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It's not easy being green

By Billy Weir

There are many things that keep you going as an Irish rugby fan down the years — seeing Brian O’Driscoll in his pomp, seeing off the English, seeing someone ban the playing of the dirge that is Ireland’s Call, seeing a team in green defeat Les Bleus in Paris — but seeing George Hook turn up in a cravat? Well, that’s just the stuff of fantasy.

But this was a weekend for fairytale endings, the stuff of fiction a Hollywood director would baulk at, so it was perhaps fitting that before we caught a glimpse of Hook we joined RTE presenter Tom McGurk in an otherwise empty movie theatre.

Thankfully, given we were still pre-watershed, it wasn’t Last Tango in Paris, as we looked at past agonies in the French capital before heading back to the studio where he re-introduced his panel, or the ‘marathon men’ as he called them.

Like the rest of us watching Wales crush the less than rebellious Scots and send them home to think again, it was like pulling teeth while the potential for molar mayhem had been put in place by the mighty England (I sound like John Inverdale here) blowing the doors off the Italians to get the job done.

“You see the long shadow of history,” began Tom, but nothing could divert your gaze away from George’s neck attire, a magnificent specimen of a yellow and black cravat that looked as if a startled leopard had sought refuge under his shirt, eyeing up a small allotment of shamrock on his lapel lest we forgot it was nearly St. Patrick’s Day.

We are to be thankful I suppose that he didn’t turn up in a beret, black and white striped jumper and with a string of onions draped around his neck but while hope sprung eternal amongst McGurk, Brent Pope and Conor O’Shea, George, as is the norm, was a little hot under the collar. Probably the leopard.

“The man who discovered cooking was Escoffier. If it was an Irishman who discovered cooking it would have been bacon and cabbage,” he said, suggesting that Joe Schmidt’s boys were half-baked and ready to serve up yet another dollop of unpalatable French failure.

“Those who ignore history live to repeat it!” he barked at O’Shea.

“And those who live with history will never achieve anything!” came the retort, as Hook plumped for France, Kiwi Pope chose Ireland and O’Shea went for Ireland ‘by a half’.

As is my wont, I try to steer clear of the Beeb’s build-up, especially with England still in with a shout, but a quick flick over found Inverdale back with his avant garde presenting counter in the middle of the Stade de France crowd accompanied by Jeremy Guscott, Thomas Castaignede and Keith Wood, in a natty pink and blue scarf. Clearly it wasn’t available as a cravat.

I stayed for the commentary, Eddie Butler and Brian Moore attempting to keep Philip Matthews from combusting and by half-time Inverdale was still full of hope that France could win it for England, lauding the atmosphere.

“I hope the spine-tingling ephemeral atmosphere is coming through your cathode tubes,” he said, and to be quite honest his insolent probing of my cathode tubes was enough to make me turn back to RTE for the second-half where commentators Ryle Nugent and Donal Lenihan were fast becoming hoarse.

Fast forward to the dying moments and France scored a try, as a man on a counter in the stand’s cathode tubes almost exploded, while our intrepid green duo bellowed ‘forward’ with marginally less venom than Vladimir Putin of an evening.

Referee Steve ‘suspiciously Irish-sounding surname’ Walsh went to the TMO, that’s the Television Match Official to you and me, with Lenihan suggesting that it was an easy decision to make.

“How forward is that pass? Come on man,” he hinted, before the pass was indeed declared as forward and Nugent could declare, without a hint of bias, ‘sanity has prevailed.’

It was to be in short supply for the next few moments but finally, finally, Walsh blew his whistle for the final time.

“We’ve fought rounds with Katie and Carruth, we’ve run laps with Sonia, we’ve kicked balls with McGrath and Houghton and Whelan, this occasion and this day is right up there with the best moments,” said Ryle, clearly having forgotten all about Gerry Armstrong, Mary Peters and Ballymena United winning the Irish Cup in 1989.

Back over on the Beeb, Matthews was being fanned with a copy of Le Figaro, Wood was taking a long drag on a Gauloises and Guscott looked like he’d just been handed a garlic éclair, as the enormity of England’s Triple Crown hit home.

“From the Giant’s Causeway in the north to Mizen Head in the south, the whole of Ireland can celebrate,” said Inverdale, although still probably best to avoid dandering around certain parts of north Antrim in a green, white and gold cravat.

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