Today, Ireland played against New Zealand in rugby in Dublin. To any non-rugby fan, New Zealand are the best team in the world and Ireland have never beaten them (in 27 meetings).
Last weekend, Ireland lost to Australia in what any fan would deem a pretty dismal performance. Things were not looking good for us.
And so people’s hopes weren’t exactly high for today’s match. New Zealand were hoping to end their season undefeated (the first team to do so in the professional era) and honestly, many Irish fans were just hoping not to lose by too wide a margin. With New Zealand, we are the interminable underdogs.
There was another reason a victory would have been celebrated like Mardi Gras. It was the last time our captain and one of the best centres in the world, Brian O’ Driscoll, would face the All Blacks. To the Irish, O’ Driscoll is a living legend. A hero. We wanted a victory for him more than for ourselves. He retires at the end of the season.
What was to follow, nobody could have predicted. The Irish performance was intense beyond description, passionate and dynamic. We were out-classing the New Zealanders at every level. I have waited all my life to watch us finally conquer the All Blacks, and after Ireland’s first half performance, it looked like Ireland would be celebrating one of the greatest achievements in their sporting history. At one stage, we led 19 points to zero.
But, alas, it wasn’t to be. We didn’t score in the second half and New Zealand creeped back into the game. We were ahead right to the very end. In the 80th minute, with the clock red (in rugby, the game doesn’t end until the ball goes out of play and at this stage, the time was up), New Zealand scored. I felt my heart break. I felt hearts around the nation break. To lose by a wide margin would have been easier, but to lose like this, with seconds on the clock, it was devastating. I cried. I cried like I haven’t cried in a long time.
I love rugby. It has long been my favourite sport: it is skillful, physical and exhilarating. It is so beautiful to watch. And this was a demonstration of exactly why it is such a dramatic sport. It is a cruel mistress. As tears streamed down my face, and I watched the pain and dejection on our players’ faces, I turned to Jack. He was pretty disappointed but just shrugged.
‘Pity’, he muttered.
I, on the other hand, was nowhere near as gracious. There was tears, expletives and plenty of gesturing. For a few hours (and admittedly, still) there was a horribly sick feeling in my stomach. I was (and still am) devastated at the loss. Jack started playing GTA.
So it has led me to realise I am a really bad loser. I just can’t take it. But is it understandable? I am passionate about the sport and the team. I have watched then since I was a small child perched on my dad’s knee, I have seen them play, I wear the jersey every game day. This could have been an historic day but it was lost in the most cruel of outcomes.
I did learn from Jack’s more placid reaction that, basically, THAT’S LIFE. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes we almost win. These heartbreaking moments just make the eventual victories all the more beautiful and well-deserved. We will triumph against the All Blacks some day, but that day was not today. I guess I’m saying I need to learn to handle losing a little better, and I need to learn the meaning of grace and dignity, rather than emotional swearing and bottle-throwing. I did provide Jack will a lot of entertaining aggression though, so there’s that.