captain. Nobody really knew he had scored. We could not see it but when they showed him nodding his head to his team-mates we took up the cause. The TMO confirmed it and it was bedlam.
Then Rog floated that ball for Tommy Bowe and we thought it was in the bag. It wasn’t.
Wales showed that they would not relinquish their title without a fight and then with scant minutes on the clock we were behind. In the stands we tried and tried again.
We made our voices heard above the Welsh chorus, we stamped, we clapped and we sang. But we bit our nails, it was so close.
It was too cruel to be robbed and as the forwards drilled forward and Rog slipped into the pocket, somehow we knew he would land the drop.
We’ve won, we’ve done it. We just knew that the fans back home were roaring as loud as we were in the Millennium Stadium.
But fate had another final agonising twist. If it was a cliché, they would call it trite. It was real. Stephen Jones stepped up.
We were right down the other end. Time stopped, hearts stopped. The ball took flight and then suddenly Geordan Murphy was running through the in-goal area and kicking it out.
Did he miss? Did we win? Is that it? It was the mother of all pauses and then it was over. The tears flowed, the voices soared – raw but louder than ever.
The gracious Welsh fans congratulated us. They hate to lose but they love the drama and the love honest rugby. Our team has honesty in spades.
The return trip was calmly surreal. We had left everything in the stadium. There was nothing left to give and then…
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We will shortly be arriving in the airspace of the current Grand Slam champions…”
The plane erupted in one last cheer and then one final song. This time it was no lament for a lost love. The dream had come true:
“Alive, Alive Oh! Alive, Alive Oh! Crying Grand Slam, Oh Grand Slam! Alive Alive Oh!”
On behalf of the IRFU and the Irish Rugby Supporters Club – a big thank you to all the supporters at home and abroad, in Cardiff and around the world and an extra special thank you to the members of the Supporters Club who have shared the journey.
…Ireland: Triple Crown Champions 2009, RBS 6 Nations Champions 2009, Grand Slam Champions 2009…