Dublin: 6°C Thursday 27 January 2022

Chicago, where more than a century of hurt weighs against Ireland and the Cubs

The odds are stacked against both sides, but we may have found the perfect place to go breaking unwanted records.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

MY KIND OF town, the windy city, home of the blues, deep pan pizza and for the coming week: the rugby representatives of Ireland and New Zealand.

That’s right, sportsfans: we’re on our way to Chicago!

A tough round of inter-provincial fixtures will send many in to camp today bruised and with an extra little bit of battle-hardening. Others, of course – like Rory Best, Jared Payne, Jonathan Sexton, Ultan Dillane and Conor Murray – were taken out of the firing line this weekend, so should be fresh in body of mind to take all that homework from Joe Schmidt onto the nine-hour flight that awaits them tomorrow.

With a second match against the All Blacks, plus Tests against the Wallabies and Canada to come back in Dublin, Ireland’s series of November internationals is about more than just Chicago. Ordinarily, the opportunity to take on both World Cup finalists in a month would be enough to whet the appetite and fill our Test window – particularly with Michael Cheika at his most prickly.

Chicago though marks a precedent of a fourth autumn match for Ireland. England and Wales have been able to squeeze a bonus fourth Test in for a number of years. So it’s a welcome departure for Ireland to follow suit – even if it does come in the shape of a money-spinning trans-Atlantic trip rather than an extra day out on Lansdowne Road.

In a regular three-pronged autumn international window, we would view a 66% batting average as a successful series - or higher if New Zealand and their 111-year track record of beating Ireland are not in town.

Aaron Cruden scores his second kick to win the game Aaron Cruden seals a cruel defeat for Ireland in 2013. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

History beckons and Joe Schmidt has finally signed his new contract, so why not be positive? Sure, it’s just the way New Zealand have been ripping opponents apart in the Rugby Championship, it would be unfair to demand a first-ever victory or call the month a failure. Instead, this four-Test window feels like it should be judged on a perfformances and the introduction of new combinations and faces across the park.


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The make-up of the fixture list makes it impossible to escape the shadow of 2013′s excruciatingly close defeat to Steve Hansen’s men. Despite being three years in the can, that game continues to give this Ireland squad confidence simply by the high water mark it left.

NLCS Dodgers Cubs Baseball A Chicago City police officer and Cubs fan share a high five after the spot in the World Series was sealed. Source: Matt Marton

Fortunately, Chicago is a city with a desperate thirst to end long losing streaks this week.

Faith may be firmly lost for fans of a Bears team with only one win from seven NFL games this season, but there is still a lingering hope that the Cubs might just pull off a miracle not seen since 1908. Thanks to Corey Kluber and Cleveland Indians, however, 108 years of hurt could be extended tonight if the Cubs contrive to lose with homefield advantage for a third night running in the best-of-seven contest.

Either way, the World Series is leaving town just as the tamely-named Rugby Weekend arrives. But a win for the Cubs tonight would push the Series to Tuesday and keep spirits up among the locals and Irish diaspora who may be the sort of floating supporter a rugby international thousands of miles from home needs to capture imagainations.

These are all outside factors however. When young and not-so-young uncapped players like Garry Ringrose and Billy Holland take up their rooms in Trump Tower tomorrow night, they won’t really give a damn what the Cubs have been doing. It will be about earning Cap 1 and placing a little doubt in that shiny All Black confidence under the Soldier Field lights.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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