Crowning glory is more than consolation

IT is hugely disappointing to hear people belittle Ireland’s potential to win the Triple Crown for the fifth time in seven years at Croke Park on Saturday.

One could easily interpret the blasé approach of so many – including a number who have the best interests of Irish rugby at heart – as a reflection of how far the game has progressed in this country in recent times.

Last year’s Grand Slam obviously is a huge factor in such an attitude but now is not the time for resting on our laurels. 2011 is a World Cup year and while we are by no means among the favourites or deserve to be, it is still not an unattainable prize.

The defeat by France means the Grand Slam is out of the question but that is no reason to think that the Triple Crown shouldn’t be regarded as a very worthy consolation. Any time a country as small as Ireland beats England, Scotland and Wales in the same year should be considered very special indeed.

And it’s not something our rugby teams have managed to do all that often.

In the 19th century, it was achieved in 1894 and 1899; in the 20th, it happened in 1948 (along with the Grand Slam) and ‘49 and again in 1982 and ‘85.

That number has already been matched this decade, in 2004, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 (as well as the Grand Slam) but instead of making little of the achievement, we should be proud of the achievements.

The honours roll currently reads England (23); Wales (19) while Ireland, Scotland and Wales have each claimed the title on 10 occasions.

It could also be easily forgotten by the sceptics that each of the other three countries have beaten Ireland more often than we have beaten them. The records before this season read: v England, played 122, won 44, lost 70, drew 8; v Scotland, played 123, won 55, lost 62, drew 5, one abandoned; v Wales, played 114, won 46, lost 62, drew 6.

Incidentally, I can think of a litany of legendary figures in the Irish game who never figured on a winning Triple Crown side. Here’s a full team that had they all played at the same time would have taken on any side in the world with every hope of victory … Tom Kiernan; Cecil Pedlow, Mike Gibson, Kevin Flynn, Tony O’Reilly; Barry McGann, John O’Meara; Gordon Wood, Keith Wood, Syd Millar; Willie John McBride, Bill Mulcahy; Noel Murphy, Ronnie Lamont, Ken Goodall. And something tells me that every reader could come up with a XV of their own without a Triple Crown between them!

OF THE likely starting line-up on Saturday, only out-half Jonathan Sexton and prop Cian Healy do not have at least one Triple Crown success on their CV. Six members, Geordan Murphy, Brian O’Driscoll, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell and David Wallace, along with Ronan O’Gara who may or may not start, played in at least one match in each of the four most recent successful campaigns and Tommy Bowe, Rory Best and Gordon D’Arcy were associated with three.

Does anybody really believe that these players and their team mates don’t consider another Triple Crown as a prize to be cherished for many, many years to come?

Yes they do and that’s why they will go into Saturday’s game with a massive sense of commitment and a burning desire to finish the job off. Hopefully, Brian O’Driscoll will lead the lap of honour around Croke Park for the last time with the stirring strains of the Fields of Athenry ringing in his ears and those of his players who continue to bring so much honour and credit to our nation.

And let the begrudgers who make little of beating England, Scotland and Wales in the same season and the winning of a fifth Triple Crown in seven years go drown their miserable sorrows while the rest of us celebrate another great achievement of our outstanding rugby team.

Believe me when I say we will not always enjoy such bountiful riches.

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