It was fairly quiet on Cardiff’s western front on Friday night, as Irish rugby fans took a leaf out of Joe Schmidt’s playbook by trying not to peak too early.
But after the emotional highs of Thursday, and at the start of an unprecedented weekend that sees Ireland fighting on two fronts, it was doubly advisable to conserve energies.
As the main army descends on the Welsh capital on Saturday, another expeditionary force will be leaving for Warsaw. Both need to be at their best on Sunday when facing French and Polish opposition almost simultaneously – something Irish people haven’t had to do since the Battle of Waterloo.
Size of a horse
That event also happened on a Sunday, by the way, and – another good omen – the Irish finished on the winning side. Brilliantly organised by their team manager, the Duke of Wellington, their infantry defied even the Franco-Polish cavalry. And the opposition won’t have horses, although
is the size of one.
But politics has changed a lot since 1815. Which may explain why none of the Irish supporters in Cardiff on Friday were to be found in the Duke of Wellington pub.
Instead, as usual, they gravitated to the nearby O’Neill’s, part of a well-known chain that shares its name with not one world-beating Irish international soccer manager, but two.
And there, among the low-key assembly, was one Conor O'Dwyer from Limerick, who, three years ago in – of all places – Poland, was part of a group of students that produced a now-famous flag: the one that read "Angela Merkel thinks we're at work".
Enjoyed the joke
The flag subsequently featured on the front cover of
. But the Germans enjoyed the joke, to the extent that their Dublin embassy subsequently invited them to a reception, where the cheeky Limerick lads presented the ambassador with an “Angela Merkel thinks I’m at work” T-shirt, which he declined to wear for the cameras, because even before we beat their football team this week, there was a limit to German appreciation of Irish humour.
Anyway, the flag was subsequently auctioned for a cause that put mere sport in perspective: to raise funds for the treatment of a gravely ill Antrim boy called Oscar Knox, who died in 2014 but whose short life may have been prolonged by the thousands the Limerick students raised.
Conor was a reassuring presence among the early Irish arrivals here. He and four Cork friends were worried abut the prospect of Keith Earls having to size up to Bastareaud in midfield. But they were cautiously optimistic, expecting Ireland to win, albeit probably – to paraphrase the Duke – after a damned close-run thing.