I love Ireland versus Wales. Rather like the Scotland match the games are usually entertaining. The Celtic teams typically are up for playing a bit fast and loose unlike the other team that occupies these islands.
I've seen the fixture at Cardiff a few times but only seen it the once in Dublin. It was the last match played at the old Lansdowne Road, which was an atmospheric, likeable place constructed mostly of crumbling concrete with some old-fashioned standing terraces and a small cottage in one corner (another peasant taking liberties with the notoriously lax Irish planning laws?).
I was there with my brother and after Wales were ignominiously defeated we spent the rest of the afternoon, evening, night and early morning drinking Guinness (natch) in one of the bars beneath the stand and then in what I believe is quite a famous pub, the Beggars Bush.
We'd got talking to a group of farmers from County Carlow. They possessed all the good farmer attributes, being wry, curious, and modest. It turned out they were also fortunate in that they possessed farmland that bordered some expanding towns and villages. The Irish property boom was at its peak: one had just sold a smallish field for three-quarters of a million euros and another had a bar and some other property in New York. So not so typical in that respect.
They invited us to the upcoming World Ploughing Championships. We declined but said they'd have to stay next time they came over for Cheltenham (which they did, at my brother's place). But I regret not taking them up on their invitation.
Apparently, the World Ploughing Championships are an absolutely massive event and they were to be held that year in humble County Carlow. Ploughing being a major sport in Ireland the inhabitants were in a frenzy. At the very least I should have enquired how you win - does the prize go to the fastest, the most accurate, the best artistic impression? Is Ploughing so popular in Ireland that it has its own televised spin-offs, with celebrity and talent show versions? Did any of my companions have a glamourous Ploughing youth, had they been Ploughing prodigies, hero-worshipped by the local community? At least, unlike rugby, it's not a sport that will be ruined by professionalism - I imagine the only way to be a Ploughman is to be a professional (doesn't the idea of the amateur Ploughman incorporate some form of category error?)
But an immersion in the joys of Ploughing wasn't to be. Ah, the furrow not followed. I can picture myself now: standing in a marquee in a muddy, bedrizzled field, the smell of newly-disturbed soil and hot diesel rising to my nostrils, a pint of Guinness in hand, being entertained by friendly, millionaire Irish farmers over the rumble of engines. What a miss!
I'll leave you with a favourite song, a bit of Irish soul-folk. This season, though, it could be the anthem of those other exponents of trundling up and down a field in straight lines, the England rugby team. Slow, predictable and boring: do they really have to let it linger?