It was the day of O’Gara’s drop goal, of Jones’ penalty miss, and of Ireland’s first Grand Slam for 51 years.
It was also a day of pugilism at its finest, of a titanic battle inside a Dublin ring, and of an Irish World Boxing Champion.
Simply, it was the sort of thing that dreams are made of.
Technically, it had happened before. Rinty Monaghan won his World Flyweight Title on the same night that Jack Kyle and co. won the Grand Slam in 1948 but that was years before I was born, years before most of the people lucky enough to be inside the O2 Arena that night were born. This was a different era, a different generation, and for both (arguably) Ireland’s finest ever rugby team and one of its most tenacious boxers that Saturday was the culmination of years of work and struggle.
Incredibly, it could happen again this year. Disappointingly though, things won’t be the same if it does.
For the record, I’m not overly optimistic about Ireland’s Six Nations chances. Injuries have mounted at precisely the wrong time and for some players, Father Time is catching up. A rejuvenation of the team ahead of the World Cup this year is great to see, but it seems to be that this team isn’t quite where one would like it to be going into rugby’s showcase event.
However, others disagree with me and for once, I hope I am wrong. I would love for Ireland to win their opening four games in the competition, and to welcome England to the Aviva Stadium for a Grand Slam decider. I’d also love them to win, naturally.
That match is slated for March 19 – keep it free – and on that night, Limerick’s Willie Casey will be looking to join Bernard Dunne as a world champion. He fights Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux in Dublin that night, for the same WBA strap that Dunne held aloft two years ago. The odds will be stacked against the inexperienced Casey, but he will battle and brawl and give it everything he has, like Dunne did against Ricardo Cordoba.
Over 700,000 people tuned in to watch Dunne win his title – a sports mad nation, already on the high of highs, cheered him on and were drawn into that most absorbing of contests, because they were given the chance to do by RTE. The national broadcaster screened the fight (and showed a repeat of it the next night) and hundreds of thousands, who had already been celebrating a Grand Slam, were suddenly cheering once again. However, it appears that they won’t do the same for Casey, should he be victorious.
At a pre-fight press conference this week, it was confirmed that RTE have passed on the opportunity to screen the bout. The promoters claim they wouldn’t have even had to pay a rights fee. It’s a disappointing development, and unless things change the fight is now likely to be tucked away on SKY Sports or Eurosport, away from the casual fan. Sure, it will be on the screens of every pub in Limerick and in many households too, but the nation is being done a disservice by RTE in this regard. This is an event of national importance, an event which has proven audience-grabbing potential, and an event that one and all should have the right to see.
I intend to be in the CityWest Arena for the fight. 7,000 people will be there, cheering on Casey, and hopefully reeling from thrilling rugby that afternoon. However, unless things change in the coming weeks, Ireland will be deprived of a potential repeat of one of the greatest days in our proud sporting history.