Letter from Cardiff: Joe Schmidt's Ireland provide a day for the ages

Ireland were backed by an incredible support in Cardiff yesterday.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cardiff

THE AFTERMATH SPOKE volumes of what had come before.

Bodies strewn everywhere, sheer and utter carnage, but joy underlining it all. Late night Cardiff was symbolic of Ireland’s display against the French hours before. It took a toll on the Irish involved but it was one that they will never forget.

Robbie Henshaw celebrates Robbie Henshaw thank the sensational Irish support. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

An incredible performance and a bizarre match, a brilliant weekend in Cardiff.

There was so much stuffed into the 80 most important minutes of the weekend, so many different strands and themes to a remarkable game that seemed to last more like four hours.

Ireland delivered on the pitch and their sensational supporters did the same under the roof of the Millennium Stadium. It can be easy to overlook the importance of the fans at times, to underestimate just how much they drive on their team, but this game was not one of those occasions.

It was riotous in volume inside the cauldron, deafening beforehand and for the majority of the game. ‘The Fields of Athenry’ has rarely been sung with such passionate gusto, such collective force. ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ responded to every big moment on the pitch.

There have been magical days in the Millennium for Irishmen and Irishwomen before, but this felt better than all of those atmospheres.

“I have been really lucky in my career to have played in games for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions and that atmosphere surpassed pretty much anything I have played in,” said Jamie Heaslip afterwards. “Both sets of fans were a credit to the game.”

Ireland fans celebrate as IrelandÕs Conor Murray scores his sides second try Ireland's supporters react to the final whistle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Indeed, the French were fantastic, bringing colour and humour to the streets of Cardiff from Saturday morning onwards. They held their own at times inside the stadium with ‘Allez les Bleus,’ but Ireland’s crescendo won out.

“At times our lungs were bursting and our legs were on fire,” said Heaslip. “Then you get a break in the game and you hear them chanting. You look up and all you see is green. It just gives you a lift, a kind of 16th man kind of lift.”

There were several instances where that lift for Ireland seemed clear. The many breaks in play that were required to stitch up or carry off the wounded saw Ireland’s support break into song, bringing adrenaline flowing through the bodies of Joe Schmidt’s men.

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It wasn’t just about the fixture itself. Ireland’s support once again filled the city from up to two days before the game. Friday evening saw the jerseys suddenly appearing in every corner, and by Saturday lunchtime the Brewery Quarter had been turned green.

“Even coming down from the hotel with the horses leading us in,” said Heaslip. “Many times I have been here and I had flashbacks of playing the Grand Slam game here. The crowd out there surpassed all of that.

Rob Kearney celebrates his try with Tommy Bowe, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw Ireland celebrate Rob Kearney's try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“They were unbelievable and I cannot emphasise that enough.”

Ireland gave their thanks after the battle, striding out to the middle of the field to salute the supporters who had spent their hard-earned wages to be there. There were tears even, and a genuine appreciation for the efforts.

The ovation for Paul O’Connell at half time had been tinged with a sadness at seeing the great man cut down, but the applause and roar after full time was full of excitement, relief and a promise that there is more to come.

Ireland may be down a few bodies for Argentina, but there is a force of support behind them that will be important all the way. Sitting amongst the joyous scenes in Cardiff last night, it didn’t feel like the quarter-finals will be the end of this Irish story.

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These Irish rugby fans had an epic time on the streets of Cardiff last night

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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