Liam Grimley: Saturday may have taught us to temper expectations but it was still a monumental moment in Irish rugby

Liam Grimley

Liam Grimley

Liam has worked at The Irish News since June 2023, bringing experience from his previous role at Media Isle of Man. His areas of expertise are sports reporting on American Football, GAA, Rugby and Soccer. He holds a BA (Hons) degree in Sports Journalism from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony and head coach Andy Farrell
Captain Peter O’Mahony and head coach Andy Farrell can be very proud of what they have achieved in this year's competition (Brian Lawless/PA)

Coming into Dublin on Saturday, I saw optimistic faces.

People were seeing this as a coronation rather than a last push.

Even talking to family beforehand, they were speaking of it like it’s a foregone conclusion, that we had it all sussed and the Tartan Army would bow to the superior Celts.

Saturday’s game was nothing short of a lesson that Irish rugby fans need to realise what the team has achieved

Everyone is so comfortable talking about Grand Slams and unbeaten streaks, like it’s a divine right from the rugby gods.

Irish rugby fans needed that Scotland battle to bring them back to earth just a little.

While Ireland were getting in the right positions, they were also being stopped at the very end of almost every move.

Getting five metres, or even inches away from the line, shouldn’t always guarantee a score, but it should get fans out of their seats.

I must admit, I had, on a couple of occasions, had written lines about tries or penalty kicks that were yet to happen.

You may put that down to keeping up with the fast pace of the game, or through a presumption at the ability of this great Irish side to invariably convert almost every scoring chance.

Either way, it taught us that this Irish side are human. They don’t always get the rub of the green (no pun intended) and Irish fans need to realise this.

Defeat Twickenham last week should have been another wake-up call for Ireland fans, and give hope to other sides that Ireland can be broken down and beaten, given the right game plan.

At some points, you can’t help but feel but get carried away with the feeling of superiority. Some of the play from Ireland was worthy of the lofty heights fans have set for them.

They built momentum throughout that second half, with the odd big gain here and there and displayed power in the attack, but it was far from perfect.

The players acknowledged that afterwards, but far from feeling despondent at a slightly flat ending, it seemed that they were excited for the future because they knew how much better they could be.

Maybe it gave fans a reality check too. Winning back-to-back Championship is an achievement previously unheard of in Ireland and it should be acknowledged as such. Rushing to talk of Grand Slams and the by now premature talk of World Cup glory more than three years out, often becomes just that - talk.

Look at France. Just months ago, they were hot favourites (along with Ireland perhaps) for the World Cup they hosted.

Yet they were bested by the better team on the day in their Six Nations opener against Ireland and the absence of Antoine Dupont was stark, despite them carving out impressive results against England and fighting back against Wales the week prior.

Rugby is not an exact science, teams can surprise you in the best and worst ways. The Marcus Smith drop goal left me speechless, but at the same time, I saw it coming.

Yet, even after that loss in London, we still felt the Championship was all but won.

Scotland had other ideas and defended valiantly on Saturday. They kept on plugging gaps and making us work for every inch we gained.

One phrase kept coming up in the presser afterwards, “that was a real test match”, and it truly was.

And yet the bare facts tell us what an amazing achievement this was. Ireland had never won back-to-back Six Nations championships - no-one had in almost a decade and it was 75 years since an Irish team retained what was then the Five Nations (and there was no Grand Slam in the second year then either)

Some fans expecting a rousing win to kick off the St Patrick’s Day celebration early may have left the Aviva disappointed on Saturday but savouring the occasion and viewing the big picture should bring a measure of satisfaction.

That game was a true example of when a great attack meets its match with a defence that knows their set-up and how to disrupt the flow of a game.

Ireland fans can sometimes walk into games thinking they’re there to sample the local bars and throw their recent record about and come out the other side.

If Irish international sports fans have learned anything, be it through memories of Italia 90, or as recent as Michael Conlon at Rio, sometimes you just lose.

Comedian and Q Radio presenter Andrew Ryan said it best after the New Zealand loss in the World Cup, “sometimes we can’t have nice things”.

Irish people have always been taught not to make noise, don’t kick up a fuss and certainly don’t be confident.

The self-deprivation of Irish people, and sports fans in particular, is so embedded that when then opportunity to talk about winning things comes up, you can’t help but feel a little bit swept up in it.

However, every fan base has their serving of reality. Manchester United have been going through it for more than a decade and the Kilkenny hurlers had theirs.

Ireland’s helping may not be on that scale, but every great team needs something to strive for, otherwise, you get complacent and fans lose interest.

It’s the reaching for the stars that drives teams to perform and keeps fans coming through the turnstiles, the will-they-won’t-they.

Ireland fans should be enjoy this unprecedented achievements and revel in the reasons to be optimistic from across the five games of the Six Nations.

And when the tour to South Africa comes around, be satisfied in the knowledge that Ireland are going there as equals and not simply as fodder for the Springboks.

However when next year’s Six Nations rolls around, and it will come in thick and fast, maybe keep the ‘threepeat’ merch at home for the first few games. It’s a brutal competition and Ireland should be glad we have such an exciting team, not expect the world.