The Irish Rugby Adventure Continues

Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - By: Phil Smith, Raconteur

Sunday March 8
A bit of a sleep-in with breakfast at 9am, then onto the bus at 10. We toured Phoenix Park, the largest inner-city park in Europe, at over 1700 acres. It encloses the home of Irish Prime Minister Michael D. Higgins and the US Ambassador. From there, we stopped at Na Fianna (“na feeney”) one of the largest Gaelic Athletic Associations in Ireland, that field teams in hurling, gaelic football, fives, and handball, with over 3500 members.
 
A lovely lady named Georgina (“Listen up, boys”, she kept saying) detailed the indigenous warrior origins of hurling (the stick was originally a sword--make sure you roll your wrists) and the bumpy history it has endured (banned during The Troubles). Then we went outside to play handball, then football, then hurling.
 
Serendipitously, there was a first-class game of hurling in full swing, which had us mesmerized. The pitch is 180m long, and to see a player backhand a ball (a sliothar) 120m for a single point is a bit like watching Tiger Woods drive the fairway at No.15 at Augusta, except on the run and backhanded.
 
After hurling, we went back to Wesley College for a training session with Billy Ngawini, a former international player in both union and league. He led the boys through several innovative passing drills and games. He stressed the idea of “playing in the future”, meaning the ability of a team to coordinate an attack several phases ahead. It was beneficial for both players and coaches. Finally, after a big day, we returned to the hotel for some quiet time, a short quiz night, then a roast dinner.
 
Monday March 9
Big day--first a tour of Aviva Stadium, Ireland’s national rugby headquarters. The boys were led on a tour of the changing rooms and heard stories from their team manager (one resonated: he said that, invariably, a test match player will forget his boots and so they have extras). The ground itself sits inside a bowl of glass, and is composed of 95% grass with the rest synthetic. The result is a pitch that is firmer and more resistant in terrible weather. From there, we loaded back onto the bus and headed south in torrential rain to Tipperary, and halfway there we lurched into a truck stop to wolf down a hamburger so that we could make our 230pm kickoff against Rockwell College.
 
When we arrived in Tipp, at the College, we found out the school’s fields were unplayable. Luckily, a rugby parent and club stalwart arranged a game for 630pm, though by the time he had told us he hadn’t yet found the players or a ref. The game was to be played at 630 at the grounds of Carrick on Suir, a small club about an hour away. After a mid-afternoon tea. we hopped back on the bus in search of a game. We arrived at the field hours later, and with dark descending we were led through a training session by a Rockwell rugby coach. The boys loved many of the nicknames and adjectives he used to describe them, and can’t be repeated here.
 
By 7pm, enough local players had mustered to start the game. By this time, the rain had been falling relentlessly for several hours, and the grass, while green to look at, was squishy to touch. The locals were physical and took an early lead through several well-worked tries. As the grass drowned into a sea of mud, our boys found strength, and began to defend more stiffly. Gavin VO and Oren L were prominent up front, and Alex S found space in the midfield. Indeed, Alex will rue two missed opportunities, the first the easiest 2v1 10m out, and the second, a gallop down the right side and then a lofty, perfectly-weighted pass inside to Callum BC who couldn’t quite shake their last defender. After the game, we hosed off then repaired to local pub Kate Ryan’s, then the boys were dispatched to their hosts.

Phil Smith

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