Ireland clinch Six Nations in Paris

2014 Six Nations Champions 

There would have been no shame in defeat, and yet no solace either. All week the question was which France would turn up; the clueless team of individuals or a ruthless try-scoring operation. The truth was somewhere in between. Individual brilliance with just enough cohesion to make Ireland sweat to the last.
Ireland gave themselves headaches at times, particularly in the first half. The kicking out of hand, which Ronan O’Gara stressed beforehand would be so important, was marginally off. In a game to decide the outcome of the Six Nations, small margins can be crucial.
Two tries and two awful kicks at goal. If it wasn’t for the elbow to the head from the 18 stone Mathieu Bastereaud, Jonathon Sexton would remember this game for a long time. Thankfully he was able to join in the post-match celebrations even after being stretchered off in the 65th minute. Irish fans chewed nails as his replacement Ian Madigan took to the field. Preferred on the bench to Paddy Jackson today, this was his first appearance in the 2014 Six Nations. 
With Jordi Murphy the only sub not to take to the field of play, Ireland were left with a good deal of inexperienced players to close out the game. While the scrum lost some of its ballast after the withdrawal of Ross and Healy, in open play Ireland were to a man committed and disciplined until the end. It’s expected of the old hands. It’s a joy to see it from the next generation.
The French, as is their wont, woke up from their Six Nations slumber today. Switched on from the start, they took a 6-0 lead before two quickfire tries from Sexton and Trimble put Ireland ahead. The home side’s response was swift and sublime. A crossfield kick from Tales was parried beautifully by Huget back for Dulin to dot down. The second of Sexton’s missed kicks ensured France went in one point to the good at half time.
The second half was as tense as they come, with neither side letting up in the intensity. Ireland struck first, with a break from Trimble finished off by Sexton with assistance from the O-Apostrophes.
These are the players by which the golden generation of Irish rugby is defined. Captain Paul O’Connell was immense today. It’s a mark of the man that when you see blood on his face during battle you’re never quite sure if it’s his. He threw himself into tackles with the usual vigour, and made laughable last year’s notions that he was a spent force.
And then there’s O’Driscoll.  He was involved in much that was good about Ireland today. While there’s perhaps an argument that Andrew Trimble deserved the man of the match award today for replicating his Ulster form, it was only going to one person.If anyone thought he would go quietly into the international rugby retirement home they were mistaken. And if BOD himself thought he could waltz quietly into the Parisian night at full-time, he too was wrong. A French interviewer attempted to cajole the outside centre into “one more year.” O’Driscoll smiled and shook his head. As retirement parties go, this one takes some beating.
O’Driscoll held it together during his interview with RTE until he brought up the influence of Joe Schmidt. The respect he has for the former Leinster coach was clear to see. It’s a mutual respect, as evidenced by the Ireland head coach’s assertion that “we’ll get someone to fill (O’Driscoll’s) boots, but their feet might be a bit smaller.” Indeed.
Late on there was a sense that France might spoil the party. A try from hooker Szarzewski  had Irish fans covering their eyes. However a horrible penalty miss followed by a late forward pass with men over on the right wing denied Les Bleus a win that would have handed England the Six Nations championship.
In Rome, tears surely trickled down tuxedos as the English squad watched on helpless. Like Ireland in 2007, hammering Italy on the final day just wasn’t enough. Theirs is a good team with a capable manager. The World Cup next year is on their territory and they will not capitulate easily.
Ireland under Schmidt have raised the bar high for themselves. The New Zealand game showed they could compete with the best. Today showed they can concentrate for a full 80 minutes plus. There must be no let up between now and the World Cup. Those who have earned their first caps must muster such intensity every time they pull on the green jersey. The hardened veterans must hold on to the hunger for more silverware. For tonight though, it’s time to celebrate. Gordon Darcy’s beard will soon be no more.
A championship clinched in Saint Denis on St Patrick’s weekend. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Canada to Christchurch: The Emigrant Chronicles.

It’s a long way to Ballymaloe, particularly if you detour via Vancouver. But the famous cookery school is Suzi Gubbins’ ultimate destination. Five months ago she crossed the Atlantic to Canada with her boyfriend Cian Hickey. Cian had wanted to move to Australia, Suzi to New York. Compromise is a key component of any good couple. They compromised. Vancouver population swelled by two.

Cian and Suzi in Canada.
Both had just graduated from the University of Limerick. “As much as I miss everybody, I would prefer to have a steady job and independence. Something that Ireland doesn’t guarantee right now,”says Suzi.
So they took the opportunity to combine work and travel. Their first jobs, like the first jobs of so many emigrants, were in coffee shops. Soon though, they found themselves in at ground level in a property firm (no pun intended). Five months after their initial move, they find themselves promoted, working in the same apartment complex in which they live. Life is good.
With work so close to home, Cian and Suzi have plenty of time to indulge in cooking. Ballymaloe may be someway down the line, but practise makes perfect. They’ve even started their own food blog, Our Quirky Kitchen, with which they share their own recipes with a growing number of followers. For two young Irish people recently out of college, their cooking repertoire is far more impressive than beans on toast.
“I’ve wanted to be a chef since I can remember, but it always seemed far too stressful for me. The food blog, that was both our idea, as we cook literally everyday. I try to make everything from scratch, I love challenging myself and developing new recipes. Cian is great to cook with, because he has a little more patience than I do, so when something doesn’t work out as I want, he miraculously can fix it. We’re a good team in the kitchen!”
It’s not all gravy in Canada though. When Suzi’s grandmother died not long ago, Suzi was far from Clonmel. Funerals are hard when you are present, but what’s worse is not being able to say goodbye in person. “I miss my family a lot, and with my grandmother’s death it makes it very difficult when you can’t get home for funerals and important things.”
Christmas last year was spend in chilly Vancouver, thousands of miles away from home. The next festive period will be different. “I can’t wait to go home for Christmas. Last Christmas was very hard because we were working and on our own. Our families are coming over this summer for two weeks so that has definitely eased the homesickness!”
The couple found another novel way to ease the homesickness. Hawaii. Knowing they wouldn’t be home for Christmas, they booked themselves a five day trip to Pacific paradise. It was a “beat the January blues trip,” according to Cian. “We were both pretty sad at not being able to go home for Christmas so that was what really kept us going to be honest,” he continues.
No sooner had they touched base in Hawaii, plans were being made for another excursion. Vegas. “The night we got back we were talking to our Irish friends who were all going and we were very easily convinced to book our own trip,” Cian admits. It was a fun two days. “The city gives you energy, it’s crazy!” says the Limerick native.
Until the planned summer visit, family is accessible via Skype, which Suzi admits she would be lost without. She and Cian plan on working hard, eating well, and enjoying life in Vancouver. The dream remains at the back of Suzi’s mind though. A place in Ballymaloe cookery school, and maybe her own cafe. If the menu is anything like the posts on Our Quirky Kitchen, people will be queuing around the corner to get in.
Back in Limerick, people are already queuing up to try Neill Foley’s cocktails. A former housemate of Cian, Neill made a name for himself last year with his Munster Rugby cocktail tribute. He’s not averse to a drink himself, and is a regular feature in the clubs on Shannon-side. However he went missing from the social scene for a few months at the end of last year. He had taken the plunge and emigrated to New Zealand.
“I felt this was my opportunity to go do something with my life. I had a well paid full time job [in the Locke Bar], but I felt if I didn’t get out now I never would. The World Cup had a major influence on us going to New Zealand. I suppose everyone in Ireland was heading off to Oz and Ireland had the best rugby team they’ve had in donkeys years so it all made sense,” says Neill, from the Corbally area of Limerick city.
Five months of mayhem followed. The Rugby World Cup taking place in New Zealand meant that Irish emigrants who had pitched up in Australia all converged en masse in Kiwi country. The country of the All Blacks was painted green for over a month.
Neill will carry the memories of the tournament with him to the grave. Along with the two lads he had emigrated with, Mark Tierney and Anthony Barry, he got a job working for a man who owned a motor home company. First day of work, the owner turns to the three Irish lads. “So how are you gentlemen getting to New Plymouth for the USA game?” He lent them a motor home. For free. They had found the perfect job.
They had been staying in a hostel for the first few weeks, but with the Australia-Ireland game on the horizon, the prices became extortionate. The lads were faced with the prospect of having nowhere to stay. Boss Mark Boberg to the rescue once more. “Nowhere to stay boys? Here’re the keys to the warehouse. Drive the motorhomes in and sleep in which ever one ye like.”
The lads were suitably ecstatic. “The guy had known us eight days and gave us the keys to his warehouse worth god knows how much. We all had showers and cracked open three bottles of Export Gold. We put them on the table with the keys of this million dollar business and took the best photograph of the whole trip” smiles Neill.
Kindness followed Neill around New Zealand. He had been collecting match programmes and ticket stubs as a surprise gift for his father who had recently retired. What happened after the Australia game will remain with him for a long time. “In the middle of Eden Park in the middle of Auckland in the middle of the Pacific ocean… The last peson you expect to meet is someone form Caherdavin [in Limerick City]. Nicest girl I have ever met. Told her what I was doing for my father. After the match the programme was soaked with tears [of joy], rain, and Heineken. It was no good. The girl leaned over me, put her programme in my hand and whispered into my ear; ‘My dad died ten years ago. I’m sure he’d appreciate this.’ That sums up the World Cup for me. It’s f***in great to be Irish.”

Neill with Irish rugby centre Gordon Darcy
At Christmas, Neill took a chance and went to Australia in search of other work. He hit it at a bad time. “I arrived when all the students were off and they were all looking for part time jobs too.” After a few weeks fruitless job searching, he cut his losses. He returned home.
He’s been welcomed back to The Locke Bar with open arms. After all, he makes a mean cocktail. He’s happy to be back. “It’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve noticed that so many people are trying to do positive things in this recession. For example, a guy I went to school with is organizing music festival in Clonlara. It’s called We:Session because, as he puts it, we are all in this together so we might as well do something positive.”
Positivity. A characteristic as potent as any cocktail Neill could devise, and one necessary to get this country back on track.
For more emigration stories, stay tuned. Or visit

Follow Cian and Suzi’s incredible food blog Our Quirky Kitchen at