Lynagh may be forgiven but not forgotten by Irish fans

Ollie Campbell put his arm around the shoulders of Michael Lynagh’s youngest son, and pointed at the shiny Aviva Stadium in the near distance.

Lynagh may be forgiven but not forgotten by Irish fans

Ollie Campbell put his arm around the shoulders of Michael Lynagh’s youngest son, and pointed at the shiny Aviva Stadium in the near distance.

“See that stadium over there, that’s your father’s fault,” Campbell said. “That’s a brand new stadium, it’s called Aviva stadium. Your dad scored a try in 1991 at Lansdowne Road and we were so devastated we had to knock down the stadium and build a new one.”

Lynagh junior took Campbell seriously and berated his father’s bad manners. “Dad you’re so mean, why did you do that?” he asked, his face as straight as can be.

Thousands of Irish rugby fans have had the same thought, mind, Lynagh’s 1991 try with two minutes remaining is still one of the most depressing moments in Irish sport — a category that has no shortage of competition.

Gordon Hamilton’s try just four minutes earlier had seemed certain to put Ireland into the Rugby World Cup semi-final, but the mini pitch invasion his score inspired was quickly replaced by mass mourning, Lynagh’s score putting the eventual champions into next round where they’d defeat New Zealand.

Six World Cups have come and gone since, and no Irish team has made it past that quarter-final stage.

“Irish people don’t let me forget it,” Lynagh said, speaking in Dublin, a short walk from Lansdowne Road.

I walked from my hotel to the company I work for today, and it was lunchtime — and oh my God, the number of people who stopped me. ‘I’ve not forgotten you, you broke my heart’ — if I had a pound for everyone who said that to me...

“I live in London, but I’m in Dublin quite regularly, and it’s nice the response I get. I’ve never really spoken to Gordon (Hamilton) about it, I’m sure it’s a bittersweet moment for him.”

Lynagh says the determination to win having been 18-15 down with six minutes to go gave the Australians the belief they could go all the way.

“That was a real turning point for our tournament, we knew we had to go through the gears and that showed us we could do it. “The following week was the All Blacks in Dublin, and that was our best performance of the whole tournament. That four minutes against Ireland really helped us know we could go up another gear.

“Up to that Irish game we’d not done much, we’d stuttered in our first game against Argentina, then we just got a win on terribly wet day against Samoa.

“We beat Wales comfortably in Cardiff, but they weren’t up to much, so we didn’t really have a lot of form. When we walked around the streets the week of the game, everyone was saying ‘go easy on our boys’, and then all of a sudden, in a game where we felt quite comfortable, you look at the scoreboard and they were chipping away, still hanging in there, then Gordon scores and they’re in front — ‘oh shit’.

“I asked Jim Fleming, the referee, what was left because there was no clock. He told me there was four minutes to go, so I knew we’d have time to kick off.”

And the rest is history. For Ireland, it’s a result they’ve repeated far too often, and Lynagh knows well what impact his score has had on the psyche of every Irish player since.

“I know, jeez.... and my name’s Michael Patrick Thomas Lynagh, it’s pretty Irish. There’s been Irish teams that had great hopes pinned on them, and you think ‘they’ll be alright’, but they never quite get there. Maybe there’s just too much pressure on them, and too much expectation. There’s huge expectation on England too, and being able to cope with that is key — they couldn’t do it in 2015, for example.”

Expectation is not something Ireland will face intomorrow’s quarter-final against New Zealand — a positive?

“Probably, and Ireland have performed reasonably against New Zealand in recent times,” Lynagh said. “New Zealand will be nervous too, they’ve not really been tested yet, apart from that first game against South Africa, so it’s not a bad one to have.

“What New Zealand are very good at is absorbing pressure, and any mistake the opposition make — bang — they capitalise on it so quickly. You can have all the possession and territory like South Africa did in the first half, but you’re down on the scoreboard. They’re very good at doing that. Limiting mistakes is key.”

Holding on to a lead with six minutes to go would also be handy. Ireland can’t afford to rebuild Tokyo Stadium.

Heineken Rugby ambassador, Michael Lynagh. Michael was speaking ahead of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. Heineken is the official worldwide partner to Rugby World Cup 2019

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox