Thursday 14 December 2017

Semi-final dream turns to nightmare as Argies run riot

The agony and the ecstasy as an Irish fan and an Argentine supporter watch the game in Cardiff
The agony and the ecstasy as an Irish fan and an Argentine supporter watch the game in Cardiff

The joke went that the Argentines had Pope Francis on their side but God was with Ireland. But pray as we did, it just didn't work out that way.

Numbers were on our side in the stands of the Millennium Stadium but the causality list on the pitch wasn't and the Pumas devoured their prey in the opening minutes of the game.

Former Ireland player Jerry Flannery's mother Jane probably summed it up best: "I felt after the first 20 minutes that we should stop singing Olé Olé and start praying."

Expectations had been high all over Cardiff before the clash that ended Irish dreams. Fans spent their morning commuting in from Bristol, Newport, Swansea and even London.

The city centre was overrun leading to ATM queues not seen since the Greek banks shut.

Fans tried to outdo each other for the most innovative costume. Green waistcoats competed with leprechaun trousers and ridiculous hats.

Outside it was a chilly day. Inside the stadium it was a caldron.

The noise bounced back off the closed roof as kick-off neared and supporters made sure their efforts would reverberate all the way to the dressing rooms.

There was a simple plan that involved making our first ever Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Joe Schmidt was the leader. Paul O'Connell was in the stands to oversee it, and the vast majority of the 72,316 in the crowd were Irish.


However, as Argentina ran roughshod over the Boys in Green in the first twenty minutes, fears grew that it was the beginning of the end for our hopes of World Cup glory.

Tommy Bowe was added to the injury list and Ian Madigan was struggling with his new haircut. It just wasn't happening.

'Leadership' was the buzz word and we were missing it. You could hear the same conversation taking place all over the stadium.

Nobody wanted to criticise the efforts on the pitch but 'leadership' was an issue.

"There's no inspiration to be taken from that, just sorrow. We just didn't show up. It was depressing. We were missing the leadership," said Gavin Gormley, from Dundalk.

So as half-time approached the plan became simple again. Surely our own two gods - O'Connell and Johnny Sexton - could make their contribution in the form of awe-inspiring speeches.

For a moment it seemed that way when Jordi Murphy brought us back within touching distance, but a missed penalty from Madigan meant Ireland could never draw level.

"If Madigan's kick had gone over when it was 23-20 it might have been a different game. But we can't complain; Argentina were the better team," mused Irish fan Eoin Fleetwood.

As the Argentine tries went over and the clock ticked down, the Irish fans clung onto hope, knowing that their aspirations were being matched by perspiration on the pitch.

"The lads did the best they could on the day. We're very proud of the team. They got great support," said Cat Neary, from Rathmolyon, in Meath.

The television cameras in the stadium constantly found their way to Paul O'Connell's seat. He looked as uneasy as the rest of us. Helpless even.

Soon, it was all over. A scoreline that Jamie Heaslip described as a thrashing. A whopping 43-20. Nobody had predicted that.

"It was the two early tries in succession that killed us. The fans were there until the end, but there is only so much the fans can do. In the Rugby World Cup if a team go behind by 17 points you very rarely see them win.

"We were always chasing it. We can't say we were done out of it by bad scores," Colm Clarke, from Dundalk, said.


The trains out of Cardiff were crammed last night with tired, hoarse Irishmen and women. The buses, too.

There were stories of what might have been combined with memories of the day we set the record for the largest ever crowd at the Rugby World Cup. It was 89,297 people to watch Romania.

Cardiff, our second home, will miss the Irish fans, as will the tournament.

One tricolour in the stadium yesterday featured a picture of Ian Madigan bawling his eyes out after the French game and read: 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'.

We all cried because of Argentina last night.

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