Four Grand Slams in 140 years, this is becoming a habit. But to kind of cite George Hamilton, the nation held its breath for roughly the first 62 minutes of this particular decider, finally exhaling, with no little relief, roughly around the time Robbie Henshaw did his try-scoring thing. Eighteen (plus) minutes later? Party time.
And there was Johnny Sexton, wearing the smiliest head we’ve ever seen on the fella, dancing on one leg to the strains of Freed from Desire, his team-mates tossing their children in the air in celebration, leaving us nervously praying for no handling errors.
(We could be cranky here and ask why on earth the Freed from Desire tune was blasted from the speakers at full-time, thereby drowning out the crowd in quite an ear-splitting fashion, rather than letting said crowd create their own atmosphere, this becoming an increasingly irksome trend in major sporting events. But that would be pernickety).
So, yes, a very, very, very glorious day.
“You couldn’t make it up,” as Johnny told Virgin Media, “it’s like living in a dream . . . bloody hell, what a team.”
[ Ireland secure Grand Slam to give Johnny Sexton the perfect Six Nations sign off ]
The thing, though, is that Virgin’s build-up to the game didn’t really prepare us for it being a breath-holding ordeal. Granted, Matt Williams, Shane Horgan and Rob Keernie (as his cousin Joe Biden dubbed him the day before in the White House) did all half-warn us not to dismiss the challenge of the wounded lions of England, after their mullering by France, and their eagerness to banjax our festivities. But, on the whole, the vibe was that we had nothing to fret about enormously.
And then the game started and Trimbie and Quinny, aka Andrew Trimble and Alan Quinlan, were enormously fretting.
A whole 17 minutes lumbered by before Ireland registered some points, our Johnny halving England’s lead which had been provided by the boot of Andy Farrell’s young lad. Nerves weren’t just getting the better of ourselves, a touch more worrying, our boys had the heebie-jeebies too.
Johnny got a standing ovation from the crowd because he had broken Ronan O’Gara’s Six Nations’ points record, but rather than doing a lap of honour he opted to impart a Ciaran Fitzgerald-esque message to his team-mates, along the lines of ‘where’s your ****ing pride?’.
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That did the trick, Dan Sheehan scored a try, and with Johnny’s conversion that was Ireland 10-6 up. “I wonder if this is an indication that Ireland have weathered the storm,” Trimbie asked, to which the breath-holding nation replied: ‘STOP!’
England down to 14 before half-time after Freddie Steward’s elbow took Hugo Keenan out of the game. Our Virgin Media and ITV pundits were split on the decision to send him off, Clive Woodward’s take quirkier than most.
“By the letter of the law, it’s a red card. But as a rugby incident, it’s a rugby incident - it’s a yellow card. So I think the referee got it wrong.”
No matter, the main thing was that 15 v 14 would make the second half a breeze.
England penalty. One point in it. “Ireland look rattled,” Trimbie trembled. “As the minutes tick on, it’s getting a little bit worrying,” Quinny agreed.
And then Henshaw got that try and all was well with the world.
“We were very stressed there for 10 minutes,” said Trimbie. Ten?!?!
Thereafter, a hiccup or two, but largely a procession towards that above-mentioned glory thanks to Sheehan’s second try and another by Rob Herring, ensuring first plaice in the table and a Grand Slam to boot.
Matt advised us to savour it all, days like this don’t come along too often, at least we think that’s what he said because he was largely drowned out by Freed from Desire.
[ Peyper called the tune correctly when it came to Steward’s sending off ]
Joe Molloy, we think, asked Shane Horgan to name his three best Irish players from the campaign, so he chose Caelan Doris, Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen, Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter. The numbers might not have added up, but that, he pointed out, was a measure of the quality of the all-round contributions from the team. Picking just three wasn’t doable.
Now, of course, we’ll lose the run of ourselves. “Next up World Cup, we’ll be dreamin’,” as Joe put it. But that’s okay. We’re now freed from the desire of winning our fourth Grand Slam in 140 years, and you’d have a notion this bunch haven’t done dreamin’. Bloody hell, what a team.