x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The magic and charm of the Irish citadel

Second home For all the noise that Croke Park produces, it lacks the intimacy and old world charm of Lansdowne Road.

The gates are locked shut on Lansdowne Road. The home of Irish rugby is in the midst of a ?365million (Dh1.7bn) facelift and is set to reopen in April next year. In the meantime, Ireland's Six Nations internationals are being played across Dublin at Croke Park. For all the noise that Croke Park produces, it lacks the intimacy and old world charm of Lansdowne Road. My first visit to Lansdowne Road came for France's visit in the 1987 Five Nations. The French edged that game 19-13, the first of a long list of painful defeats.

No game was more thrilling or painful than the 1991 World Cup quarter-final loss against an Australia side that went on to become world champions. The Irish nearly pulled off the shock of the tournament when, with five minutes left, flanker Gordon Hamilton found himself with the ball in hands, stormed past the Wallaby legend David Campese and outsprinted the wing the remaining 40 yards to the line for a stunning try.

Spectators and players mobbed Hamilton as Ireland moved into a three-point lead. But the jubilation was shortlived as Ireland conceded a late penalty. Rather than go for the safe three points to level the match, Michael Lynagh decided to take a quick penalty which was duly rewarded by him finishing off the move with a try. The packed stadium was silenced and I have never seen more grown men cry. Lansdowne Road was a scene of silent devastation.

Since then, there have been plenty of games, plenty more defeats and plenty of big wins. I witnessed Brian O'Driscoll light up the Six Nations for the first time and Keith Wood dance a jig in celebration after dashing England's Grand Slam hopes in 2001. The only shame is that the ground is now called the Aviva Stadium: for me, it will always be Lansdowne Road.