Having been aged 10 months in 1987, and four years old in 1991 – I’ll jump straight to the vague recollections I have of the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.
I’ll cast my mind back twenty years, to a family holiday in Kerry. We settled in one night to watch Ireland play New Zealand in their first game of the tournament. Why couldn’t Ireland play New Zealand in New Zealand or in Ireland? Where and what is New Zealand? How new are they? Was Ray Houghton playing? I hadn’t time for this confusion. I’d heard of South Africa though… junior scholar that I was. I wasn’t long finding out what a New Zealand was. ‘Best team in the world’ I’d been earlier briefed by my support team…. Mum and Dad. I remember the name Eric Elwood, from Galway, my Aunt lives in Galway – he might know her. I remember Jonah Lomu introducing himself in a most unfriendly manner. He was twenty years old, and built like Cian Healy… In 1995.
My only other memory of that tournament, came in Dublin Zoo. I remember an old TV, coming in and out of signal with a lot of men standing around it… I remember seeing a man in a New Zealand, All Blacks jacket… I was just getting used to the fact that those two names were the same team… Maybe I wasn’t as sharp as I thought as a young fella. But I remember him out of the beating his team had given us, on my summer holidays…. the cheek. This day in the zoo, however, turned out to be quite a significant event, although I didn’t know it. South African women were sweeping rain water off the pitch, so a game (South Africa and France) could take place. If the game hadn’t taken place South Africa would have been eliminated from the tournament on grounds of poor discipline. South Africa won the trophy that year, and Nelson Mandela was brought along with Francois Pienaar to raise the trophy together. I didn’t watch that game, I was probably playing Sonic the Hedgehog.
I’d taken a break from rugby. It didn’t appeal to me for a long time. In 2003, it was starting to creep back in to my mind. In 1999, I know Australia won and Peter Clohessy was in the squad… I like him, his pub in Murroe does lovely food and drink. In 2003, I knew some names… O’Gara, O’Driscoll, Stringer, Wood. They came training in my secondary school for the previous six nations. I pretended I knew who was who. The World Cup was on in Australia… that meant early mornings. I was very, very excited for someone who only knew a handful of people. Romania were first up… I think Keith Wood and Shane Horgan, the handsome divil, were returning from injuries – so my rugby playing friend, Bill, told me. I’d been educated far enough that I knew the Argentina game was an important one, as Australia were going to do us in anyway. We beat Argentina by a point or two, Alan Quinlan broke his shoulder scoring a try, became a superhero and I went back to bed. Teenagers need their sleep and we’re usually at our most pleasant when we’re silent. I missed Australia, I hadn’t developed the committment levels just yet. But it turned out not to be the hammering we feared as a nation of tired people, lamenting, all the same in to our Corn Flakes. We would play France in the Quarter Final… I woke up late and was probably better off, I sleep walked downstairs to a scoreline of twenty something to nil, gas craic. They ruined us. Out of steam in about half an hour, the only bright light was the King O’Driscoll’s head of hair. England won the World Cup that year, they all received MBE’s and they’re still talking about it. Two years after that, I won my Leaving Cert, because they were giving them out to everybody.
Fully paid up rugby junkie at this stage. There have been more than enough autopsy’s done on the 2007 offering of the World Cup without me adding to it… I like to pretend it didn’t happen, but I suppose in the cold light of day it did. You see, in 2007 we all had a bit of money and as far as rugby was concerned we had a lot of hopes as well. I was working the day of the Namibia game, giving out movies and updating my Bebo page in Chartbusters. I suppose, just like the rest of the country I thought “It’s only Namibia,” and continued giving out movies to punters that they wouldn’t enjoy, and come back giving out the next day… as though my name was in the credits. Then we played Georgia… We’ll come right for Georgia, was the view of the world… my view anyway, a lot of Mi Wadi was consumed that evening. I feared for us against France even though, Pat Short would say, We’d “the stuff to do it, and will go out and do it.” Two of us met and watched it in an unusual place…. A rock bar in Dublin. With all the regular rugby pubs packed expecting a revival, we went searching for somewhere we could sit and watch the game… Well we found somewhere, with a small TV on the top shelf of a bar, and almost had the run of the place. We looked at Ireland capitulate and had a cry to the sounds of Guns n Roses, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Coppers was probably visited that night. South Africa won that year, and mirroring 1995 captain John Smit and winger Bryan Habana lifted the World Cup together.
Well in 2011, I think we were careful not to voice our optimism after embarrassing ourselves on the biggest stage four years earlier. I was working and living in Kilkenny at this time. The main concerns were, as the World Cup was in New Zealand would there be a house of the early variety to go and watch the games? This proved to be all talk on my part anyway, as all games were watched from a couch in a dressing gown. The thing about an early house would have been, you’re sipping away on a few pints cheering on your team and next thing you know it’s ten in the morning and all that’s on TV is Bob the Builder. I know a few people who claim to have gone to early houses, but can’t tell you who they were with or very much about it. I remember this World Cup well… I probably should have written about it first. We beat the USA on September 11th… So as you can imagine they were pumped up. Then, we had to play Australia… We hadn’t won in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m told, since sometime in the 70’s… I’m open to correction. But we won, and I’ll never forget Stephen Ferris carrying Will Genia down the field and turning him around seven ways til Sunday… Tommy Bowe nearly getting an intercept if it wasn’t for the bit of quicksand that seemed to appear. But we won, it was extraordinary and it set up notions again. Notions and Irish people. A deadly mix. We beat Italy, but Wales were to come, and we thought we’d beat Wales too because… well we usually did. The plan was to get up early in my house in Kilkenny and we’d cook a fry…. A late Friday night at a trad session and watching Ireland play soccer, put paid to that and personally I woke on the stroke of half time Feeling like a dreadful supporter… 17 – 10 it finished, Ireland went home and I went back to bed, too hungover for emotion. The All Blacks won in the end, which was time enough as they’d been waiting since 1987.
Let’s see what this year brings…