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Drop goal that lifted a nation out of gloom

Triple Crown sealed by Kiernan was all the sweeter against old enemy

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COOL UNDER PRESSURE: Ireland’s out-half Michael Kiernan was the hero of the hour against England after his drop goal landed the Triple Crown. Picture credit: Sportsfile

COOL UNDER PRESSURE: Ireland’s out-half Michael Kiernan was the hero of the hour against England after his drop goal landed the Triple Crown. Picture credit: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

COOL UNDER PRESSURE: Ireland’s out-half Michael Kiernan was the hero of the hour against England after his drop goal landed the Triple Crown. Picture credit: Sportsfile

In this year's Six Nations, Ireland beat Scotland and Wales before a trip to Twickenham proved disastrous and defeat by England denied Ireland the Triple Crown.

With a Grand Slam or the Championship the priority, casual observers might regard the Triple Crown as a trivial prize.

But the honour, which didn't have a trophy to represent it until 2006, was nonetheless substantial and difficult to achieve.

"The Triple Crown is still a major, major achievement," said former Ireland hooker Shane Byrne in February. "It is very, very hard and it is won seldom."

Having won the Triple Crown in 1949, Ireland had to wait thirty-three years to win it again.

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IRELAND: (v England back l-r) Mick Cuddy (chair selection committee), Phil Orr, Philip Matthews, Brian Spillane, Donal Lenihan, Willie Anderson, Hugo MacNeill, Nigel Carr and Jim McCoy. Front: Michael Bradley, Paul Dean, Trevor Ringland, Michael Carroll (Pres IRFU), Ciaran Fitzgerald, Michael Kiernan, Keith Crossan, Brendan Mullin, Mick Doyle. Picture credit: Sportsfile

IRELAND: (v England back l-r) Mick Cuddy (chair selection committee), Phil Orr, Philip Matthews, Brian Spillane, Donal Lenihan, Willie Anderson, Hugo MacNeill, Nigel Carr and Jim McCoy. Front: Michael Bradley, Paul Dean, Trevor Ringland, Michael Carroll (Pres IRFU), Ciaran Fitzgerald, Michael Kiernan, Keith Crossan, Brendan Mullin, Mick Doyle. Picture credit: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

IRELAND: (v England back l-r) Mick Cuddy (chair selection committee), Phil Orr, Philip Matthews, Brian Spillane, Donal Lenihan, Willie Anderson, Hugo MacNeill, Nigel Carr and Jim McCoy. Front: Michael Bradley, Paul Dean, Trevor Ringland, Michael Carroll (Pres IRFU), Ciaran Fitzgerald, Michael Kiernan, Keith Crossan, Brendan Mullin, Mick Doyle. Picture credit: Sportsfile

In 1982, Ireland had beaten Wales and England before meeting Scotland in Lansdowne Road.

Having drawn against Romania and lost their previous seven matches, these two wins were unexpected.

Then, when Ollie Campbell cut loose with six successful penalty kicks and a drop goal, Ireland clinched a historic Triple Crown victory with a 21-12 win.

Not bad for a team that had been left with the wooden spoon the previous year.

Unfortunately the wheel spun around again and two years later Ireland endured a humiliating whitewash.

Heading into the 1985 championship, the team was an unknown quantity.

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RELIEF: Ireland players Willie Anderson (l), Jim McCoy and Michael Bradley (r) celebrate winning the Triple Crown against England in the Five Nations Rugby Championship at Lansdowne Road in March 1985. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

RELIEF: Ireland players Willie Anderson (l), Jim McCoy and Michael Bradley (r) celebrate winning the Triple Crown against England in the Five Nations Rugby Championship at Lansdowne Road in March 1985. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

RELIEF: Ireland players Willie Anderson (l), Jim McCoy and Michael Bradley (r) celebrate winning the Triple Crown against England in the Five Nations Rugby Championship at Lansdowne Road in March 1985. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Mick Doyle had been installed as coach and the squad was minus some familiar household names such as Campbell, Moss Keane, Fergus Slattery and Ginger McLoughlin.

Among the squad players now coming into focus were Michael Kiernan, Willie Anderson and Brendan Mullin.

Ireland's opening match, scheduled against England at Lansdowne Road had to be postponed because of the weather.

Having trained on the Thursday, the squad were in the Shelbourne Hotel when, at lunchtime on Friday, the match was officially postponed due to a heavy snowfall the previous night.

Anyone who spotted the squad enjoying a singsong in O'Donoghue's that afternoon, or heard Donal Lenihan and the Cork lads belting out a garbled version of Boolavogue in the dining car of a train bound for Kent Station that evening might have been prompted to put a few bob on Scotland in what would now be Ireland's opening match on February 2.

According to Paul Dean, the squad got "completely drunk".

But sporting alchemy works in mysterious ways.

The delay gave the squad an extra two weeks to get to know each other and, given the conditions, the session in O'Donoghue's went a long way in helping to create a special bond between the group.

Ahead of the first match, Hugo MacNeill, who played all six matches of the '82 and '85 Triple Crown victories, sensed something special was about to happen with this squad when Mick Doyle pointedly asked them: "What are we afraid of?"

In Murrayfield, it looked as if Scotland were dominating the young Ireland side, when a spectacular passing movement got the ball out wide to Trevor Ringland who scored the decisive try in the corner.

The unexpected attacking style adopted by Mick Doyle had worked.

"There was ecstatic air about the place," revealed MacNeill. "It was the most amazing feeling I ever had in my career."

Ireland's next game was a draw against championship favourites France.

Two weeks later, they went to Cardiff and won 9-21. It was the first time Ireland had won in Wales in 18 years.

Out-half Paul Dean credits Mick Doyle, who he's described as "streewise", for the change in Ireland's fortunes. "Doyler had the guts to let us play the game we wanted to play," he's said.

Ireland had been winning against the odds so their final match of the championship against England in Lansdowne Road took on huge importance.

England had also drawn with France and beaten Scotland. Their match with Wales had been postponed because of a frozen pitch in Cardiff so they came to Dublin with a Triple Crown win a tantalising possibility.

According to Hugo MacNeill, Mick Doyle's philosophy could be summed up in the coach's instructions: "I want you to run and if it doesn't work out, I want you to run again."

Match day on March 30 was a wet day and a sodden Lansdowne Road pitch wasn't going to suit Ireland's running game so England appeared to have the advantage.

It looked like Ireland, playing in front of a sell-out home crowd, would be denied a second Triple Crown in four years.

Early in the match, Ireland spoiled an England line-out and drove forward. From inside his own half, Dean gave a big boot to a ball that went into the England 22 where Chris Martin gathered.

But Brendan Mullin came at him like an express train and blocked his kick. The ball went over the line and Mullin was on it. Try Ireland.

Rob Andrew scored a penalty for England who came back with a try from Rory Underwood in the second half which gave them the lead.

It was an energy-sapping match at the end of a dramatic campaign for Ireland.

Even as their limbs cried out for mercy, the Ireland players weren't allowed to ease up.

The TV cameras picked up on captain Ciarán Fitzgerald exhorting his men to concentrate. His rallying cry, "Where's your f**kin' pride?", will never be forgotten.

Ireland dug in. Soon afterwards, Michael Kiernan kicked a penalty which drew the sides level, 10-10.

As the clock ticked down in the final quarter, it seemed victory would elude Doyle's side but the coach had nurtured his "give it a lash" worldview in his players.

With the old mud-streaked green cotton jerseys hanging heavy, Brian Spillane won a line-out. Suddenly, Donal Lenihan collected from the ruck and rushed forward into the England 22.

The crowd and viewers at home sensed something was on.

The ball went back via one of Michael Bradley's perfectly-weighted passes to Michael Kiernan who knew where the posts were and pulled back his right leg for a drop shot that saw the ball sail between the posts.

With a fresh new team that featured seven faces that Ciarán Fitzgerald later termed "up and coming players", Ireland had won the Triple Crown.

Sure, Fitzgerald, an inspirational leader, had rallied the troops just when it looked things might slip away.

But the man from Loughrea had been dropped for the previous season.

This Triple Crown victory makes his comeback all the more remarkable.

"It's the things you win when you're not expected that are the great achievement," he said.

"To win in 1985 was incredible really because we were being ground down by a strong England team."

"In 1985, black clouds hung over the entire country," said Hugo MacNeill. "There was almost 20 per cent unemployment and I always think that's why our triumph in '85 was so important, because it lifted a nation at a time when it desperately needed lifting."

The 1985 Triple Crown win would be the last time Ireland would win the title until 2004.