Sifting through the ashes of Ireland v New Zealand

On Saturday night last my wife and I sat in the living room glued to our seats as we watched the final moments of Ireland against New Zealand. Her knuckles had turned white as she gripped the side of the chair. Words that I didn’t even think she knew were being uttered quick and fast as the tension rose, as Ireland slowly moved up the pitch phase after phase towards the New Zealand line, but phase after phase being repelled. New Zealand were forced to make 100 tackles in the last 20 minutes of that match. Every tackle brought the man to the ground. Yet Ireland still held on to the ball, no mistakes were made, and crept closer to the try line inch by inch. Eventually something had to give and unfortunately for Ireland the final decision favoured the New Zealanders and with that the quarterfinal was over and our dreams of a World Cup were gone.

“It’s just not fair. The five best teams in the competition all on one side of the draw. Ireland would have walked through to the semifinal if they had been on the other side of the draw. This game should have been the final.” So said my wife the rugby expert. All of these things were, of course, absolutely true. Writing this on the Monday after the match I can only think about what Ireland would have done if we had been playing either England or Argentina instead of New Zealand. Still be smiling and we’d still be thinking of what might be. My wife looked at me after the match on Saturday. She couldn’t understand why I was so calm. She has good reason to be curious – I’m a long time Ireland rugby fan and I can recall the days when success might have meant avoiding the wooden spoon in the Six Nations, never mind coming within a whisker of defeating New Zealand in the World Cup. She recalls the time when Ireland played France in Lansdowne Rd. We were winning the game – within touching distance of the first win against France since the early 1970s. Then in the last couple of minutes, Vincent Clerc broke through to score and break our hearts again. My wife remembers that I didn’t talk for a week. So how was I able to be so calm when we were so close to what could have been a World Cup winning experience?

I think that perhaps it’s just me getting older. It’s also perhaps me learning something about resilience. One of the keys to bouncing back from setbacks is to focus on something that we can actually control. Sport has the ability to give us so many incredible highs. Unfortunately, when these highs are only achieved as a spectator, we put ourselves in the hands of others. Our emotional high depends on the performance of our team. We have no control over that.

I said this to my 15 year old son who was distraught after the match. He has two Gaelic football finals coming up in the next month or so. Those games may be smaller in comparison to the Rugby World Cup, but they offer him the chance to actively contribute and potentially create for himself those highs. I decided to try and calm him by letting him in on this insight. “Don’t let it affect your mood”, I said. “It’s only sport.”  I looked at him to see the effect of my words. “Listen to you, Gandhi” he said. “We’ll hammer them next time”.

Roll on 2027.