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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 9 March 2021
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The Happy Camper: home thoughts from abroad

As they point it towards the airport, our man in the van recalls the many Irish friends they’ve made along the road.

Ireland fans Daniel O'Connor, Daniel McLoughlin and Kebin O'Connor from Donegal with their van that has been signed by members of the Irish team outside the team hotel in Wellington.
Ireland fans Daniel O'Connor, Daniel McLoughlin and Kebin O'Connor from Donegal with their van that has been signed by members of the Irish team outside the team hotel in Wellington.
Image: David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images

WE PUT TE Kuiti behind us and made our way to Raglan, but surfing is not plain sailing, it takes a bit of effort even to find a beach.

We followed the guidebooks advice on boarders’ paradise and pulled in at Manu Bay, then Whale Bay.

One looked as dangerous as the other, waves crashing in just meters short of huge black boulders.

It wasn’t difficult to imagine the rock in its previous form, lava bubbling away until the cold Tasman Sea froze it in time.

After seeking advice we are told that we “missed the great big sign that says ‘Surfing Beach!” Our guide pointed us in back the right direction, but she was wrong, there is no sign, only a disused board makers cut to mark the road.

I paid my $45 for the loan of a board and wetsuit, and then set off to get battered by some vicious waves for three hours. Then the sea calmed, I had allowed myself to get stuck in a bit of a rip tide, so was paddling in vain for a while until my knightess came swimming out in a shining neoprene.

Typically, she was Irish but after towing me ashore she was in no mood for chatting.

Family affair

It brought to mind all our other countrymen and women we have encountered along the way that helped turn the craic on this trip from 90 to 99.

People like John who we met in Wellington. Living in Australia, he had booked this trip three years ago as a newlywed. By the time we invited in him for a post-match Jameson and commiserations, he was travelling in a party of six. He and wife had had two children in the intervening years and brought along her parents in the campervan to help keep on reign on the toddlers – no wonder he needed a stiff drink.

Then of course were the people we met a number of times around the circuit of following our island’s one team. Like Padraic and Elaine, who we had expected to meet in Dunedin, but then also ended up sitting four seats away from us during the Australia versus South Africa quarter-final.

Elaine said she had been calling Tosh for ages, but we had been too busy giggling at the South African humour (“You’re all offside you smelly, unsporting people!”) to notice.

As coincidences go; that was nothing compared to how we met and re-met Mick. Working as a surgeon in Wellington we met Dr Mick in the Otago Stadium after a mutual friend had sold him our spare ticket for the Italy game.

Plastered in green white and gold facepaint, every word he uttered had an inspirational hue, like a cross between Hector O’hEochagain and Sean Lemass. Imagine how good an omen it seemed to all four of us when he turned up in the seat beside me a second time clad in a tinsel green wig.

Alas, it was not to be against the Welsh.

From medical surgeons to tree surgeons: armed only with the weather map on his newspaper and three years of experience in the land, Desmond acted as an encyclopedic tourist guide on the Interislander Ferry.

He showed up again on Sunday night in the capital and joined us for a late night kebab and a nightcap back in the van. Tim, as I mentioned yesterday, did the same, but stayed the night until we left him and his backpacks looking forlorn in the heart of the city.

Faraway, so close

Careering down the white waters of the Shotover River in Queenstown we got chatting to Anthony, then couldn’t help but make his acquaintance again in the small confines of Dunedin city centre.

And, of course, there was Janet: the Tipperary girl seeking an extension to her Australian visa who shared our jet-boat in Taupo and then bumped into us as she considered a bungy jump at Kawarau Gorge.

Her’s is a story typical of a generation. In fact, all of the people mentioned above have cut the apron strings and left Ireland to live and work in Australasia.

It is a necessary evil, a sad story but one which made this World Cup an incredible and unforgettable experience.

Without the hordes of Green Army infantry arriving over across the ditch and those who had already set up base camp in New Zealand, this tournament would have been much less enjoyable for those of us who will return to the other side of the planet this week.

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