Colm Cavanagh: Jonny Sexton deserves crowning glory of World Cup win after unforgettable week for Irish sport
St Patrick’s weekend is the weekend of the year when everyone stakes their claim to be Irish. People whose great-grandmother’s uncle’s third cousin was half Irish will celebrate harder than any of us who can say we are 100 per cent Irish. After the week of sport we have had, I’m not surprised – Irish sport in all its variances really is at the peak of world standings and it is brilliant to see.
The Cheltenham races were on last week and although I cannot say I would have much knowledge about horse racing, or much success in with any previous bets, the Irish swept the board again with the best horses, trainers and jockeys taking over at the winning post.
Of all 18 wins for the Irish throughout the week, including the Gold Cup, the biggest race of all, there will be one other win which will be remembered for a long time. Honeysuckle winning on Tuesday under Rachael Blackmore in her final race was momentous enough but for the De Bromhead family, it was especially poignant after losing their young son last year.
Even those of us who wouldn’t know a good horse from bad, could see the emotions of the previous six months coming out and could also see the whole of the sport coming together in celebration for the family, just as they had supported them through the sadness of last September. That’s what makes Irish sport so special, sometimes it isn’t even about the sport itself, it’s always the people who make it.
Moving from the Gold Cup and the celebrations for the horseracing world on Friday, Saturday was all about rugby. Ireland took on England in Dublin in one of the biggest rugby games of the last few years. After France beating Wales by such a margin earlier in the afternoon, Ireland knew they had to win in order to secure the Six Nations title, the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown. The hype was real. There was heavy expectation on Irish shoulders and it was evident from the beginning that there were nerves aplenty and emotions were high.
After a shaky start, a much-debated red card for the English and a number of replacements, Ireland found their form and with a storming last 20 minutes they proved why they are the number one team in the world. As much as the victory was a full squad effort, the celebrations were focused on one man in particular, Jonny Sexton.
I’ll be honest, much like the horseracing, I wouldn’t have the best knowledge of rugby, the rules and the etiquette involved but you don’t have to follow rugby to appreciate the sportsperson that Jonny Sexton is.
He comes across as the quiet man, the one who captains the team but doesn’t like the limelight.
He seems to just want to play his sport and get the job done. His commitment and his determination to succeed are outstanding and there wasn’t one person interviewed after the match at the weekend who had a bad thing to say about him.
Becoming the highest scorer in the Six Nations ever, in his last Six Nations game was the perfect way to sign off. Despite the many injuries he has faced throughout his career, he has clearly used his time off the pitch just as valuably as he spends it on the pitch. The mental strength to keep coming back, to believe you have more to achieve and more to give the team is inspirational. His emotions were clear when he was leaving the pitch on Saturday but the resounding support and admiration from the crowd was clearer still.
Expectations on Ireland will be higher than ever for the World Cup in the autumn. Going into the competition ranked world number one with a clean sweep in both the Autumn Internationals and the Six Nations and wins against New Zealand and South Africa last year, it’s all about Ireland and if they can live up to the expectations.
I’ll be honest, my wife will be following the rugby a lot closer than I will. Our kids have been bringing the house down with their unique renditions of ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ over the weekend, but I do think it would be the fairytale ending for Sexton going into retirement with a World Cup winners medal in his collection.
Ireland U20s made sure that the party was kept going with their Grand Slam win on Sunday. Another incredible feat, and great to see that the next generation of players have been used to success and being at the top of their game, hopefully they can carry that determination into the senior ranks when the time comes.
Back to GAA, one sport I do claim to know something about, and with a complete mixed bag of results in Division One over the weekend it leaves it all to play for in the final round of games next weekend. For the top of the table, the Galway v Kerry game will prove decisive and at the other end of the table literally anything could happen.
Monaghan will travel to Mayo hoping to save their season and Tyrone v Armagh never needs a reason for fireworks, they usually happen at such fixtures regardless. The support will be out in full voice in Omagh and no doubt there will be headlines created, hopefully for the right reasons.
What a time to be Irish, even more so to be an Irish sportsperson (even those who are 27.3 per cent Irish).