SPORT GIVES US moments of pure joy, but is happy to provide heavy doses of sheer heartbreak too.
Rugby served the Irish nation a barely believable example of the latter in Dublin on the 24th of November, 2013. Having outplayed the All Blacks for much of the preceding 79 minutes, and still in a 22-17 lead when they conceded possession with just 29 seconds of normal time left, Ireland came agonisingly close to their greatest ever result.
Joe Schmidt’s men couldn’t hold on, but we don’t need to dig up the exact circumstances. RTÉ commentator Michael Corcoran was on duty that day, and listening back to his coverage of those closing minutes brings up the mental scars of the last-gasp defeat. The Cork man says he had seen the stunning denouement coming.
I was delighted the way Ireland played in the first half obviously and delighted with the way the match went. But at half time, there was a punter at the game sitting next to where we commentate and he said to me ‘Well, what do you think? Do you reckon that’s enough in terms of the lead?’
“I said to him, ‘No, I don’t actually. Against any other team I probably would but the All Blacks are capable of scoring three tries in ten minutes.’”
Like every other Irish person in the Lansdowne Road stadium and watching on TV, Corcoran was deeply affected by the circumstances of the All Blacks’ victory. To have a potentially historic success grabbed away at the last second was hard to take, and still is.
“It was gut-wrenching. I rarely use the word ‘never’, but I will never watch that match again. I taped it with a view to watching it, but I just came home, left it there for a few days and then I was actually just so gutted that I deleted it. I couldn’t be bothered to watch it again.”
Heartbreak for Ireland. ©INPHO/James Crombie
Corcoran foresaw the Kiwi’s late smash and grab, but he had also been conscious that Ireland would produce a big performance on the day. The RTÉ man’s role involves spending lots of time with the Ireland players during the build-up to international games, and he says he felt that something special was on the cards.
“Yes, I did. I thought we did well against Samoa in that first game. I didn’t really think that we played to the potential that we could have played to against Australia the following week. I always felt that there was a really big performance in that team.
I certainly felt that there was a huge determination that they were going to have a right cut off the All Blacks. It’s not too often that the world champions of any sport come to your back garden and it’s not very often that you get a chance to play them and when you do, you’ve got to take every opportunity. The top teams in the world will only respect you if you go toe-to-toe with them.”
For those watching the game as supporters, the feelings experienced in those closing minutes were powerful, so how did Corcoran maintain his composure to actually provide running commentary? It’s one of the more challenging parts of his job.
“You have to block your feelings out of it. I’m there to do a job, and that job is to describe what happens on that pitch. I do that passionately and with 100% commitment and get well into it. I was well into that game, with Tony Ward. We both were, in fairness.
“But the bottom line is that I’ve got a job to do and I’ve got to be professional about it. When the referee blows the full time whistle in a match, on the way home I ask myself the question ‘Did I do a good job there? Did I describe everything as well as I could have done?’
“If an Ireland team wins as well, that’s great but first and foremost I’m there to do a job.”
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