On Super Saturday, all eyes will be on Dublin as Ireland look to fulfil their destiny and end a 38-year wait for a Championship title sealed on home soil.
Titles have come since, most recently with the 2018 Grand Slam, and before that with the trophy in 2015, 2014 and the famous Grand Slam of 2009, but all four of those were decided away from home.
You would have to go all the way back to the 1985 Five Nations for the last time Ireland did celebrate a title in front of their own supporters when Ciaran Fitzgerald captained Ireland to victory and Triple Crown success thanks to Mick Kiernan’s drop goal against England.
This weekend though, Ireland are bidding to end that drought and finally experience a trophy lift on home soil, by not just winning the Championship at home for the first time since 1985, but by winning the Grand Slam at home for the first time since 1948. Even then, that came in Belfast – never before have Ireland toasted a slam in Dublin.
It could be a historic weekend for Irish rugby, who will look to make some more history later on this year in the Rugby World Cup. But ahead of this weekend, we spoke to two of Ireland’s stars of the 1985 Championship about what it means to celebrate on home soil – captain Fitzgerald and Ireland’s leading try scorer that Championship Trevor Ringland.
The year before Ireland’s success was a year very much to forget, failing to win any of their four matches and coming bottom with the wooden spoon, having won the 1982 and 83 titles (joint with France in ‘83).
But ahead of the 1985 Championship, Mick Doyle took over as head coach and instantly changed Ireland’s approach to a more free-flowing style.
That led to victories against Scotland and Wales and a hugely credible draw against France, which led Ireland to their judgement day, where they would come up against England in Dublin, rescheduled to their final game after being cancelled due to bad snow earlier in the Championship.
Doyle and Fitzgerald arranged a ‘training session’ which involved a trip to the pub, something that may sound fun, but Fitzgerald believes played a hugely important part in Ireland’s later success.
He said: “I remember the January match and the morning when the match was cancelled, Mick said, ‘let’s go for a training session’, so one of the guys said ‘what about we go up to the local pub?’
“So that is what we did, we went up there at about 12pm on the day and that was our training session.
“It probably played a big role for us actually during the Championship in terms of character building.”
Having put themselves in a position to win the Championship at Lansdowne Road, for the first time in the Championship there was pressure on Ireland to deliver.
Fitzgerald, as captain, probably took on more pressure than most, and he thinks in the amateur era, when you were not always with the team, it was worse than in the modern day.
“Of course there was huge pressure, it was back in the amateur days when you’re living at home and you only assembled to your squad on a Thursday.
“So you’ve got the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday living with your friends, your workmates, all in the wider community.
“Everybody is talking about the match and they’re asking you for tickets and they’re saying this and that, and you can’t wait to get into the team environment where you’re in your bubble, but it’s only for a day or two days.
“You’re very conscious of the fact that we had a real chance of winning the Triple Crown and it was a typical heavy English pack and that was our concern in awful weather conditions.”
Ringland had enjoyed an excellent Championship himself, scoring three tries along the way including a brace in the 18-15 win over Scotland in Round 1, but no feeling would ever compare to winning that clash with England, claiming a 13-10 win courtesy of a last-gasp drop goal from Kiernan.
“The English match was a tense affair because the pressure was on, but to come through it and win great credit must go to Ciaran Fitzgerald,” he said.
“He took decisions at that time that energised the team and sped things up, that put them on the back foot and out of that we got the opportunity to take the drop goal.
“Michael Kiernan took it, but what is not remembered is that there were about four people outside him who could have scored a try.
“The four of us will never forgive him and he’s quite happy to take all the glory which he reminds us of all the time. But he was under pressure, so to have the confidence to do what he did was fantastic, despite having to listen to him for years since!”
Victory in Dublin led to huge celebrations, with fans swarming the Lansdowne Road pitch in celebration, and Fitzgerald as captain eventually had to come out and settle down the delighted Irish supporters.
“The biggest challenge after the match for players was try to get off the pitch because in those days the invasion started,” added Fitzgerald.
“And if you’re on the wrong side of the pitch, when the final whistle went, you had a torturous journey trying to get to the dressing room to get down.
“We got to the dressing rooms, which at Lansdowne Road was on the halfway line, and when you go in there the first drill is media.
“And I had just finished my interview and the security guy, said, ‘you better come back outside’.
“So I said, okay and I had to acknowledge the crowd and wave to the crowd, just get them to just subdue and quiet down a little bit and say, thanks very much.
“It was a totally surreal experience, I have never, ever experienced anything like that before, but that was the nature of the support and that is what it meant to the local people.”
This weekend Ireland will bid to create a similar experience against the same opposition the day after St. Patrick’s Day and if they do manage to do it, they will join Fitzgerald, Ringland and Co. in the Irish rugby history books.