\"Winger

Winger Dave Kearney gets up to claim a high ball ahead of New Zealand’s Aaron Cruden. Photo by: rte.ie

Sports Digest: Watching Ireland vs. New Zealand was a draining experience

\"Winger

Winger Dave Kearney gets up to claim a high ball ahead of New Zealand’s Aaron Cruden. Photo by: rte.ie

Ryle Nugent is a young man with a very serious job as the head of sport at our fine if much maligned national broadcaster RTE.

As well as calling the shots in terms of our national TV station’s sports coverage, Ryle can also be heard calling the shots on the rugby field in his secondary role as match commentator.

He’s good at it too with a keen eye for detail and what my granny, God be good to her, used to call the gift of the gab, a gift he shares with his regular co-commentators Donal Lenihan and Tony Ward.

Last weekend, on Sunday to be precise, Ryle was joined in the RTE commentary box at the Aviva Stadium by the Munster legend that is Lenihan, a wise rugby man with an impeccable pedigree.

Tony, another Munster man who knows a thing or two about rugby and a thing or three about talking about it, was on radio commentary duty with my old mate Michael Corcoran, a native of Cork now resident in South Dublin if you need to know such things.

I can tell you that Michael and Tony worked together because I happened to be in the car for the first 20 minutes or so of the Ireland-New Zealand game at the Aviva and listened to their every word as the home team raced into a 19-0 lead against the world champions from New Zealand.

Even my wife Liz, who normally wouldn’t watch Ireland play any match of any variety even if it was played in our back garden in Dunsany, got more than a little excited as Michael’s disbelieving screams got louder and louder and both he and Tony wondered if it was all too good to be true.

It was.

By the time I had settled onto the couch and switched allegiances from Michael and Tony on the radio to Ryle and Donal on the telly on Sunday, New Zealand had woken up to what was happening on the Dublin 4 pitch.

By halftime, and a very heated debate between Messrs George Hook and Tom McGuirk, the Irish lead was down to just 15 points, enough to frighten most teams but not enough to worry one with the power and the might and the history of New Zealand’s All Blacks.

Part of me wanted to believe Michael and Tony when they had said earlier in the game that Ireland could be on the brink of the most incredible win ever, a first victory in 28 attempts against the Kiwis at that.

Part of me wanted to agree with Hook, a noted rugby analyst in his own mind at least, that New Zealand would come right back into it in the second half.

And part of me just wanted to switch the television off, escape to the back garden and only re-appear when it was all over and emotions were ready to be put back in their place.

Of course, being the sports nut that I am, I had to watch the second half – in dread. And Ryle, that wonderful man of words, summed it up perfectly as New Zealand edged their way back into contention and Ireland, without Brian O’Driscoll who’d been forced off with concussion at this stage, hung on for dear life as the Titanic edged closer to the iceberg.

“We were told this was a game to watch nervously from behind the couch,” said Ryle late in the proceedings. “Now, I suspect, all Ireland is watching it from the edge of their seats.”

That’s pretty much, I think, what he said. And it was pretty accurate.

Watching Ireland against the All Blacks must be like sitting in the electric chair and waiting for the man to pull the switch. You know the end is nigh, you know the game is up, you know there’s only going to be one outcome.

Sunday, for all the romance we shared in the car with Michael and Tony, was never going to end with anything but a New Zealand win.

Not even the five point gap in Ireland’s favor entering the final seconds could really convince any of us otherwise, and sure enough the greatest team of the modern age ended their calendar year with a 100 percent record thanks to a last gasp try and an even later conversion, kicked at the second attempt.

I’d fallen off the edge of the couch at that stage and retreated back behind the sofa. It was the safest place to be.

And when Ryle said afterwards that words could barely describe the emotional devastation of the Irish players on the pitch before him, he got it right again.

I was drained, emotionally and physically, just watching the horror show of another Ireland defeat to New Zealand. I can only imagine what Dricco and his teammates must have felt when that final whistle blew.

And they didn’t even have the words of Ryle and Donal to comfort them. It was a strange, strange Sunday. Stranger than fiction even.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

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