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Dublin: 16 °C Wednesday 17 July, 2019
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The Happy Camper: it's time to go home, Tosh

Cian the van is parked up for the last time and the lads file onto the flight home with plenty of other Irish. It’s been a wild ride.

IT’S FINALLY HERE, departure day.

It’s been a wild ride but we’ve had something of a long goodbye from New Zealand after rising early in Raglan and sleepily ending the road trip in Auckland.

We had to bid Cian the campervan a tearful farewell.

He has taken us through a lot over the last four weeks and 4,754 kilometres.

He has trudged over and around high mountains that sweep down to spectacular lakes. He’s breezed through long flat valleys.

He also managed to bus us to a rugby game or four along the way, matches that gave us incredible highs and fairly devastating lows.

He has squeezed through nigh on a hundred one-way bridges that cross the rivers, creeks and culverts on New Zealand’s main highways. He has mercilessly slaughtered thousands of insects, mistakenly flattened a couple of possums, claimed manslaughter on a small bird of some kind and almost brought an early Christmas for one stray turkey.

But despite his homicidal tendencies, he’s a sound auld skin and has never steered us wrong.

Departures

Everything was on time and going according to plan: the Happy Camper had shed the van to become just plain ‘happy’ again. We scoured the duty free shops for some souvenirs to waste our last few dollars on and Del headed off on his flight to Melbourne joking “I think there’s something wrong with the engine on your plane.” We laughed, but he was far, far too right.

Flight NZ719 to Sydney boarded and taxied without a hitch, but then stopped.

The normal time for waiting on flight clearance was exceeded three times over when the pilot announced that they were in contact with the engineers. Our one o’clock take-off returned to its gate at two. We knew our connecting flight to Abu Dhabi would have to be massively delayed to accommodate us. It wasn’t, and so we are a further eight hours delayed. This is the journey that just doesn’t want to end.

Reassuringly, it was a new plane that arrived to give us a second go at take-off. By half three we were once again watching Richie McCaw and Graham Henry talk us through the inflight safety video.

Amazingly, the visual gags still carry on the third time of watching. The laugh turns into bemusement though as fire engines race to the aircraft, it is protocol enforcing an extra delay after an oil spill from one of the loading vehicles. “At this rate,” Tosh said, “we’ll be around for the semi-finals after all.”

Yet here we are, stuck in a stuffy Sydney terminal, surrounded by passengers who look just as weary as we do. How did all this come about?  It seemed like a frivolous idea 12 months ago, which slowly but surely became real and daunting. It would only be made possible because of the immense help and understanding of so many people at home – they know who they are.

Without those people, without the ingenious planning and organisation from Tosh and Del, and without the countless Irish emigrants and travelling supporters who hit Aotearoa like it had never been hit before, the World Cup experience would have been all the poorer.

The people of Ireland have left their mark on New Zealand 2011, unfortunately not on the Webb Ellis trophy itself, but in the hearts and minds of the rugby world. The evidence can be met on every street in every town of New Zealand. And it could be heard on Sunday when ‘Ole Ole Ole’ whisked around Wellington’s ‘cake tin’ as South Africa and Australia battled out a quarter-final on the field.

Our adventure through the sprawling set of the Lord of the Rings is over. And like the Tolkien fantasy it got a little bit drawn out in the final few pages as we embarked on an anti-climactic journey home. However, by the time the Six Nations, November or even this weekend comes calling, it won’t be these moments of normality that define the trip.

It will be the enormous satisfaction we felt in Dunedin and the amazing elation in Eden Park, feelings that could only be matched by throwing ourselves off a bridge or out of plane before landing safe and sound on terra firma.

Whenever, we’re asked what New Zealand was like, we will never think of dank Dannevirke or terrible Te Kuiti.

Instead, our eyes and grins will widen and we will simply reply with the ubiquitous kiwi-ism: “Sweet as”.

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