On a ‘Super Sunday’ which saw Ireland’s rugby and soccer teams playing two momentous internationals, thousands of sports fans congregated in pubs, hotels, sports clubs and cinemas to watch the drama unfold. ‘Super Sunday’ sports fever took the same hold in Roscommon as elsewhere around the country. We persuaded SEAMUS DUKE to spend Sunday afternoon in local pubs, watching us watching them…
People in this country are sports-mad. Any excuse and we are away. It is very seldom that two of our premier international teams are involved in major fixtures on the same evening, one after the other –and that’s what happened last Sunday.
It has been a bad time for rural publicans in recent years but last Sunday evening most of them got a boost.
After the drawn County Hurling final I made my way to Roscommon town where the Ireland v France World Rugby Cup match was kicking off.
The atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium could be felt as the game started.
I missed the pre-match chat with Matt Cooper and guests, but from the opening exchanges it was obvious that this was going to be a monumental battle as the ferocious hits went in one after the other. The thirty players, with no regard for their personal safety, threw themselves into a battle which was frightening in its intensity. The pub was packed as punters roared on their heroes.
“Go on Johnny”, “Great hit Paulie”, “Ah for Jaysus sake referee” could be heard as the game took shape.
Ireland were hanging on a bit and then there were groans as first, Johnny Sexton, and then, Paul O’Connell, suffered really bad injuries.
“We’ll see now if Madigan is up to it” one man roared at the TV. “I think we are bunched now for sure” said another.
At half-time and we were left with the sight of Paul O’Connell being stretchered off, taking oxygen as he made his way to the dressing rooms. Was that going to be our World Cup hopes up the spout?
The cocktail sausages and sandwiches were very welcome at the break as we pondered just how Ireland would be able to cope without their talisman and inspirational captain. But the answer came very quickly. Ian Madigan did actually step up to the mark and then, as if to signal that Paul O’Connell was handing on the baton, on came Ian Henderson to show that we have a new superstar in the Irish pack. The big man from Ulster was brilliant as he helped drive Ireland on.
It was relentless in the second half as Ireland drove forward. The French blue machine was in reverse.
Sean O’Brien was everywhere, Conor Murray was directing the play, Madigan was kicking brilliantly, Henderson was controlling the lineout along with 6 foot 11 inch Devin Toner. Athlone man Robbie Henshaw was awesome, putting in hit after hit.
Stuart Barnes, the co-commentator on TV3, said: “If I was Irish I would be so proud of these men here today. This is just phenomenal” – and it was that surely.
The tries came eventually. Rob Kearney and Conor Murray got across the Cardiff whitewash. Ireland had beaten the mighty French, against all the odds. Not alone did Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton have to go off, but we lost one of our greatest warriors in Peter O’Mahony too.
The Irish supporters were fantastic. Joe Schmidt has masterminded a brilliant victory. However I have seldom seen a man as shell-shocked after a major victory. He knew it had come at a huge cost.
Back in the pub, everyone was on their feet for the last ten minutes. Fists were shaken at the TV, some people were close to tears. You had to marvel at this Irish team and the way they refused to bend the knee. It was a really great day to be Irish. Bring on Argentina now.
Even watching that rugby game was exhausting. Could we go to Warsaw and win and qualify for Euro 2016?
Eamon Dunphy was aghast in the studio. His ‘love child’ Wes Hoolihan was not playing. “I’m told it’s due to injury” said presenter Darragh Maloney. But he was named in the substitutes, so Eamon was having none of it.
“Martin O’Neill doesn’t trust Wes Hoolihan and it shows a lack of ambition” said Eamon. Oh dear, we are getting off to a bad start.
The stadium in Warsaw looked magnificent and the Poles gave their side massive support. We were going to be up against it. When Poland took the lead in the 13th minute the pub fell silent. The writing was on the wall. However the gloomy mood did not last too long. Two minutes to be precise. A Polish defender decided that he would try to decapitate Shane Long and the referee pointed to the spot and Johnny Walters walloped the penalty to the Polish net and now the ‘Oles’ could start again.
But Poland were dangerous going forward and just when we thought we would get to half-time, Lewandowski struck for his customary goal. The Bayern Munich striker has scored a hatful of goals this season and he powered a header home in the 42nd minute. Poland 2-1 up at the break.
There was no shortage of encouragement as the punters shouted their support for Ireland and the much talked about Wes Hoolihan and Robbie Keane came on to try and rescue the situation.
There was to be no late equaliser however and at the close, a very glum ‘Holy Trinity’ of John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy agreed that we were not good enough. Still, we have the play-offs!
When the soccer was over, the screens were switched back to TV3 where they were showing highlights of the rugby. The smiles returned as we basked in the glow of a never-to- be-forgotten display.
It was a momentous day. A long day of sport. A draw in Athleague, victory in Cardiff, and a loss in Warsaw. And the good news is that there is more to look forward to next weekend. I suppose you can’t win them all. But it was a day that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
* On ‘Super Sunday’, Seamus Duke watched the action unfold in Down The Hatch and Pat Kelly’s.