In the true spirit of the grumpy old man that I have become, I am constantly comparing my kids’ experiences with those of my own childhood. In particular I look back at the performances of the sports teams I supported in the 80s and 90s and compare it (enviously) to the very same teams in the present day who are now supported by my sons. Let’s start with the most obvious candidates for improvement, “The Dubs”. Now I have many great memories from my time supporting the Dubs in the 80s and 90s, and I still have a certain nostalgia for the old wooden benches in the Cusack Stand where you would be crunched up against god knows whoever. But the boys have never known what it is like for Dublin to lose a Leinster Football championship match, well technically Aaron was alive when Dublin last lost in 2010 but given he was just a year old I don’t think it has scarred him too severely. They recoil in horror when I recount year after year of defeat to Meath (and occasionally Kildare or even Westmeath) and the whoops that used to emanate from the Hogan Stand. Six All-Irelands in the last eight years compares to five in my previous thirty-six years (with three of those sandwiched into my first four years on the planet). They laugh when I say that the Jacks used to have “problems” defeating Kerry and that they had issues around taking penalties (I used to fear Dublin being awarded a penalty as it would inevitably lead to a switch of momentum in favour of the opposition) and generally closing games out. Since I started having kids, Dublin have gone from being a team that finds ways to lose when playing well to a team that finds ways to win when playing badly (maybe I should have started having kids earlier). Take last September’s All Ireland Final as an example, I spent the entire match fidgeting and fussing, a big bag of nerves, particularly at the start and the end (post the sending off) while the boys were calm as you like, sure Dublin always win Dad. Oh to be blessed with such a blase attitude towards winning Sam!
In relation to our other team in blue, Leinster, the contrast is even more pronounced. The inter-provincial rugby scene was very different back in the 80s, in fact you would be hard pressed to see a game involving Leinster from one end of the season to the next. The only footage to be seen would be on the BBC Norn Iron results show as part of the dregs of Final Score. Every year we would be treated to overly long highlights from a dull and dreary Ravenhill of Ulster triumphing as Nigel Carr, David Irwin and the boys laid down another marker showing who wanted it more. Quite often there would be a drop-goal scored by somebody I had never heard. But then the unbiased and indignant commentator would inform us that it was a travesty that the player in question had only received one Irish cap as a replacement on a tour to Canada the previous Summer. Ulster won or shared every Irish inter-provincial championship from 1985 to 1994 and boy were they proud of it. Fast forward to 2009 and the arrival of Aaron, Leinster win their first Heineken Cup and they are now the ones who invariably win trophies year in, year out. Add on to that fact, that they play a great brand of rugby in top quality facilities. No wonder I set an extra alarm for 12pm last Friday to get tickets for the semi-final vs. Toulouse!
Last but not least is the Irish rugby team. Now at least the 1980s had a couple of Triple Crowns to sustain the ardent Irish rugby fan, but by golly the 1990s were a grim time for the men in green and those who followed them. The main highlight of this period was the five minutes between Gordon Hamilton scoring his try vs Australia in the 1991 world cup and Michael Lynagh scoring at the opposite end at the death to defeat us. Five minutes of joy in an unrelenting period of dire results plagued by dire rugby. I was actually at the 1996 France vs Ireland match in Paris due to being on Erasmus at the time. It was our last game played at Parc des Princes and we got a thorough hammering, the only bright spot was Ed Morrison (the English referee) giving us a consolation penalty try at the end (mainly because he took pity on us at 45-3 down) thus becoming the first Irish / Englishman to score a try in Paris since year dot! The turnaround in fortunes since Aaron’s arrival is even more astounding. Now technically Aaron had yet to make his appearance into the world when we won the grand slam in 2009 but he was certainly kicking hard in his mum’s belly. The fact that in the 2009-19 period we have won four Six Nations championships including two grand slams is remarkable, not to mentions two victories over the All Blacks. I do however wonder if the fact that my boys expect Ireland to win means they don’t value success as much as somebody like yours truly. Take the grand slam match versus England last year as an example. I was a bundle of nerves throughout and was almost in tears by the end, the boys were just “ah sure we were never going to lose to England Dad”, no memories of Chris Oti to haunt them!
I suppose on the opposite end of the spectrum there is the Irish football team, I had a team full of talent from Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal, etc. McGrath, Whelan and Keane spring to mind. They have, well they have, hmm let’s leave it at that then.