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19th Mar 2017

Donnacha Ryan’s gesture to a young Irish fan as he left the Aviva Stadium was lovely to witness

Top man

Patrick McCarry

“We’ll see on Saturday.”

It was a short, simple statement but Donnacha Ryan’s eyes were gleaming.

The Thursday before England rocked up to the Aviva Stadium with a Grand Slam within their grasp and Ryan was impatient. He could hardly wait to get at them.

Peter O’Mahony spoke of the sense of pure heartbreak in the Irish dressing room, on March 10, as they tried to absorb a punishing loss to Wales at the Principality Stadium.

The Irish players would have played England the next morning, at 6am, if it meant they could shake off the feeling of shame that had soaked in after the final whistle. Ireland had, according to O’Mahony, let their country down by failing to take the championship into its final day.

Instead, they had to wait, and brood, and plot, and fester for a long, arduous week.

“We’ll see on Saturday.”

England would get their hands on the Six Nations title after the game but it was a game in which Ireland proved to be far superior in just about every department. Ryan was the epitome of Irish ferocity as he climbed into every white-clad body he could.

He called the lineouts well, rucked with menacing intent and scragged the maul up the pitch. When England heaved back, in the second half, he helped see off the storm and, to his teammates, urged:

“Come on now, lads, they’ve had their patch. They’ve had their time!”

He seethed and broiled all match and was there at the death as Ireland saw England off 13-9.

Following the game, as we waited to chat to CJ Stander in the Aviva Stadium tunnel, Ryan headed out to the team bus in his team suit and a pair of adidas runners. That weight of the world that he had carried all week was gone and that easy smile had returned.

He thanked the staff as he headed for the team bus before stopping as he reached the door. He reached into his team bag and plucked out the match socks he had worn that evening. Turning back, he handed the socks to a surprised, and delighted, teenager that had been working at the game.

As Ryan headed back out, the young lad’s co-worker patted him on the back. A little victory on a night when, for Ireland, losing was not an option.

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