During the flight to Chicago I would have settled with witnessing one piece of sporting history but being part of two historical events was a bonus.
As the plane touched down we discovered that the Cubs had won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. How one country can compete for a World Series is a story for another day. There was a homecoming parade planned for the following morning and people were saying it was going to be bigger than the paddy’s day parade.
While waiting for our friend to arrive I went across the street in search of some Cubs merchandise for the following day. As I stepped out of the elevator I was greeted by the sight of fifty people queuing to get in to the Cubs store. I’ve never queued to get into a shop but there’s always a first. I’m sure I’m not the first Galway lad to walk into a store in America looking for a “jumper”. I eventually found what I was looking for and was ready for downtown Chicago.
We jumped in a cab and headed for “The Gage” on South Michigan. Half of Galway seemed to be in there. People were talking about omens Leicester city, Connacht rugby, Chicago Cubs, Irish rugby and Mayo for Sam 2017. If only it was that easy. In 111 years Ireland had drawn with New Zealand once and had been within two points of beating them in Christchurch and Dublin. The All Blacks were on an 18 match winning streak. Were Ireland going to make history in a stadium that was home to a different sport played with an oval ball?
The following morning we headed off to see the Cubs homecoming parade. Michigan avenue was closed off with police officers and stewards on every corner. It was easier to navigate than Quay street during a Macnas parade. We eventually made it to the edge of Millennium Park. I’ve been to a good few rock concerts over the years but I honestly thought I was going to go deaf with the noise from the cheers of the Cubs fans. After the team had passed we managed to cut through millennium park and get across to “The Gage “ for some lunch. We just about got in the door. 3 hour wait for a table. Standing room only. I spotted Brent Pope in the corner. I asked him if he thought Ireland had any chance of beating the All Blacks. I was expecting him to burst out laughing at me. He told me he reckoned that Ireland had every chance, he didn’t rate the New Zealand second row and that if nothing else it would be a nice weekend. I wasn’t sure if he was just giving me a diplomatic answer.
We managed to find 3 stools at the bar and ordered some lunch. The TV screens at either end of the bar were showing the team presentation. People beside me were cheering on their favourite player. I couldn’t understand it but a guy beside me reminded me what I was like when Connacht brought the Pro12 trophy back to the Sportsground earlier on in the year.
We spent the afternoon sightseeing on Navy Pier and taking in the view of Chicago from the 96th floor of the John Hancock building.
The guys from “Off The Ball” on Newstalk were holding an event with Paul O Connell and Doug Howlett in “ The Gage “ so we decided to head down to see if we could grab a picture. Just by chance I managed to bump into Paulie as he was leaving. When you ask Paul O Connell for a picture and he says “only a selfie “ selfie it is. A short while later I spotted Shane Horgan and Doug Howlett at the bar and managed to get a picture.
Later on my dad got chatting to Shane Horgan. Shaggy was raving about Connacht rugby and about what Pat Lam and his coaching staff have done for Connacht and Irish Rugby. I never thought I’d see the day that I would be standing in Chicago on the eve of an Ireland V New Zealand match listening to Shane Horgan praising Connacht rugby.
The morning of the big game finally arrived and after a breakfast of chicken and waffles we headed for soldier field. I had heard that 90% of the tickets had been bought by Irish fans. Home advantage maybe?
From my seat on the halfway line I could see Joe Schmidt walk to the centre of the pitch to inspect the conditions. It was about 15C with no wind. Excitement was building as the Irish players lined up.
I wanted to capture “The Haka” on video. As I held up the camera to focus on the All Blacks I glanced across at the Irish team. They had lined up in an 8 formation to honour Anthony Foley. If ever they needed a 16th man today was the day. The next 80 minutes will go down in history and there will be songs written about a couple of Galway lads who wondered “will the French ref give us anything”.
I was amazed to see the Irish pack driving back the New Zealanders on a number of occasions. At no point was I getting complacent though. It takes the All Blacks about 3 minutes to complete 20 phases and score a try in the corner. I started to relax after 78 minutes as Ireland had an 11 point advantage, were holding on to the ball and winding down the clock. Even if they did something reckless it would take at least two scores to win. Finally the ball was kicked in to touch. Did that just happen? Ireland 40 New Zealand 29 in Soldier Field Chicago.
After defeating Canada on Saturday with a completely different starting 15 it is going to be interesting to see can the Irish squad create more sporting history in Dublin where they should definitely have home advantage. I reckon they can do it. Can they get a record number of Connacht players on the pitch?