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Best of enemies: The best Ireland-England battles through the years

Ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Dublin, we look at more tussles with the English.

Rugby 1973

“We may not be any good but at least we turn up”

In 1973 during the height of the troubles, England ignored the threat of the IRA to send a team go play in Dublin.

The previous year both Scotland and Wales had refused to travel for matches, enraging an Irish team who had looked to win the Grand Slam. A decisive Rugby Football Union had voted unanimously to send a team to Dublin no matter what. On the day only four English players refused to travel, two of these being serving officers.

Before kick off the two teams were due to walk on together but the applause for England was so passionate that they were pushed forward to take their ovation alone. The applause lasted five minutes and was followed with utter silence for the English national anthem. Ireland went on to win the match 18-9. This match was a monumental day in Ireland and England’s rivalry and founded a mutual respect for both teams which has lasted through the years. England’s captain John Pullin ended the day with this unforgettable quote “we may not be any good but at least we turn up”.

Source: irlfunds/YouTube

Cricket 2011

Ireland stun England with some record-breakers.

This is remembered as one of the best days in Irish cricket history. Ireland, the consistent underdogs, headed into this World Cup with some promise but England were the more threatening side with a comprehensive win against favourites India already under their belt. Indeed, the game started out as many had predicted.

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Halfway through Ireland’s innings England were on 328 whereas Ireland had only scored 111 runs and had already lost 5 wickets. But then Ireland, led by Kevin O’Brien, quickly began to turn the tide. O’Brien posted 113 from 63 balls and managed to strike the fastest century in World Cup history. When O’Brien finally ran out of steam England were still on top but now Ireland were within touching distance and the team quickly took advantage.

The Irish supporters at the game may have been out-numbered but they were by no means quiet as they treated the entire stadium to renditions of Ireland’s Call. In Ireland fans were over the moon and many more jumped on the bandwagon to celebrate Ireland’s triumphant victory.

Soccer 1949

“The country we didn’t want to beat – one we had to defeat.”

In 1949 England were unbeaten at home and a huge force in soccer at the time. Ireland travelled to Liverpool accompanied by just two reporters and a handful of fans for their second ever game against England. The visitors started off the game poorly but somehow kept England’s forwards out. They managed to convert their first attack in the 32nd minute into a goal and so Ireland went into the break with a one goal lead. England were unrelenting in the second half but Ireland’s defence matched them for every ball and would not give them even an inch of space. With five minutes left Ireland scored again cementing their historic win and shattering England’s impressive home record.

Most fans in Ireland only heard of the victory the next day and the team remained heroes for the rest of their careers as the players who beat their arch rivals on their home turf. One of the two journalists at the match, Frank Johnstone, said “it was a big deal, it was England- the country we didn’t want to beat- the one we had to defeat.”

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Boxing 1995

Steve Collins is immune to pain.

Chris Eubank and Steve Collins fought in front of a 7,500 audience in Green Glens Arena on the 18 March 1995. Eubank went into the fight unbeaten in 43 encounters and known as “simply the best”.

Collins had won the WBO middleweight championship the previous year and had moved up a weight class in order to fight Eubank for the super middleweight title. It had all come down to this fight.

Unknown to Eubank, Collins had enlisted the help of Tony Quinn to train him and the two had set up an elaborate plan to convince the world, but particularly Eubank, that Collins had been working with a hypnotist who had made Collins immune to pain. This threw Eubank, who threatened to pull out of the fight that night but he relented and the fight went ahead.

From the get go Collins was determined and concentrated with the crowd united behind him. It wasn’t until the fourth round that Eubank even got a chance to fight back. Collins worked hard though and in the seventh and eighth round he regained control of the fight. In the tenth round Collins endured his first ever knock down but he still persisted and went on to win the fight by a unanimous decision.

Eubank was respectful to the end and was the first to congratulate Collins on his win but this fight sparked a rivalry for the super middleweight title and has led on now to a rivalry between their sons. Collins later admitted his deceit about the hypnosis.

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Women’s Rugby 2013

Twentieth time lucky.

Over the years Ireland have faced England twenty times. They suffered their worst ever defeat in 2002 when they lost 79-0 and Ireland had never claimed victory over them before 2013.

England had won the 6 Nations for seven consecutive years previously but this time it was Ireland’s day. This was Ireland’s second match in the 6 Nations but it was the first time they looked like true contenders for the championship.

Ireland were very impressive on the day scoring four tries, a conversion and a penalty. Alison Trainer was dynamite scoring three tries while credit must be given to the defence who kept a clean sheet through the game.

It was also the start of something special for the team and a sign of more to come. Beating the favourites for the 6 Nations created a lot of momentum for Ireland as they went on to win the Grand Slam for the first time ever.

Source: IrishRugbyTVOfficial/YouTube

Rugby 2007

England come to Croke Park.

This is probably one of the most historic and emotional matches in Irish sporting history. After a controversial debate Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer during the renovation of Lansdowne Road. Protests were sparked and a complicated web of relations between various sporting bodies in Ireland and abroad were revealed but things did not come to a head until England were due to play against Ireland in Croke Park.

In 1920 British armed forces killed a player and 13 fans at a GAA match when they opened fire in the stadium. This match was a startling reminder of Ireland and England’s past. There was tension in the weeks running up to the match and every supporter who attended the game was heightened to its significance.

When England’s national anthem was played in Croke Park it ended in huge applause and many people breathed a sigh of relief. The stadium then almost shook with a heartfelt rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann which was proudly followed by Ireland’s Call.

England scored first with a penalty but Ireland quickly responded with three. In the final ten minutes of the first half Ireland scored two simple tries in quick succession.

England were not beaten yet though. They added a converted try and a penalty but Ireland were an inspired team and they fought on to score two more tries, the second reminiscent of gaelic football tactics. England scored a late try but in the end Ireland came away with a substantial 43-13 victory. An important victory from a match etched in history.

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About the author:

Caoimhe O'Gorman

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