Grand Slam memories: ‘Cardiff turned green that day’
Readers recall their Grand Slam stories ahead of another tilt at history on Saturday
Stephen Jones of Wales kicks a last minute penalty that drops short of the posts in Cardiff in 2009. Photograph: Inpho
Since the Four Nations became the Five Nations in 1908, and the concept of the Grand Slam was born, Ireland have only reached the Promised Land twice.
There was the class of 1948, their legacy cemented in sepia – and the crop of 2009, still vivid and fresh in our memories, soaked in champagne on the Millennium Stadium turf.
Joe Schmidt’s current side have already cemented their status as one of the greatest teams in Irish rugby history. On Saturday they can go one further and bring home a third Grand Slam.
The Irish Times asked readers to tell us about their Grand Slam memories. Here’s a selection of the tributes we received . . .
A Belfast man living in Sunderland, I watched the Grand Slam match in my local pub. I admit I retreated to the toilet when Stephen Jones attempted that long range penalty because I simply couldn’t bear to watch. But, when Ireland won I jumped up and down so hard the cigarette machine fell off the wall. And later that night somebody stole it. Ever since the landlord has blamed me for the loss of his cigarette machine. I wasn’t sober enough to remember a great deal after that.
I was still living in Dublin in 2009. We just “knew” that was a special crop of players. We had booked a day trip to the last game of the season, Wales in Cardiff, at the start of the Six Nations. Setting off that morning, it felt that even the birds were willing us on. As the match progressed and the showdown played out, the predominantly Welsh crowd sitting around me began to offer me their hipflasks. By the end of the game, when a tearful group of Irish strangers met at the bank of steps in our block for a tricolour-draped huddle, the entire row of Welsh fans were all clapping us on the back and wishing us well. Seeing Jack Kyle sign match programmes in the airport that night, was a truly special touch. Magic. Thank you boys. I live in London now and I’ll be in Twickenham on Saturday too.
Martin Walsh – Manchester, United Kingdom
My father, born in Kilkenny, emigrated to England in the early 50’s for work. He used to talk a lot about the Grand Slam team of ‘48 and he hoped that he would live to see another one. Sadly he never did, but I thought about him as I travelled from Manchester to Cardiff in 2009. What a day, what a conclusion. Cardiff turned green that day. Like my father before, I wondered whether I would see another Grand Slam and here we are just 80 minutes away from an historic St Patrick’s day celebration. Sadly, I won’t be at Twickenham but I will be in the Station pub in Didsbury, Manchester to cheer on the boys in Green. I’ll raise a glass to the ‘old man’ who I suspect will be looking down approvingly from above with a broad smile on his face. Come on Ireland, you can do it!
Geoff Daniel – County Dublin, Ireland
My memory is of reading an interview in the morning before the game (possibly in this newspaper’s Saturday edition) with Jack Kyle, the hero of ‘48. By my recollection he spoke glowingly about his regular visits to Dublin and playing for his national team (if not his nation). He then spoke passionately about his real life’s work: working as a doctor in Africa. It also mentioned his ailing health but emphasised his happy expectation that his team’s achievement would be emulated by the class of ‘09. I thought it was a tremendous piece of writing, full of the gravitas of sport without getting bogged down in the ephemeral details of the games.
I distinctly remembering being physically unable to look at the TV screen when Stephen Jones stepped up to take the final penalty in 2009. It remains the only time I’ve ever felt like that towards sport. I can still hear the roar of the crowd and I can only describe my actions at the final whistle as levitation. I had no control but I had jumped the height of myself. Hoping for the same on Saturday and flying over tomorrow, desperate for a ticket but ultimately there for the win. C’mon Ireland!
John Hamilton – England, United Kingdom
A Belfast exile, I’d travelled over for both home games and to Murrayfield where I persuaded my uncle, who’d been to watch the 1948 Slam, he really ought to come to Cardiff too (he was 85 at the time and is still a season-ticketholder at Ravenhill). I was actually really worried we’d blow it against Scotland as everyone seemed to be taking them for granted and it was a tight game.
Against Wales, I relaxed for a minute at 14-6, but when that last penalty was awarded to Wales I felt both numb and sick. I was at the end Jones was kicking towards and as soon as he made contact I knew it was straight: misery! When it dropped just under the bar and Geordan Murphy caught it and hoofed it into the crowd I remember hugging my long-suffering wife and slumping back into my seat, feeling utterly drained rather than elated. It felt as if I’d played every minute. It was driving home that the deep feeling of delight really set in. I dropped my uncle off and sat down at home at midnight and watched the whole thing again on TV! Even now if I watch the recording the kick always seems to be going over and it can still bring a moistness to the eye as I hear Jim Neilly’s emotion.