TV view: Was Donal Lenihan the real man of the match?
Panadol were certainly the appropriate sponsors for a nervewracking encounter
Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale runs in to score his side’s try during the Guinness Series win over New Zealand. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho
Ah now, mighty.
As the players did their lap of honour at the end, the smiliest head in the stadium probably belonged to Michael D, the fella no doubt thinking that the very, very best thing about being President is that you’re always guaranteed a ticket to days like these. Which allows you to find your inner Max Boyce and declare: “I was there.”
Not that we’ve had many days like these, as Peter O’Mahony (genuflect, please) noted when he was chatting with Clare McNamara post-match about beating New Zealand on home soil, “it’s taken a while, a hundred and something years”. Mind you, that’s two wins out of the last three home-and-away meetings, so there are very small people out there who think that this All Black-beating business is a breeze. Give them a clip ‘round the ear and tell them about the previous 111 years.
And no one could argue about O’Mahony (genuflect, please) being named man of the match, except, perhaps, those of us who reckoned Donal Lenihan just edged him in the ratings.
At half time our pundits were doubting that such a level of intensity could be maintained, but while they were actually talking about the lads in green on the pitch they could just as easily have been referring to Donal whose own first half intensity was O’Mahony-esque. But, somehow, he made it to the 80th minute, even if he sounded like Bonnie Tyler by then, his heartbeat close to being eclipsed by the tension of it all.
And how appropriate was it that Panadol were sponsoring RTÉ’s coverage of the game? You should, of course, carefully read the dosage instructions on the back of the packet, but the temptation would certainly have been there to eat them like Smarties in those closing stages. As Hugh Cahill put it, “the last 10 minutes have seemed like an hour”, to which Donal could only offer a strangled “aaaaaaagh”.
The build-up to the game had been low key. Jesting. “I feel like we’ve been talking about it for months and months and months and months,” said Stephen Ferris, sounding like a man desperately in need of the game actually starting. But he still had to go through God Defend New Zealand, Amhrán na bhFiann, Ireland’s Call and the Haka, possibly the first time in history – bar the Super Bowl – where the pre-match ceremonial lark roughly matched the length of the actual sporting encounter.
Incidentally, those of us who thought a Haka was a Haka were soon corrected by Donal. “Let’s see what’s going to happen here, which Haka – the Ka Mate or Kapa O Pango,” he said. And afterwards: “They’ve gone for the Kapa O Pango! Performed for the first time against South Africa in Dunedin in 2005!” Like we didn’t know this.
The specific first half moment that hinted at the mightiness to come was when Devin Toner upended Brodie Retallick with the mother, father, uncle and aunty of all tackles, Donal noting that the “six foot eight, 19 and a half stone” New Zealander “just fell on the ground like a bag of spuds”, the thump registering 7.3 on the Richter Scale, causing some structural damage as far north as Dunkineely in Donegal. From this day forth when you hear talk of ‘Dev’, you won’t be thinking of Eamon, it’ll be the Toner man on your mind.
Still, though, it was only 9-6 for our lads at half-time, which would have left the bulk of us feeling nervously cautious. Except Eddie O’Sullivan. “We are all over them in every facet of the game … they’re drowning at the moment,” he said of our visitors. “9-6 isn’t drowning,” Daire O’Brien suggested, not unreasonably, but Eddie wasn’t for budging, reckoning not even life jackets could keep the All Blacks afloat so long as our lads maintained their intensity™.
Which they did.
The only iffy moment was when Jacob Stockdale attempted to chip the ball over Kieran Read, the NZ captain intercepting but – thank you God – knocking on in the process. You worried, though, that Jacob’s confidence would be shattered by his error, and then he zig-zagged his way through New Zealand to score what proved to be the winning try which somewhat suggested his confidence was intact.
There were other highly glorious moments, like a try-saving interception by O’Mahony (genuflect, please), despite, as Donal observed, him being “ABSOLUTELY KNACKERED!”
The Panadols were finally set aside when referee Wayne Barnes ended the contest, which was one for the ages.
“Can we not play the World Cup tomorrow,” asked Donal.
Not the worst of ideas, but no more than his voice, the boys in green might need some rest and recuperation after, well, totally eclipsing our hearts. Mighty.