Life in London for a rugby loving transport engineer
27 January 2016
Author: Hugh McCarthy, MIEI CIHT, chartered engineer, is vice-chair of the Engineers Ireland GB Region
Since I moved to London in early 2011, I have been lucky enough to witness some historical sporting events there such as the 2012 Olympics, the 2011 and 2013 Champions League finals, the greatest finish to a football league season while squeezing in the odd snooker tournament at Alexandra Palace. And last, but not least, the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Growing up in 1990s Ireland, I did not have the best introduction to rugby with dreary memories of Ireland playing in the old Five Nations where matches were usually played out on miserable muddy pitches on slow Saturday afternoons.
It wasn’t until the 2000s and the success of the Munster and Leinster rugby teams that Ireland really started to hit its stride as a genuine rugby nation. This was crowned in 2009 with the first rugby Grand Slam for more than 50 years. Soon after, I found myself emigrating to London to continue my career as a transport engineer.
An education in the art of rugby
Moving to London certainly broadened my horizons, particularly in terms of how the game of rugby is played. Working with South Africans (Saffas) and New Zealanders (Kiwis) exposed me to the more creative side of rugby rather than the power and energy philosophy which has taken over in recent times. However, it was moving into a house with English and Welsh people that really ignited my interest in rugby.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts when Wales knocked Ireland out of the 2011 World Cup, and with England winning the Six Nations the same year. This included witnessing the ‘Auld Enemy’ beat Ireland on St Patrick’s Day, which also hurt. Having considered myself a republican, experiencing the blanket coverage of England and Team GB was a tricky adjustment (never thought I’d miss George Hook).
During this time, I also discovered an O’Neill’s pub in Muswell Hill which is one of the most Irish of buildings in London. Originally it functioned as a church in the mid-1960s but now resides as a pub that televises rugby, GAA and Joe Brolly on extra large screens.
‘The sign of true sporting greatness is retaining titles’
While the 2009 championship may have felt like a flash in the pan, the double wins of 2014 and 2015 have set Ireland up with a consistent winning mentality, which was unthinkable 20 years ago. The seeds of this began once again on St Patrick’s weekend in 2014, with Ireland needing to win against France in Paris. Anything less and the title was England’s.
As this was also March 15 and my 29th birthday, emotions were somewhat charged in Philomena’s pub, Covent Garden. The first half finished with France taking a 13-12 lead despite Johnny Sexton missing two simple kicks. With 20 minutes to go, Ireland now had a two-point cushion – the sort of lead ready to be wiped out by a try, penalty or just about any score.
Ten minutes to go, France have a penalty. Missed. Two minutes to go, France are building pressure, circulating the ball faster, Ireland’s defence are being stretched and perforated, and then open space on right, French pass; Try. Except it isn’t, forward pass, not a try. “You can’t trust the French with anything” was one English reply.
Ireland had won the championship on points difference and mirrored the 2007 championship when France had come out on top. A fitting end to Brian O’Driscoll’s career. What were Ireland to do now?
Again in March 2015, it occurred again when Wales, England and Ireland all had a chance of winning on the last day. And again, it came down to the last game with England needing to win by 26 points at home against a French side with nothing to play for. Of course, what happened is that the French played brilliantly scoring two tries in the first 20 minutes. While England did manage to be ahead at half-time, it proves to be too much ground to make up. Now I was starting to realise why the English don’t like the French…
For more than two years now, I’ve been working with Transport for London (TfL), an organisation that plays a key role in managing travel around London for the big sporting events. For me, projects that I have been working on have been carefully co-ordinated around these times to ensure that services aren’t disrupted and thousands of fans aren’t affected while travelling to games.
Oh, and something else I’ve managed to do: being able to put my arm around the Webb Ellis Trophy in my office – now that’s not a bad photo, and indeed memory.
Hugh McCarthy (@corconian)