Never mind the quality, feel the victory.
If Ireland had lost a classic against Scotland in Murrayfield, there wouldn’t be too many people saying that the result didn’t matter so, by that same token, there has to be some satisfaction in winning a second straight game, all the more so given the slow start to the championship.
Captain Jonathan Sexton showed great composure to kick the winning penalty and Ireland deserve credit for showing good character to come back to win after surrendering a 14-point lead. But, of course, surrendering a 14-point lead in the closing stages is not a hugely positive sign in itself.
And yet, if you look at the table, Ireland sit in second place, albeit with the caveat that France have played a game fewer.
Two wins and two narrow defeats – where the game was still in the melting pot to the final play – could be spun as being not bad, a case of falling on the wrong side of small margins for Andy Farrell’s men.
Obviously, there is merit in taking the positives in situations like these but the overall picture is one that is pretty fairly reflected by a 50 percent win-rate. Some inspired attacking moments combined with periods of mundanity; at the other end, a fragility that is eroded further by individual errors gifting scores to the opposition.
For any team and coach, the objective is to cut out those mistakes and find some rhythm and fluency in attack, but of course in top-level sport such ideals can often be elusive, not least because there is another team on the pitch whose own ambitions tend to directly jar with your own.
Had Ireland failed to beat Scotland, then they would be facing into this weekend’s clash against England trying to avoid a fourth defeat.
Instead, they go in on the back of two straight wins, while this English side is not as formidable as the one which won last year’s championship and Autumn Nations Cup.
Eddie Jones’ side did beat France last Saturday evening, but they too came close to having a record of three defeats in four games, having already been beaten by Scotland and Wales. Instead, they did Wales a huge favour.
One would imagine that the Ireland-England clash will effectively be a battle for third place in the competition, though a lot could change depending on how the France-Wales and outstanding France-Scotland games go.
The match at the Aviva mightn’t be pivotal in terms of silverware, but the two teams will want to at least end on a winning note and there are of course Lions places up for grabs, assuming that a series of some kind goes ahead during the summer.
Two years out from the next World Cup, the transition period will have to start developing into something more durable and tangible.
Beating England and finishing with more wins than losses would at least indicate that things are going in the right direction.
Mayo native Ned Cleary had already spent eight years as a garda in west Cork before moving to Castletownshend with his wife Kathleen in 1962.
At the time, the local football club, Castlehaven, was just another junior B outfit, with only one Carbery (south-west Cork division) championship to its name, that coming in 1944. By the time of Cleary’s recent death at the age of 90 – he would have been 91 on St Patrick’s Day – ‘the Haven’ had become renowned as one of the premier clubs in Cork and beyond.
He took over as coach/trainer of the team in 1968, winning a divisional junior B title the following year, before claiming the south-west junior A in 1973. Three years later, they made the county junior A breakthrough and won the intermediate title in 1978.
Incredibly, in their first year at senior level, 1979, they eliminated reigning Cork, Munster and All-Ireland champions Nemo Rangers and made it all the way to the final, losing out to St Finbarr’s.
Ten years later, that first county senior title would arrive – beating St Fibarr’s, as it happened – by which time Ned was club chair, overseeing an ambitious development at what had become the club’s new home, just outside Skibbereen. Along with storied Castlehaven names such as the Collinses, Maguires and Cahalanes, the Clearys were now becoming a dynasty, too – Ned’s son John would win an All-Ireland with Cork in 1989 to go with that county title; another son Denis had won U21s with the county earlier in the decade and daughter Nollaig would go on to win nine All-Irelands with Cork ladies.
Added to that, his daughter Ailish married one of Castlehaven’s great sons, Niall Cahalane, and his grandsons Damien, Conor and Jack have represented Cork in football and hurling, while three granddaughters are on the current Cork senior ladies’ football panel – Emma and Laura Cleary and dual player Méabh Cahalane.
Another club stalwart, James O’Neill, told the local Southern Star newspaper just how important Ned had been to the club. “He respected everybody he knew, especially the players he trained and they gave him great respect in return,” he said.
“He succeeded in getting the whole parish behind him and the fine facilities we now have in the club are a lasting tribute to him. He was always a pleasure to work with and was a great believer in common sense.”
It would have been nice if Castlehaven had been county senior football champions at the time of Ned Cleary’s passing but, due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control, they are instead waiting to play the county final against Nemo Rangers since last October, when club GAA activity was paused. Five grandsons – the three Cahalanes and Rory and Cathal Maguire – will be part of the panel.
In a way, it’s almost more fitting that it is still to be played – Ned and plenty others put in huge work to get the club to where it is, and the greatest endorsement of that work is that it is able to carry on without him.