My metamorphosis from English man to Irish man took place between the ages of 10 and 14. In the early 1960s, my father brought me to my first England v Ireland rugby match in London. I was then supporting England but I didn’t mind if Ireland won because I did not want my father to be unhappy. It was a magnificent experience, one which has left an indelible impression on me. Our seats, which were just in front of the touchline, were positioned a couple of feet below the level of the pitch; as a result, whenever play came near, the players seemed like giants, except for the English right wing. He was much smaller than his team colleagues.
Ireland, playing right to left, took the kick-off to start the second half of the match. The objective was to boot the ball high into the sky and land it a little more than 10 yards into the opposition’s half of the pitch. The high trajectory of the kick was designed to give the Irish pack time to get to the expected landing point before the ball hit the ground. If executed correctly, the move would result in an almighty collision between to the two opposing packs. On this occasion, either due to misjudgement or by design, the ball’s flight was slightly lower and longer than normal. Consequently, it sailed just above the grasp of the tall English forwards and into the arms of the right wing – so far so good for England. However, the Irish pack, being skilled in trigonometry, quickly calculated that the ball would not be caught by the English pack. Therefore it reprogrammed its route across the pitch so as to avoid an unnecessary collision and proceeded directly to the point at which the ball would come to earth.
The English right wing probably compensated for his slight build by fast running, but on this occasion speed could not save him. At the moment he caught the ball, he was hit by an Irish combine harvester. It surgically removed the ball from his grasp, gobbled him up and deposited his mangled remains on the freshly cut grass, like a bale of hay.
I watched this spectacle surrounded by hordes of middle-aged Irish rugby fans. The memory of their warm personalities, coupled with the smell of whiskey and tobacco that they exuded, would stay with me forever. When I attended the next England v Ireland match in Twickenham two years later, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I felt English or Irish, and by the time the third match came around, my metamorphosis to Irishman was complete.
(Edited abstract from the book – London Irish Dublin English – for more information please refer to my website:- danielmdoyle.com)