Strange how the memory of the most mundane summer’s day assumes all the momentous significance, when your gripped to base of your soul by winter’s heartless grasp.
It’s early February and the wind swirls vengefully around the house like a banshee humiliated by the laughter of a drunk. Snow flurries whirl in haphazard patterns as nighttime forces closure of the curtains and turns the heating up.
February brings the 6 Nations and a show supposed to make you forget the vicissitudes of winter. With it comes all the hubris and hype, the endless punditry and predictions based on little more than mystic Meg formulas.
Too often there is little for the provincial supporter/cynic, ripened on years of fermenting contempt, to cheer. The rugby beating heart gravitates to the provincial rugby power base rather than the national team, especially one that appears selected from pre-ordained lists of names.
Occasionally and fortuitously the cream surfaces from the morass and serves up a glorious spectacle that reminds us what sport and rugby competition is all about.
Such an occasion arrived when Wales and Ireland went at each other like gladiators in a winner takes all coliseum contest. Ireland supporter’s would have been gladdened by the result whilst the Welsh retreated into familiar retrospection.
Funny old game then, for last Sunday the tables were turned. Not that Ireland received a beating or anything like it from England but they were slowly strangled into the Aviva morass.
On a personal level and here I digress slightly, I am trying to build my cycling fitness up ahead of the first sportive of the season, a 65 mile run through the Mournes. Assuming we get something resembling dry conditions.
It has been frustrating over the last few months with the chances of a dry road only slightly better than Italy winning the Six Nations. Last Friday I decided I’d had enough of spinning stationary wheels in the garage and made a decision to cycle.
So it was, I found myself roaming the back roads of Ballygowan in an effort to rack up hours on the bike. The rain teemed down and the wind blew from all directions. Cocooned within winter leggings and multiple layers of base clothing I was relatively warm and watertight.
I managed an hour and three quarters cycling before retiring to complete some minor housework ahead of Friday evening’s rugby. I have recently been unable to acquire tickets for the Ulster games and have resigned myself to sitting on the couch watching the games.
Given I’d spent the guts of a couple of hours in unsavoury conditions then a few beers in the warmth of the house was just reward. I can only imagine there has been an influx of blow ins to the Ulster games as I know of a few other regulars missing out on these games.
I’m not complaining but one would expect that heaven forbid the team starts losing that they don’t drift away as quick as they jumped on the winning bandwagon
As for the match itself, it was entertaining with the Ospreys deserving the win, not the least for scoring a cracker try. Something Ulster have perpetrated on others of recent seasons.
One hopes that Anscombe cracks the whip and induces a reaction. Although much was made of how many the O’s were missing, a quick look down the list of Ulster players, absent for one reason or another is quite frightening.
Saturday arrived in damp mode with the rain continuing to teem down and me breakfasting with family members prior to a visit to the dentist. The afternoon forecast promised an end to the rain.
I set out on the cycle once more in fresh laundered gear for the run down to Whiteabbey and my mothers. Sadly more miles passed under the cycle wheels, by now almost lost in the muck and dirt of a rain sodden afternoon.
The promise of brighter weather was as unlikely as Brian ‘god’ O’Driscoll being dropped by Ireland. Still I lived in hope and waited in vain in the confines of my mother’s living room for the clouds to rent asunder and sunshine to filter through.
There is a strange beauty riding along Belfast Lough shore when the sky and sea merge into one impenetrable grey mass with the sea as flat as glass and the rocks on the shoreline sitting statuesque in gloom.
So it was at 5 o’clock in the gathering gloom I found myself alone on the Comber greenway, the light at the front of my bike flickering in twilight, with only the sound of the bike’s cranks turning and the gentle swish of tyre on wet.
In my reverie my mind turned back to last summer and riding along the same path at 6.30 in the morning, the usual rabbits scurrying out of the way. Suddenly I was joined on the path by a grey squirrel sprinting in front of the bike, tail flying out behind it, like Biggles scarf.
For 15 metres or so this unlikely scenario developed, me drafting the grey squirrel on my bike at a steady 17mph. Just as suddenly the squirrel wheeled away exhausted, puffing mightily in the grass verge. I threw it a gel bar and continued on my way into work. (OK that last sentence wasn’t true!)
Later I wondered how such a small animal could turn in such an athletic performance and I began to wonder if it was on EPO. My suspicions remain unanswered but for others the finger of guilt is pointed especially towards cyclists in the wake of the Lance Armstrong confession.
You needed to watch who your doctor was. As a cyclist it was a tell tale sign of something altogether more sinister than a bad cough being treated if you were visiting certain Spanish and Italian doctors.
The net though continues to grow wider with football and tennis under the microscope. One wonders how long before rugby comes under suspicion given its pre-occupation with muscle build, athletic performance, and lung bursting efforts of flankers in particular, over 80 minutes..
By Sunday morning, having watched Wales turn a very good performance on Saturday evening, I was on my way to a christening, eventually winding up in my brothers house with some wannabee experts on rugby.
Ireland v England patently failed to live up to the hype and although conditions could be blamed for Ireland’s demise my thoughts centred round the physical size of the England players in comparison to the Irish forwards especially.
England thoroughly merited their victory and Ireland were exposed in a way Wales could not manage, by being physically beat up by a more physical pack. I was reminded of the times when Ireland U20’s lined up against their more physically imposing counterparts sporting the red rose.
Sunday seemed like that all over again.
By Sunday evening I was curiously unmoved by Ireland’s defeat and on reading the Monday southern media and the excuses being floated about this player and that depending on who the pundit favoured, I was already turning my attention to Ulster and Friday night and still dreaming of Summer.