21 March 2009

Once every sixty Years...

In contrast to our Western (originally Babylonian) system of Astrology, which uses a cycle of 12 Zodiac signs over 12 months, the even older Chinese Astrology uses a cycle of 12 signs over a time span of 60 years.
While we acknowledge four elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth) in addition to the principal signs, the Chinese have five (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth). And since in China each sign reigns for a full year - instead of a month in our system - that makes five sub-cycles of 12 years each, which form a full cycle of 60 years. This means that during the lifetime of an average human being each year offers a different condition, and only the very old will experience a repeat of some astrological years.

Even here in the West, where longevity has increased steadily since the end of World War II, six decades is a very long time. Even more so when it is the time someone has to wait for a certain and much desired achievement, while making a fresh attempt at it every year. And when it does happen eventually, the joy and emotions are enormous.

A couple of hours ago the Irish Rugby team (which is an all-Ireland team with players from both jurisdictions on the Emerald Isle) achieved the highest possible honours available to any team in the Northern hemisphere. They not only won the 'Triple Crown' (which means they have beaten all of the other three 'home nations' England, Scotland and Wales), they also finished this year's series with the rarely achieved 'Grand Slam' (which means that they have won every match they played and thus beaten all other teams in the annual Six Nations Championship).

In fact, in the 107 championship series that took place since 1883 (first among the four 'home nations', then as the Five Nations including France and - after Italy was admitted in 2000 - as the Six Nations Championship) a 'Grand Slam' was achieved only 35 times.
And for Ireland today's total success on the Rugby field is only the second 'Grand Slam' ever in the history of the sport.* The first time they did it was 61 years ago, in 1948!

Every year, during the weeks when late Winter turns into early Spring, this contest grips the full attention of Irish people. As regular readers of this weblog will know, I am neither a sports fan of any kind, nor particularly interested in Rugby. But even I could not help myself but listen to the live coverage of the match today, my ears pricked to attention while the commentators on RTÉ Radio 1 were carried away with free-flowing Celtic emotions.

That this - the last match of the 2009 Six Nations Championship - took place at the magnificent Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital Cardiff gave it a particularly high tension and special sporting importance. Rugby is - and has been for generations - the main sport in Wales and the Welsh are pretty good at it, too. So it was not just any match that both teams played there today, it was a true clash of the giants. Had Wales won, they would have deprived Ireland of both titles. And during the first half it looked as if they would do exactly that. The half-time score of Wales 6 - Ireland 0 was not received well on the Emerald Isle. Hearts of fans and spectators began slowly to sink, giving rise to this terrible thought again that we Irish are "simply not good enough"...
How often have we heard this during the past six months? Or even thought it ourselves? There are times when one wonders if the Irish can do anything right and proper at all.
We not only missed all the signs of the imminent world economic crisis throughout 2007 & 2008, we had to make things a lot worse by creating our own crisis on top of that, a crisis much more serious than anything that Wall Street and the City of London can throw at us.

We began to get rich during the early 1990s, quite suddenly and totally unexpected. But instead of good housekeeping, prudent behaviour and reluctant pride which would have been in order, we went completely over the top. We got drunk on the sudden wealth, just as we get drunk so often in our pubs on beer and whiskey. Then we staggered out into the night and made mischief, plenty of mischief.
For the past six months we are beginning to wake up from it all, not sure where we actually are, how much we have blown and how much - any - we have left in our pockets. Our banks, which are controlled by a bunch of selfish, greedy and immoral crooks, have behaved even worse than the rest of us and expect in a matter of fact way to be rescued by the government and massively recapitalised with taxpayers' - which means our - money. At the same time they turn nasty on their normal customers, the ordinary people and especially small businesses who have done not a thing wrong. To crown this ecstasy of failure and disaster, we also have the most incompetent government in the history of the state.
Meanwhile wages are reduced and taxes rise and rise, while consumer prices remain high. This is the truly bleak background in front of which one has to see today's great and amazing sporting achievement.

Being six points behind after the first half and having not scored a single point yet, Ireland came back onto the pitch for the second half with a lot of extra ambition. Soon the team showed what they are capable of. In a complete change to the way they played in the first half, now the Irish dominated and within a few minutes their captain Brian O'Driscoll (left) scored the first try. This gave the team a huge emotional boost, and a little later Tommy Bowe scored the second try for Ireland (see large photo below).
Wales, although strong and playing with great skills and energy, did not manage to score any tries at all. Their points came from field goals and penalties.

By the time the match went into its final phase, Ireland was leading 14-12 and many people here started already celebrating. Then Wales scored 3 points with another goal, giving them a narrow one-point lead with the score standing now at 15-14. And time was running out.

Was it all going to end in tears for Ireland? Had their fight-back come too late? Or were they just not meant to win this match, to fail once again and fall at the final hurdle of the contest?
These were the thoughts going through the minds of thousands of Irish people, Rugby fans and ordinary folk alike.
But then - with less than three minutes left to play - the Irish were in the lead again. The team's top goal kicker Ronan O'Gara (right) sent the oval ball straight down the line between the Welsh posts, which meant the score changed to Wales 15 - Ireland 17. And at that it remained until the referee blew the final whistle.

Within seconds Ireland was transformed into 'Happyland' and everywhere the celebrations and cheering began.

Nobody expects the Irish economy to be saved by Rugby, and everyone knows that our deep sorrows and serious problems will be there tomorrow morning unchanged, as they were here yesterday. But for a few hours tonight and tomorrow the whole of Ireland will be in a state of great joy, happiness and celebration. It's the way we are, and we so desperately need something to cheer us up during this period of political and economical depression...

The nation has waited 61 years for this day, longer than a complete cycle of Chinese Astrology, and only the most senior of senior citizen will have experienced this before.

For the victorious Irish team, which has played very well now for several years, it is a truly great and historic achievement. And as it happens, today's match was the last for Ireland's steadfast and magnificent team captain Brian O'Driscoll. What a way to say good-bye, what a way to enter the annals of history!

Today's success is of course also an enormous achievement for the team manager Declan Kidney (left), who took charge of the Irish Rugby team less than a year ago. For him 2009 was the first Six Nations Championship and he achieved the absolute maximum possible right away.

But of course Kidney is not a novice. The 48-year-old Corkman was coach of
Munster, the most successful of the Irish provincial teams, for many years and is now bringing all the experience he gathered there to the national side.

I like to take this opportunity to congratulate our team, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and the whole nation on this special day that saw even me cheering for a sports team.

The Emerald Islander

* England won 12 'Grand Slams', Wales 10, France 8 and Scotland 3. Ireland - with now 2 - is the second last in that ranking list, as Italy (which only joined the competition in the year 2000 and has clearly the weakest of the six teams) has not won any (yet).

1 comment:

FunPhotoEditor said...

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