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2009 Grand Slam 15th Anniversary

The 15th Anniversary of Ireland becoming the Grand Slam Champions 2009

Irish rugby has gone through a golden age since the turn of the century with legendary players and coaches coming through the system to provide fans all over the country with unforgettable moments, victories, and most importantly titles, which for so long was craved intensely on the emerald isle.

Back to the start

With a new generation of players coming through into the newly formed professional game and a handful of triple crown success’ in the early 2000’s - it was now Ireland’s time to lift the historic Six Nations Trophy. With no championship title since 1985 and a lone Grand Slam even further back in 1948, the stage was set for Irish Rugby to carve out a new chapter in its history.

In the world of sports, adversity often paves the way for future success. For the talented team of 2009, the 2007 World Cup served as a defining moment. The disappointment of their group stage exit felt like a watershed moment for a team on the verge of glory. Despite achieving three Triple Crowns in a four-year period, the elusive major victory remained out of reach. This setback fuelled their determination and set the stage for their eventual triumphs.

Now or never!

In the summer of 2008, the appointment of Declan Kidney as the new Head Coach of Ireland brought a blend of optimism and caution as the team entered the 2009 Six Nations. Following a series of mixed results in the autumn internationals, uncertainty loomed over the team's potential performance, raising questions about whether they would finally break through or face another near miss.

With the development of the Aviva Stadium still ongoing, Ireland’s home games would once again be played at Croke Park. First up on opening weekend, the Irish welcomed France in what felt like a pivotal game for both team’s title aspirations.

In typical Six Nations fashion there was drama, elation, devastation and in the end for Ireland - euphoria! A back-and-forth contest ended with a 30-21 victory for the men in green. After a routine win against the Italians, next up was a titanic clash against the English under the lights at Croke Park. A fixture for the ages, one of history, hope, pride and passion. The game appeared to be in the bag when a Ronan O’Gara penalty on the 71st minute put the Irish beyond a converted score (14-6) with less than ten minutes to play. However, in true Irish rugby history there was drama until the last second! A Delon Armitage try with two minutes to go gave England hope of snatching a famous victory, but it wasn’t to be and the Irish emerged victorious 14-13. With three wins from three, the question soon became obvious once again, would this be the year?

History achieved or repeated

The path to success was nothing if not laid with potential traps. A trip across the Irish Sea to Scotland was to be followed by a daunting trip to Cardiff, where a potential Grand Slam could be won. The Welsh with title aspirations of their own, would enter the final round knowing that a win against the Irish would secure the Triple Crown and a potential to snatch the title from Ireland at the final hurdle. A tight and tense game in Murrayfield against Scotland was finally put to bed with a late penalty from Ireland’s talismanic number 10 Ronan O’Gara. The dream of a second Grand Slam 61 years in the making was now closer than ever.

The Final Act

A dark night under the lights at the Millennium (now Principality) Stadium awaited the Irish as they went in search of history! The challenge against the defending champions was immense. The Welsh hadn’t lost at home in the Championship for over two years, ironically to Ireland. With the Championship and the Triple Crown on the line for both teams, it was undoubtedly a titanic battle.

After a slow and steady first half, neither team giving an inch to the other, the game burst into life at the beginning of the second half with two quick tries for Ireland. Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe crossed the line, with additional points added by Ronan O’Gara. Ireland were now in control of the game at 6-14.

However,  as the noise of the crowd pulsating throughout the stadium, the defending champions were not about to lie down. Wales rallied and through the boot of Stephen Jones, they pulled themselves back to within two points. The score was 12-14 to the Irish entering the final 10 minutes of the 2009 Championship.

Then, as if written by a Hollywood Executive, Wales were awarded a penalty with just a few minutes to go. Stephen Jones steps up and calmly put Wales 15-14 in front, with Irish dreams of history and the elusive Grand Slam began to slip away.

However, in moments such as these, it is often those who keep the calmest and focused on the objective that prevail. Ronan O’Gara, an Irish Rugby legend who had already established himself as a true great of the game, was the one out of the 75,000 in attendance and millions watching at home whom with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, drop kicked Ireland with just a minute remaining into a 15-17 lead - ending the game victorious! The Championship and 61 years after the first, the Grand Slam was Ireland's once more.

The elation at home in Ireland was felt for days and weeks to come, and the impact on Irish Rugby was profound. Ireland would go on to win another two Grand Slams in 2018 and 2023, as well as back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015.

The 2009 vintage is one team that will live long in the memory. The impact, history, players, and final act in Cardiff paved, the way for future stars and teams to build on that success.

With three wins from four in this 2024 campaign, we enter into this weekend with the hopes of winning back-to-back championships for the first time since 2015. A victory in this year's campaign would be a fitting tribute to the men of 2009 who helped lay the foundation for the success Ireland have achieved and are continuing to have as we move through the 2020's.