After the greatest weekend in Irish rugby history, our game’s only in good shape? Imagine when it’s terrific

The Morning Sports Briefing: keep ahead of the game as Mary Hannigan brings you all the main sports news

Well then, how was that for a weekend? After the game on Saturday, Johnny Sexton said he was afraid he’d wake up and realise that it was all a dream, but if he opens up his Irish Times’ sports pages today he’ll see that it did indeed actually happen.

It’s a measure of how many of the Irish squad excelled en route to that Grand Slam that when seven of our writers were asked to pick their player of the Championship – as well as their best try and game – they came up with five different Irish names. Gerry Thornley went entirely rogue, though, choosing a French man. Mon Dieu.

There’s a mountain of reading to be done on the achievement, Gerry hearing Andy Farrell reflect on it all, the coach concluding that “our game’s in good shape, but it’s nowhere near where we want it to be”. Good shape? Imagine when it’s terrific?

But that was the gist of Sexton’s message too, the best is yet to come, Malachy Clerkin listening in when the captain, having allowed himself roughly half an hour to savour the Grand Slam, declared: “Roll on the World Cup.”


And Johnny Watterson notes that possibly the most consequential aspect of this Grand Slam is that it’s Ireland’s first in a World Cup year. “Maybe the stars are aligning for Ireland to go beyond a quarter-final for the first time,” he writes.

John O’Sullivan, meanwhile, zooms in on Ryan Baird’s performance on Saturday, seeing it as one of many examples through the campaign of Farrell being handsomely rewarded for putting his faith in a wide group of players.

Whatever about the 2023 World Cup, there’s a fair chance Ireland will be in good shape going in to the 2027 and 2031 tournaments, judging by the quality of the under-20 team that sealed its second Grand Slam in a row in Musgrave Park on Sunday evening. Denis Walsh was there to witness the feat, one that rounded off “the greatest weekend in the history of Irish rugby”.

There’s plenty of Gaelic games coverage in today’s paper too, while Ken Early takes a look at the dark clouds hovering over Barcelona in the wake of the ‘El Caso Negreira’ scandal, the club having made payments of over €7m between 2016 and 2018 to companies controlled by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira ... the former vice-president of Spain’s Referee’s Technical Committee. Uh oh.

Telly choice: Would you like to relive Ireland winning the Grand Slam? Of course you would. Pour a glass of champagne, light a cigar, and tune in to RTE2′s Against the Head (8.0).

Keep an eye on: Evan Ferguson-mania. The 18-year-old is on Republic of Ireland duty today, ahead of the games against Latvia and France, and manager Stephen Kenny will have his work cut out to dampen our belief that he is the Second Coming, following his performance for Brighton on Sunday.