In these heady times of peak Brexit hysteria, and Cuban Missile Crisis panic, you’d think it is impossible to pile any more angst onto Irish-English relations. Then along comes the Six Nations, and the clash of clashes.
The last time tension off the pitch was this high before a match was in 1973, when the English team showed up in Lansdowne Road for a Five Nations’ tie at the height of the Troubles. Scotland and Wales refused to travel in 1972. Eighteen people had died in the first four weeks of 1973 and the mood in the lead up to the game was fraught. Will they or won’t they come? But on the day they came, and 50,000 Irish people gave the English team a standing ovation, and then Ireland won the match 18-9.
Then there was 2007 in Croke Park. Few will forget the 43-13 win in the home of GAA. We still get goosebumps. Well, many of us. There’s always a few who don’t subscribe to sporting moments, but I am not one of them. Today, we’ve finally been dragged out of dull, depressing January for a showdown between old rivals on home turf. The exhilaration is palpable. The flags, the nationalism, the craic, the tension, the haunting silence before a try followed by pints flying, and men hugging.
Last year, we enjoyed a build up of four other matches, before climaxing on Paddy’s Day. Today, the grand slam could be over before it begins.
In the absence of a football team of note, rugby stands tall. Beating England is the pinnacle and Lansdowne Road could become a field of green dreams. We’re united North and south, knowing that our young rugby players know nothing but the sweet scent of victory.
Once kick-off happens, no one will care about anything other than what’s happening on the pitch – certainly not Brexageddon or backtracking on the backstop.
Once its over, we can go back to focusing on our dysfunctional relationship.
As Enid Blyton liked to put it, they were ‘beastly’ to us, but we two are also friends.
Remember the UK bailed us out to the tune of €3.84bn as part of the €85bn EU bailout package, after Fianna Fáil monumentally screwed up our lives.
OK, we’ve paid €400m in interest thus far, but it was still nice, and sorely needed, at the time.
On the one hand, there’s 800 years of oppression, but then again, many we love live on the other side of the Irish Sea.
They fascinate us too. Hardly a day passes without an item about the royals in the news. Meghan’s bump, Kate’s eyebrows, William’s vanishing hair. Only last summer, hotels across the land showed the royal wedding on big screens and guests enjoyed lemon curd and scones with clotted cream.
The ‘summer of Windsor’ saw Ireland’s finest repealers brown-nosing Prince Harry and Meghan in the presidential gardens at a party that was thrown in their honour.
I had to laugh, there’s everyone fawning over the royals, drinking Pimms and hobnobbing with them in the Phoenix Park; while slagging the British working classes for voting yes to define their destiny. If the royals had a vote, they’d probably vote remain, because it would enhance their power. The irony.
Now, many Irish feel it’s OK to slag our closest neighbours and trade partners for what buffoons they are to leave the EU. It could shrink the Irish economy by 4.25pc, we could lose 50,000 jobs – according to the Department of Finance – plus the possibility of having to choose sides.
But for 80 minutes today there’s only one side, and one thing we don’t want to lose – come on Ireland.
No matter what happens on March 29 and beyond, we’ll always have the Six Nations.