HERE’S WHERE THE story ends unfortunately. Back home and back to reality.
The buzz around the hotel before the Wales game last Saturday morning was unbelievable to be honest. As we were all getting ready and getting our gear together, there was this huge crowd gathering in the lobby and outside the hotel. It was crazy, it just kept getting bigger and bigger.
Some of the fans normally show up at the Shelbourne to give us a send-off before our games in Dublin, but it felt like there were thousands of people there this time. The room that myself and Paddy Wallace were in was was up on the third floor and we could still hear the fans singing. It was really something else and it gave us all a huge lift before we headed off on the bus.
Everything about the build-up to game seemed spot on to me, which makes the result even more disappointing I suppose. There were no signs of complacency or lads not being up for it or anything like that. We knew we were going to be in for a huge battle but we backed ourselves big time to get the job done.
I wasn’t in the matchday 22 but I was still knocking about the dressing room before the game and at half-time with a couple of the other lads, trying to give a hand wherever we could. After the first half, it was obvious that Wales were playing very well. But we’d noticed a couple of mismatches – D’Arce found himself up against Gethin Jenkins on a couple of occasions — and we figured we’d be able to take advantage.
The whole stadium lifted when Keith [Earls] went over for his try in the corner. It was a huge relief for us after having an awful lot of ball and I definitely thought to myself that we’d kick on from there.
If anything though, it was Wales who kicked on. In fairness to them, they were tackling very well, putting in a huge amount at the breakdown and they shut us down with the width of their defence.
But when Phillips got in for a second and then Davies went over, that was that.
Mike Phillips goes over for Wales’ second try against Ireland (© Barry Aldworth/Backpagepix)
There wasn’t much to say in the dressing room and in the team room afterwards. Deccie didn’t even say that much. What could you say?
I think everybody knew that it was a huge opportunity missed, we were nearly in a state of shock. We had our opportunities but we just didn’t take them.
I think most of the lads who had played felt that they didn’t really give a fair account of themselves and that was the most frustrating thing. It was the kind of performance and kind of defeat that lingers, definitely.
After that, we got out of Dodge pretty quickly which was for the best. After being beaten, nobody really felt like hanging around thousands of miles away from home.
The Saturday night was a quiet one, most of us just had a couple of drinks with the wives and girlfriends and whoever else was over with us. Then we were just packing up and sorting out the last few bits and bobs on the Sunday before we flew out. We’d been told to go visit the Botanic Gardens in Wellington by a load of people so I snuck away for a couple of hours and jumped on the cable car to there.
The flight home was a pain in the arse as well. Wellington – Auckland – Sydney – Dubai – Dublin, it took forever. A couple of the lads stopped off in Dubai for a bit of a holiday but I wasn’t that pushed, I was just happy enough to get home at that stage.
After all the travelling, we were knackered by the time we hit Dublin Airport but the scenes there were incredible. We’d heard that the support was great back home throughout the tournament but to be honest, I was really shocked at the amount of people that turned up to welcome us back.
I didn’t think there’d be anyone there. I mean, after all we hadn’t won anything. But it was amazing that people wanted to go to such effort. It was actually quite humbling and I suppose it just made us feel like we’d let an awful lot of people down.
The crowds turn out in huge numbers to welcome the Irish players home (©INPHO/James Crombie)
In one way, it’s good to be back home again, but things have been a little bit mad for the last few days. I’m not back with Leinster till next week, but I can’t wait. Obviously I didn’t get a huge amount of game-time out in New Zealand so I’m feeling pretty fresh and raring to go again. The lads have been in great form while the rest of us were away, so it’ll be nice to get back to business there.
In the meantime, I’ve just been trying to chill and settle back in. We’re doing a bit of work on the house at the moment so I’ve been sitting around waiting for sofas to be delivered and that sort of stuff.
It’s not all bad though. I managed to get out for a game of golf with a couple of the lads yesterday – Eoin Reddan, Brian [O'Driscoll] and John Fogarty who used to play with us at Leinster. Myself and Brian ending up winning by two holes in the end I think. It would’ve been a lot more if Brian had brought his putter with him, but we’ll probably get out for another game over the next few days so he’ll have a chance to redeem himself.
That’s about it. It’s been an unforgettable few weeks and a real privilege to be out there. It’s just a pity that it didn’t all end differently.