England’s Call – Christmas 2004

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England won the Rugby World Cup. Fair play to them!

They did it after years of hope, disappointment and close-run affairs, close-run the wrong way for them. They promised so much and never delivered. They just didn’t have it, so said everyone. And they were installed as front-runners so often, presumably by commentators who only wanted to gloat when inevitably they blew it.

But this time- they didn’t. And everyone in Athenry can be delighted or mortified because, if it wasn’t for us, they’d never have done it. It’s Athenry’s Cup really, not theirs.

The seeds of England’s glory were sown on a hurling field in Connacht in 1987 when Athenry hurlers won the county final against the aristocrats of Galway hurling, Castlegar. It was a huge day for Athenry and it gave the inspiration to England’s rugby team, who have gone on to consign the British rugby aristocrats, Wales, to the same oblivion as Castlegar.

National success didn’t immediately come Athenry’s way.

We were obliterated by a Southern Hemisphere team, Midleton, in 1988 and wondered how we could ever win, since there would always be some heavyweight from the tri-nations of Cork, Tipp or Kilkenny, only waiting their turn to hammer us.

And so, it was with England’s rugby team, who had pinned their fate to ours with the same tenacity as a Fianna Fail TD clinging to his vote.

Australia beat them in Twickenham in 1991 and even when England beat one of the big three – Oz, New Zealand or South Africa), it took too much out of them and they were disposed of easily by one of the others with the disdain of an understrength crisis-ridden Kilkenny polishing off an unbeatable Galway.

Still, for the sake of both teams, Athenry plugged on. There were disasters. Dunloy overtook Athenry in an All-Ireland semi-final when it seemed that only the calendar stood between Athenry and the title. Athenry grieved, and so did England. Strong contenders in the 1999 World Cup, they had their tender parts well kicked by the drop goals of Jannie de Beer. It seemed to give the lie to Hollywood all right for the heroes, you don’t always have happy endings.

In this case, however, there was a dawn. Athenry finally succeeded- 3 times. England had been shown the way.

Hurling has its John Dentons and so rugby has its referee Watson, whose decisions almost cost England the prize. But England were unstoppable, they had learned gamesmanship, as we in Ireland know to our cost. (Of course, they didn’t learn that from Athenry).

Luck also favoured England. Whereas our own Eugene was once sidelined for a robust challenge, Wilkinson stayed on the field after a far more serious tackle – nearly taking an opponent’s shorts off. A try was averted and England are now World Champions.

They copied Athenry to the end- going to extra time as our hurlers did in their finest hour. It would be naive to expect those pompous English to admit the debt they owe to Athenry but our hurlers have the maturity to rise above this pettiness. After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Whether England can emulate Athenry’s achievements fully is another matter but, in November 2003 at the Telstra stadium in Sydney, Athenry can reflect on a job well done.

Paul Holland is a regular contributor to the Athenry Journal – Click on his name below for more of his articles!

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About this record

Written by Paul Holland

Published here 10 Feb 2024 and originally published Christmas 2009

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