Ireland’s epic win at the weekend has lifted a nation, as a first Grand Slam in 61 years temprorarily relieved Irish minds concerned about the recession, unemployment and today’s turbulent economy.
As hangovers finally subside and the glory begins to fade, do not despair since there is tremendous hope for the future of Irish rugby.
So many times have Ireland been within a whisker of the Six Nations title, only for the players to seemingly wilt under the weight of expectation. The agony and frustration at every defeat was felt up and down the country, and the frequent misfortune cranked up the pressure every time the side took to the field.
Ireland’s plight has been so great that this year, expectations were not quite so high – everyone knew they were still a great side, but repeated failure had brought an expectation of continued under-achievement. Now that Brian O’Driscoll’s men have proven their credentials as winners, they will continue to be winners for some time.
The similarity with Munster’s Heineken Cup odyssey is remarkable. So many times, the Munstermen would be denied glory in the last minute by a lucky bounce of the ball, or by the Hand of Back, and it felt like they were destined never to win the tournament.
When their day finally came in 2006 with victory over Biarritz, the sense of glory and relief was visible everywhere. And what has happened since then? Munster look almost unbeatable in Europe – they are the reigning champions once again, and clear favourites to defend their title this year.
In the same way, the next few years could bring continued success for Ireland. Whilst the ‘Golden Generation’ may be approaching the end of their careers, there is plenty of young talent that now has the experience of winning a Grand Slam – Jamie Heaslip, Tomas O’Leary, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney to name a few.
With one great success out of the way, Declan Kidney can lead his men to more and more victories, continuing to demonstrate an ability to win under any circumstances, rather than fighting valiantly in defeat. Once the Lions return, if the national team can continue in this vein of form next season, they’ll become better and better, more comfortable in victory, and they may just make a decent fist of it in New Zealand in 2011.