A sporting rival I had in another sport, who I sort of liked and sort of didn’t, once said to me, ‘Think of anything that is meaningful to you in your life. It’s always shared in some way with people you care about.’ (I liked him when he said interesting things like that. I didn’t like him, for example, when he kept pushing into me from behind in a long queue at Dublin airport customs late one Sunday night recently, and blanked me when I nodded hello to him.)
So, a week on from the end of the tournament, I’m thinking of the people who shared the journey of the tournament together. That’s what made the defeat in the final hurt, how much you cared about it, cared about it with these people.
There are regrets about the final for sure. Personally, I was not happy with my tournament as a whole. Nor the final.
This picture below will haunt me. Could I have done better? Yes is the brutal answer. I could have done differently too. Looking at the photo makes me feel ill. I’m sure if you’re the try scorer, it makes you feel great. But I’m putting it up there. No excuses. No hiding.
I know many of my teammates have spoken too about going over the final again and again in their minds. Margins are small. As our coach said, we didn’t lose the final because of one error but a litany of errors. England were smarter on the day and fair play to them.
The devastation within our team after the game was what you can imagine.
I’ll give you one example of how down people were… By the middle of the week back home afterwards, a certain someone on the team bought a certain someone else flowers on his way home from work to cheer her up.
That someone arrived home to find that, to cheer him up, that other someone had bought him some lego to play with!
The best I could do was spend the week reading sports psychology. I wasn’t happy with where I went mentally in the tournament. For someone like me, who thinks a lot about my game (not sure if you noticed) my biggest opponent is always myself. I’m not quite in Padraig Harrington territory but I’m not far off. Not getting in the way of myself is key and I did in this tournament and that’s tough to take. I don’t want to beat myself up too much but I have to take it. I’m already trying to learn from it and I think I will.
On the flip side of that by the way, there’s no external opponent I’ve met in the last few years that can make a dent in me mentally (not even one pushing behind me in a long queue) which is one reason I don’t mind being open in these blogs. Feck it, why not. For example, during the journey of this tournament, I ran up against a ‘high mach’. These are the types that people find most difficult to deal with. You meet them in work situations too which I have recently. I was interested to learn that I dealt with this in the perfect way. Don’t try and play the person’s power games, you’ll lose every time. Confront them directly and calmly and the behaviour will melt away. I did and it did. Interesting.
I’m aware that there were many other stories that were more significant in our team’s journey during this tournament than my own. To give just two examples, Niamh, who got injured in the warm up for the very first game fought back and managed to get on the pitch on the third day and score a try. Declan, who had a great tournament, damaged his knee in the last pool game against England and missed the final. There were others.
There were funny moments in the tournament too. Apparently, one of them was in our pool game against Wales. I was defending and my boot got stood on and came off. I grabbed it and kept defending for three touches with it in my hand. The referee was shouting at me that I couldn’t play on without my boot on. I’ve been told it’s a rule. I thought he meant I couldn’t have it in my hand so I flung it away. It didn’t hit him but not too far off either. He shouted at me again I had to sub myself off till I got my boot on. I went and grabbed the boot again and sprinted off to the subs box like a mad man.
In retrospect, if I calmed down a little, the Welsh players were trying to say they’d wait to let me get the boot back on if I wanted. What can you do? The blood was up. Our captain thought the whole thing was hilarious.
We went to the after-party as pirates. As you do.
At the after-party, I happened upon my good friend El Jefe del Torneo in a corner of the nite-club involved in one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever witnessed. It was like a scene from ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ with him as the calm, charismatic latin lover trying to calm the hot-blooded Penelope Cruz character. Scarlett Johannson wasn’t there, there were no guns and the argument was something to do with refereeing or something (which had nothing to do with my friend) rather than a love triangle… but apart from that it was basically Penelope Cruz in the scenes below.
I couldn’t stop laughing at mi amigo’s calm serenity and smile in the face of extreme provocation.
As it says in the clip and I could imagine my friend saying, ‘Let’s be thankful for all the good times we have spent together, and remember each other with respect and love and affection.’
No one has yet given me lego (and Devin hasn’t invited me over to play with his), but one thing all of us got was amazing support.
We got to sing the national anthem all together before the game…
Some of the words after the game from people supporting us were amazing and wise too. Some written in texts and messages after, some spoken earnestly at the after-party or in the airport the next day. Evoke the day better than I could.
‘My throat was closing up, I could barely breathe watching you in that final. The only other time I’ve felt like that was watching Leinster in the Heineken Cup final.’
‘I couldn’t look at any of you as we clapped you off at the end. I had to look down at my feet.’
‘It’s a final. You could play that game twenty times and have twenty different results.’
‘Look me in the eyes, this is sport. This is Touch. You need to listen to this. This is what’s it’s about. The good bits and the shit. This is being alive.’
‘I scanned Twitter for updates on the final. I feel hit hard when my sporting teams lose probably none more so than the Irish rugby team… but this was probably harder. I’m privileged to know most of the team and could not be prouder of how successful u were. To come so close must be agonising but victory isn’t always in the end result. Victory can be coming together all those months ago and making a team that gave it their all. That achieved something so special and was just the smallest fraction away from gold.’
‘Sometimes sport sucks. You don’t have to win on the scoreboard to win in peoples hearts. Think of your journey, what you’ve learnt and become . Think of the friends, the laughs , the hair styles , the memories. You’ve got to earn a silver to value a gold🏅. So proud of you but by f*** you’re going back for a gold!☘ xxxx’
How could you not feel privileged to be wearing an Irish jersey representing people like this?
So, as the saying goes ‘You have to grasp the opportunity of a lifetime within the lifetime of that opportunity.’ We didn’t. Will I, will we, get another chance? I don’t know but I hope so.
To reverse a quote by Steve Redgrave after he won his fourth Olympic gold medal in Atlanta 1996, ‘Anyone who sees me in a boat again has the right to shoot me.’ (Six months later he was back aiming for his fifth gold in Sydney 2000, which he won.)
I’ll say, ‘Anyone who sees me not fighting back from this has the right to shoot me.’ Or give me a stern look of disappointment. Which in many ways would be worse.
One final thought. Have I left the jersey in a better place than I found it? I can answer yes to that without hesitation. (And not just because I carefully washed my jersey after and even used fabric softener.)
It’s a question all my teammates can answer yes to without hesitation. So that’s hopeful.
Over and out.
Ian, I will BUY you that Lego !!!!. So proud of the teams achievement!