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Dublin: 5°C Tuesday 2 March 2021

The Happy Camper: it's the morning after the night before

“As optimistic a bunch as we are, we presumed that Ireland would finish second in this group and so, we have tickets to the wrong quarter-final. They are both in Wellington however, so the hope is that we can make it to both.”

The lads mingle in Auckland.
The lads mingle in Auckland.
Image: Sean Farrell

HOW ARE THE heads, lads?

Still stuck in the clouds, but waking up this morning was a joy. We had worried that it may all have been a wonderful dream.

However, stepping out into the harsh morning sunlight to see Australian vans solemnly pull away, gave us a helpful reminder.

The Sunday papers add credibility to our growing assurance that 15-6 did actually happen. Gregor Paul of the Herald Sunday was at pains to dampen talk of ‘Irish spirit’ being an easy explanation for the result, saying “Plain and simple – Ireland were technically better at the business of hitting bodies out of the way and clearing space. Tactically they were smarter too.”

And that is the crux of this achievement, rare as these performances have been, it was no fluke.  I don’t know what Auckland is normally like on a Saturday night, but nothing could possibly compare to this.

In Eden Park, the girl sitting behind us had moved from Sligo to Sydney nine years ago and asked, “When was there was an atmosphere like this back home?” Only England’s first visit to Croke Park could come to mind.

The vibe all around the city was incredible; you couldn’t walk down any street without receiving congratulations from locals and unconditionally joyous strangers with nothing in common but the harp on their passport.

The attitude of New Zealanders to the unfolding events was captured simply when Blake, our acquaintance the previous night, texted “Go on boys” minutes into the second half. Every man woman and child knew well; something special was unfolding.

Far from being a cliché, there should be little doubt that the crowd played its part in the result too. Despite the respective distance from home, gold shirts were outnumbered by three to one, though a large Kiwi presence could easily be heard by the boos that greeted Quade Cooper’s every touch.

Fields of Athenry reverberated around the ground time after time, but poor old Matilda didn’t get a single invitation onto the dance floor.

Tickets to ride

This is heaven for Irish people, particularly to the hordes of young ex-pats who upped sticks from Perth, Sydney and everywhere in between. Whether they ‘crossed the ditch’ for a weekend or longer, the night was theirs, a pilgrimage and re-birth, a reminder of what is great about the country they left behind, a reason to return someday.

Post-match, we hit the nearest pub to Eden Park through its back alley entrance, we set up shop in a temporary marquee and the makeshift bar creaked as the green army swarmed.

The enormity of the result had set in. We sought new pastures. Outside (as three very Happy Campers got their bearings back) a crowd poured onto the street, hailed a taxi and roared at us “Are ye goin to town” we surely were, and bailed in.

We finished up the night in (of all places) a Belgian bar where there were yet more close encounters. Boys clad head to toe in tri-coloured Lycra began showing the wear-and-tear of the long day, the English agreed we would beat them if a semi-final meeting was down the road and we could make no apologies for getting ahead of ourselves.

Russia will be put to the sword, Ireland will do what it takes against Italy and, as we sit amongst a barful of disappointed Samoans, Shane Williams’ winning try will provide a chance for revenge in the quarters.

Speaking of which, we now (happily) have an unforeseen job on our hands.  As optimistic a bunch as we are, we presumed that Ireland would finish second in this group and so, we have tickets to the wrong quarter-final. They are both in Wellington however, so the hope is that we can make it to both.

These days, every silver lining has another silver lining.

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