Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

One memorable night in Cardiff

They came, they saw and they conquered — not only in Rome but also at Croke Park, at Murrayfield, and finally, in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. After 61 years, a magnificent group of international rugby players have won the Grand Slam and have triumphantly answered “Ireland’s Call”.



They came, they saw and they conquered — not only in Rome but also at Croke Park, at Murrayfield, and finally, in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. After 61 years, a magnificent group of international rugby players have won the Grand Slam and have triumphantly answered “Ireland’s Call”.

They have squared the circle of sporting history and they have delivered a priceless gift, not only to the current and future generations of rugby enthusiasts on this island, but also to those now-veteran stalwarts like Dr Jack Kyle who last won so memorably in 1948.

It was particularly fitting that Jack Kyle was in Cardiff on Saturday to witness the historic achievement of securing a Grand Slam, and also of knowing that other outstanding players like Brian O’Driscoll, the captain supreme, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell will now deservedly be part of the pantheon of Irish rugby heroes.

This, however, has been a success wrought hard

by the entire Irish squad.

Starting with a thrilling win over France in Dublin, this group went on to overcome the physical challenges of Italy, England and Scotland, and then cap their season with a stylish victory over Wales.

This was no mean achievement against a talented home side which was so desperately keen to win this Test, and to salvage their own season by winning the Triple Crown.

For the neutral observer, it was an absorbing contest, but for Irish rugby supporters from Ballycastle to Bantry and from Galway to Glengormley,

it was a nail-biting test of endurance. The peerless O’Gara seemed to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat near the end, but then the Welsh almost won with the last kick of the game.

This is how sporting legends are born and sustained. Just as the 1948 victory has been talked about ever since, the Cardiff conclusion to an historic season will be played out repeatedly in the minds of those who were lucky enough to be there, or to share in the live broadcasts.

Credit is due to many people for this wonderful achievement and none more so than Ireland’s mod

est chief coach, Declan Kidney. His achievement in winning a Grand Slam in his first year cannot be bettered, unless he wins another one or two in a row.

He generously gave credit to others, including former coaches like Eddie O’Sullivan, and those at all levels of the game, including schools, who had helped to turn a traditional Irish squad of brave also-rans into a formidable group of players capable of winning not only a string of Triple Crowns, but also the ultimate prize itself — the Grand Slam.

No doubt this squad and its individual players will be honoured the length and breadth of this island, not only by their home clubs, but by the civic and political representatives from every background.

It would be entirely fitting, therefore, if these heroes who answered “Ireland’s Call”, including the Ulster representatives, were honoured in due course by a reception at Stormont. This has been a stunning achievement in which all of us can share, in all parts of this island, and we can all bask in this rare glow of Irish sporting history.

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