A Friday evening in early September and Belfast is basking in an Indian summer. Into a balmy sky flies a spinning rugby ball, followed hungrily by 30 sets of eyes on the pitch and a few tens of thousands off it
Ravenhill, Ulster Rugby’s modest but adored home is rocking. Rugby season is back – and people couldn’t be happier. Peter Irwin of Ulster Rugby’s Fanzine sets the scene for a night at Ravenhill:
“The Ravenhill atmosphere isn’t exclusive to Friday nights, but that’s when it’s best savoured. Of course, when Ulster goes over the line, the crowd just goes wild. It’s goosebump stuff for the whole 80 minutes.”
Stick around, though: Ravenhill is certainly not Ireland’s only revered rugby home.
Ulster is just one of the island’s four big name provincial sides who strut forward high in the ranks of the major European Rugby Union championships. On the opposite end of the island, that up and under Rubgy Union high kick that gives full-backs of both hemispheres knocking knees?
It’s called the Garryowen, and the term originated in the town of the same name in County Limerick. The red shirts of those who ascend to the ranks of Munster defend Thomond Park with the pride of a pack of lions.
Just up the coastline, green and black shirts of Connacht bring a sense of the wild west to proceedings at the Galway Sportsground. While usually the west is coveted ground of the GAA, Connacht’s inclusion in the Heineken Cup blue riband competition has introduced the sport to a much larger audience in its native province, so is now a massive force to be reckoned with.
Finally, the fourth provincial side resides in the Republic of Ireland’s capital city of Dublin: the blues of Leinster are no stranger to massive European success and have kept the Heineken Cup in their trophy cabinet for an amazing two successive years.
Ireland’s all-island rugby team
Literally around the corner from Leinster’s Donnybrook HQ sits the Aviva Stadium. Within its voluptuous curves and transparent panels lies the battlefield for the Irish Rugby Team. International heroes like Brian O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Paul O’Connell call this hallowed turf home.
Six Nations Championship
For many of the rugby fraternity, the season reaches its climax with the Six Nations. In the chilly first days of February Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy begin two months of thrilling sporting theatre.
For super-fan Shane Timmons, Dublin’s Aviva stadium is the ultimate stage:
“On a Six Nations match day, the Aviva has this intense atmosphere. Since the refurbishment, the layout allows the crowd to enjoy a closer view from their seats to catch every bone-crunching hit.
“It’s Ireland's Colosseum, where the 30-man game of war is let loose on the public! The buzz in the city afterwards is almost as good as the game. Any rivalry is left on the pitch and the craic [fun] in the pubs is mighty. It’s my favourite time of year to be in Dublin.”
thrill of the game and the nightlife to match; who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?