Jaysus, you mustn’t have much to be at. I can’t remember whole parts of the game that day and I played in it! It must have been terrible to watch…
Tomás O'Leary is in no way envious when told of an evening spent re-watching Ireland v Scotland in 2010, the last time Scotland beat Ireland in Dublin. The match was not a classic and given the vast disappointment of the day the Cork man elects not to dwell on it.
In March of that year, the Irish rugby team took to Croke Park for the final time. A Triple Crown was on the line and Declan Kidney’s side were keen to conclude their three-year residency on a high. 78 minutes later the score was tied at 20-20 and Rob Kearney was penalised near the touchline for holding on. A perfectly timed photograph captured O’Leary’s response to that, and with good reason.
Dan Parks, he literally just nailed the kick wherever he had a conversion or penalty. That day, it just seemed to go over. I just knew in that game whenever he had a kick he was going to nail it. If there’s a moment when the ref gave a penalty, I just know we were tied and it didn’t matter. He was going to kick it, he just was on it that day.
Parks finished with 18 points that afternoon, as Scotland ran out 20-23 victors and dashed any hopes of a fairy-tale Triple Crown and farewell to Croke Park. O’Leary might not reflect on the play very often, but he recalls the post-match emotions with galling clarity.
There was a crown on offer that day, to lose it at home, in Croke Park, was tough to take…
We were the lucky few players who got to experience playing in Croke Park for a rugby international. To be one of those guys was honestly a privilege. Especially given my association with the GAA, I played there as a Cork Minor, my father played there years before. It is a really special thing to look back on now. It is an experience I know down the line with grandkids and my owns kids, I'll be able to show them a picture.
It was the final Six Nations to be held there… so it would have been real nice to say farewell to Croke Park on a high, with a Triple Crown. They're not easy come by. Then to get a chance there, Croke Park was a great place, given the history even in the short time the rugby teams played there. The Ireland v England game was such an occasion, it united the whole country. It was a special place to play a rugby international. It would have been nice to finish on a high. That made it a lot more bitter, definitely.
O'Leary took to Croke Park as a Minor in 2000. Cork were beaten that day, by a Galway side that included a would-be Connacht legend in John Muldoon. Yet in 2001 O'Leary returned and was successful. The former Munster and Ireland scrum-half recently came back to GAA and togged out for Erin’s Own Junior football team, although the opportunity to atone for his Croke Park ending may not be forthcoming.
Apart from Parks performance, that day is memorable for exposing Ireland’s significant reliance on certain key lifters in the line-out. Ireland lost a monstrous seven balls on their own throw, as predicting the calls became simple.
As is so often the case, history threatens to repeat itself this week. Irish line-out success last time out was at a below-average 80%. Although instead of being predictable, O'Leary hopes Ireland's jump options will provide a crucial edge.
Scots traditionally would be very competitive in line-outs and a tough team to play against when not winning your own line-out. It became really hard. If the weather conditions are as forecast this time, it'll be stop-start and there’ll be a lot of set pieces that will decide which team is going to dominate. The scrum will be good, I think our line-out has been good. The selection of Devin Toner will dictate it is easier to win our own ball. Hopefully, we won’t have a repeat of that.
Scotland on the road are a constant caveat. A half-ticked box. There is always an asterisk. That game is the last victory they enjoyed against one of their old Five Nations rivals but Gregor Townsend's side are still subjected to the most recycled, and apt, term in all post-game analysis: 'If they turn up...'
We were expected to beat Scotland and if you put those two teams on the park ten times, you’d expect to beat them eight or nine times. We were confident and expected to win the game without a shadow of a doubt. Scotland are always a little bit dangerous, but you do expect to beat them at home.
The public were still on a high from 2009 (Grand Slam) and we maybe took the foot off the gas a little bit. There was huge expectation within the group definitely. Not getting success that year was very disappointing.
A much-discussed aspect of this game is Ireland's supposed susceptibility out wide. Already Joe Schmidt's side have leaked seven tries, equalling their sum total from last year's tournament.
In 2010 they conceded just six tries in the entire tournament but were put to the sword by Dan Parks as personal discipline diminished. There is a lesson there too, as O'Leary explains, no system in the game can compensate for clear fundamental errors.
Stockdale made a few poor reads. This is his first year as an international winger. He’ll learn from making one or two bad reads. His actual technique and physicality, there is no worries about that. When he makes a correct call I'd have no worries. It is an area Scotland will target, the preview work and analysis that Andy Farrell will put in and the other players around him, they’ll be well set for Scotland attacking wide. I don’t have a major concern for this weekend.
Ireland defensively under Farrell has been a really good area and a real strength. I think it has had a blip but one or two players make poor reads and then you are exposed. For any team, any defensive team can have areas of weakness when it comes down to decision making.
Opportunity beckons for the current Irish side. Victory in Dublin sets up a Grand Slam decider against England in Twickenham. O'Leary is confident there will be no repeat of 2010. Then again, there is always that asterisk...
You'd expect this time to get a victory, Scotland's away form has been pretty abysmal. Like they beat Australia away and followed it up with a loss to Fiji. Our pedigree, their away form and our home form, you’d expect us to do it. There is always a fear. Scotland are always capable of it. It depends if they turn up...