There are landmork moments in the lives of your children that you will remember forever. The day they sit the Leaving Cert. The day they get married. The day they have kids of their own. But all of those things, while no doubt special, are things that they can do – and, in our family's case, probably will do – at least twice.
There are maybe a handful of truly great moments that you get to experience with them just once – and one of those is their first ever Ireland rugby international. So – yeah, no – I decided last weekend that, being four years old, Brian, Johnny and Leo were finally ready to go to their first match at the Aviva.
I'm going to be honest with you, I barely slept a wink the night before, so nervous was I. Not about the result. Ireland would beat England out the door – of that I was pretty confident. I was nervous because it felt like we were setting out on an incredible journey together – and this was the first of many significant milestones along the way.
We porked the cor in town, then we walked to the stadium – me and Sorcha and our three little boys, heading for the Aviva
First match. First ball. Junior Cup. Senior Cup. Professional contract. Leinster debut. Ireland debut. Grand Slam. Lions. It was all ahead of us.
In the days leading up to the match, though, I felt I wasn’t seeing enough excitement from the boys.
I blame Sorcha’s old pair for buying them those Match Attax trading cords when they were three years old and setting them on a bad road. It’s been a long, hord struggle trying to wean them off soccer and onto rugby. But, as the England match approached, I didn’t know what to do about the lack of passion that I sensed in them.
On the morning of the match, I invited Ronan over to the gaff to tell them about all the terrible things – non-rugby-related – that the English did to the Irish over the years.
Now, it'll probably surprise no one to hear that history wasn't really my thing at school. Between Cú Chulainn, Brian Boru and Michael Collins, I could never remember who was real and who was made up. But it's something that my eldest son is into in a major, major way – for instance he has the names of the main goys from 1916 tattooed on his upper orm.
A two-hour crash course from their older brother on England’s crimes against Ireland – I honestly didn’t know the half of it – turned them into three snorling, salivating, little monsters, who spent the entire morning having a competition to see who could shout, “Fock England!” the loudest.
And then it was time to go. We porked the cor in town, then we walked to the stadium – me and Sorcha and our three little boys, heading for the Aviva, them in their little green hats and scorves and me with the usual butterflies in my stomach.
"Fock England!" the boys shouted as we passed a group of – yeah, no – actual England supporters. They found it hilarious, in fairness, and insisted on recording a video of them screaming it at the top of their voices, which ended up going viral.
On we walked. We passed what was once the Berkeley Court and I had a sudden flashback of being in there with my old man on match days – him in his ridiculous coat and hat, sucking on his hipflask as he queued for the bor and shouting random things like, "What would life be, ladies and gentlemen, without the Five Nations Championship to shorten the winter?"
Into the stadium we went. A dude in a high-viz checked our Lemonys. “Fock England!” Leo shouted at him and Sorcha explained that we’d decided, as parents, not to correct our children when they use bad language for fear of creating taboos around certain words, which in turn made them more attractive to them. The dude gave her a dubious look and Sorcha ended up roaring at him: “You can spare us the judgy face! This is the route we’ve decided to go!”
We eventually found our seats. The boys shouted, "Fock England!" throughout God Save the Queen and – while everyone around us was of the opinion that this was very, very funny – I storted to worry that Ronan had maybe filled them with a bit too much passion?
The reason being that kickers are ortists," I went, "and it's a privilege to watch what they – slash, we – do
As the game storted, I was like, “The time for mindless, verbal abuse is over now, goys. Once the match storts, it’s time for analysis,” and, as if to emphasise the point, I took out my Rugby Tactics Book and opened it across my lap, brand new pen at the ready.
Various people behind, beside, and in front of us, storted shouting, “Have you got your Tactics Book, Ross?” because it’s something I’d be famous for in the West Stand Lower. People laugh but at the same time they respect me for how seriously I take the game.
But no sooner had I written down the names of the two XVs than Ireland had conceded a try. "It was Jonny May, " I went, even before the stadium announcer said it.
There was, like, silence in our section of the crowd, until the boys storted shouting, “Fock Jonny May!” which went down an absolute storm.
Owen Farrell stuck the ball in the cup, getting ready to add the cheese and biscuits. And Sorcha turned to the boys and explained to them that it was customary – no matter how much you hate the opposition – to stay silent for the kick. Sorcha knows this from experience. She booed Morgan Parra once and we spent six months in marriage counselling.
“The reason being that kickers are ortists,” I went, “and it’s a privilege to watch what they – slash, we – do. This is Owen Farrell. And while you’ve heard me shout some not-very-nice things about him when he’s on the TV, the respect I have for him is massive.”
There was, like, a deathly stillness in the stadium as Farrell lined up the kick, doing that weird thing he does with his eyes. And then, out of the silence, came the voices of my three little boys, going, “Fock you, Owen Farrell!”
There were gasps all around me. Which I could totally understand. “Sorcha,” I went, “will you bring them home?” and, as she ushered them out of their seats – I’m going to be honest – I couldn’t even look at them.
Too soon, I thought. We’ll try again in five years.