C’etait dur trois semaines sans internationaux. It was a hard three weeks without our internationals, and it got worse when I decided to get rid of the scrumcap against Castres.
Before those three weeks we had Stade Francais on November 6th at home.
This was the game everyone had been waiting for all year. It had been a sell-out for two weeks. Since I’ve been in Toulouse, we’ve met them three times and lost three times: in the first year we met them in the final of the championship and lost, and last season we played them home and away in the championship.
The lads had been going crazy all week. The normal laughing and joking that’s there on a Monday and Tuesday just wasn’t there. You could see that this was going to be an all-out war. That had been the talk in the build-up all week and come Saturday that’s what it was.
Everybody put everything they had into the game and we came away 32-16 winners, picking up a bonus point when Vincent Clerc scored our fourth try in injury time.
The next three games would be Narbonne, Castres and Agen. With 20 minutes to go and us just winning by 8-6, myself and Isitolo Maka entered the pitch.
They got a penalty to put them 9-8 ahead with a minute to go on the clock and then scored a penalty try in injury time to beat us 16-8. A week after beating the champions, we didn’t even get a bonus point a home.
There just wasn’t the same feeling going into the game. There had been a totally different attitude all week. The laughing and joking was back, and we turned up on the day not focussed enough. It was like we’d won the championship against Stade Francais and yet the Narbonne game was the one we would have targeted without our nine internationals.
There were two changes against Castres the following week, with myself and Izzy both starting. I got a call from Brendan Burke that himself, Brian O’Meara and David Quinlan were on their way over to meet up with Benny Willis on the Thursday. Benny has just signed a new two-year contract with Beziers. He drove down to pick up the boys, while Brian O’Meara had been over to see Mick O’Driscoll in Perpignan and got the train down from there, and I hooked up with them later on.
We had lunch in the Place Capital, followed by a few pints in De Danu.
Again I was on the orange juice watching the four lads getting stuck into a couple of creamy pints. I organised a few tickets for the match away to Castres and arranged someone to give them a lift.
But that was the last I saw of the lads for the weekend, as I got knocked out against Castres. I was told it wasn’t a bad game. Castres didn’t get their bonus point, as they’d been talking about all week. As we were without our internationals and had lost at home to Narbonne, they thought this was one they would walk.
In the 66th minute they had just kicked a penalty to move 18-17 ahead. In a temper I took off the head gear and threw it into touch, and I said to myself that from this kick-off I was going to make a big hit on somebody.
That was the last thing I remember when I woke up in the hospital.
Luckily I had all the best medical treatment on the pitch at the time. I was knocked out for 15 minutes and swallowed my tongue. Guy Noves came onto the pitch and tried to force my mouth open with our physio, and I bit two of his fingers nearly through to the bone, which he let me know about the following Monday. I said to him: “you should never stick your fingers in an Irishman’s mouth.”
That night in the hospital I got calls from Justin Fitzpatrick, who plays for Castres, Brendan Burke and Brian O’Meara. Christian Gajan, the coach of Castres, came to visit me in the hospital that night and arranged to pick me up the next morning and drive me back to Toulouse.
On the way back we stopped off in his house and he asked me if I wanted to see the incident (it had been shown live on television). I said I wasn’t too sure but why not. So as we watched it as his wife made me breakfast. I have to say I haven’t seen too many knock-outs like it and seeing it on the video brought it all back to me, and made me appreciate how lucky I was to be there having breakfast in his house.
Jacques Deen, Castres’ South African number 8, had come in place of Paul Volley and had gathered the restart. I was the first one up to make a tackle. He didn’t slow down, and I didn’t slow down. At the last second he dipped his shoulder, which caught me on the bottom of the jaw and his forehead caught me on the side of the temple.
The two of us dropped like logs. He was out for a minute and when he got up he was a bit shook as well. As for me, picture the scene in the Jerry Maguire movie, when the “show me the money” fella gets a touchdown but lies on the ground, apparently unconscious. The only differences were that I was out for about five minutes longer and when I got up there was no dance.
It turns out we lost the game 21-20. They kicked a drop goal in the 14th minute of injury time. We’d also had our prop Patrick Colazzo sent off. This was for a real eye-gouging incident on Mauricio Reggiardo, who suffered a damaged retina.
As I was ruled out of the game against Agen I booked a flight home for myself, Paula and the two boys, Josh and Daniel, last Thursday. (They stayed on for a week whereas I had to come back on Sunday for a scan on Monday). I arrived in Dublin totally worn out but it was a great sight flying in over the city seeing all the changes. Houses being thrown up everywhere, no towers in Ballymun. I’d last been home on November 6th last year for my brother’s wedding.
My good friend Alan Graham picked us up at the airport and brought us home.
We had a busy day ahead. Lunch in the father and mother-in-law’s house, Paddy and Kate. The first thing Paddy said to me was he’d been buying The Irish Times for the last few weeks and he was wondering why my articles weren’t in it. I had to explain to him that it’s only for European Cup games. He thought I’d got the sack from the paper.
The mother invited me home for dinner later that day. When I told her I was coming home she said “son, what do you want for dinner?” I said: “Me favourite ma, bacon and cabbage.” Well, the ma didn’t let me down. It was like walking into the house for dinner on Christmas Day. The good table was set, crystal glasses out, the good knives and forks, and a couple of bottles of vin rouge from her last trip out here.
The house hasn’t changed much except that downstairs is now like a Trevor Brennan museum. All that’s missing is a plaque outside: “Trevor Brennan born here, 22/9/1973, weighing in at 10lbs…” blah, blah. Blah. The last time the father was out here he’d picked up a poster about the size of a bus stop sign of me catching a ball in a line-out.
The fanatic took it from a sponsor’s tent and he has it framed, about 4″
high by about 3″ wide in the middle of the sitting-room. The poor mother is driven mad with it. I also made arrangements to meet up with a few friends in one of the local bars that night. Some-one started singing after a few pints and the rest is history. Great night.
On Friday morning I was woken up early by the two kids and I’m dragged out shopping on the pretext that the kids need some clothes. I try to tell Paula that there’s lots of kids’ clothes shops in France but of course I’m still dragged out kicking and screaming.
After the shopping we went to the Coombe hospital to pick up the sister-in-law, where she had a baby girl called Shiog. Six weeks premature and weighing in at just 4lbs. Congratulations Jacinta and Lofty! Driving up Meath Street and turning the corner toward the Coombe, the two boys are going mad in the back. I tell them: “Listen lads, this is where it all started for you. This is where you were born. Two of the great days in my life.”
While Paula went with the sister to see the baby _ it was a family only visit _ I had a coffee in the coffee shop while the two lads had two cokes and two bars of chocolate. I swore them to secrecy as Paula doesn’t let them eat coke or chocolate. She has them on a diet of fruit and juice but when you’re suffering from a hangover you’ll do anything for a bit of peace.
After a while the boys were getting a bit restless. I think the cokes and the chocolates were kicking in. I ended up in the car park of the Coombe getting some strange looks as myself and the boys were simulating live scrums and tackling, and thanking God I was not here to pick up another one!
We went to Kielys in Donnybrook for lunch, as I used to do every day in my time with Leinster. I got a warm bienvenue and lunch was great. It was funny seeing people sitting in the same places as they were when I was last here two years ago. It was great to see the Die Hard poster still up on the wall and the Toulouse jersey still up on the wall as you come in the door. It was like home from home.
On parting Kielys, Steve gave me a Die Hard poster and a crate of old Guinness bottles to decorate my De Danu. On Friday night we decided to have a quiet meal with a few friends in a new Indian restaurant in Maynooth, saving myself for the Big Day on Saturday.
The trip down memory lane started by watching the nephew playing for Barnhall under 8s. I’d say there were 150 kids ranging from six to 12, with all the parents giving up their spare time to coach them. This is where it all started for me too.
We headed off to the match at about 3.00 and met up with my agent and friend John Baker in Ryans in Sandymount. I’d made a few calls earlier in the week looking for tickets and John was the man who was first to respond.
John was the man who originally got me the contract in Toulouse. Nothing but the best. Two tickets in the West Upper. Fair play John, you’ve never let me down.
We also met Twiggy Miller, Eric’s dad, and his mother Trish, John McWeeney and numerous other people. It was one of the nicest feelings I had for the hour-and-a-half we were there, and then walking up from Ryans, meeting so many familiar faces. The last international I’d been to see was Ireland-New Zealand game three years ago.
I got a bit emotional watching the lads during the National Anthem. It brought back some old memories and I thought to myself “I’d love just one more chance to put on that jersey and stand there for the anthems.” After about 20 minutes I swore to God I’d never drink again. I couldn’t go to the toilets then _ “look at Trevor Brennan, drinking before the match.” I held out ‘till the 39th minute, made a dash for it and luckily ended up in the press box, where I picked up a couple of coffess and chocolate bickies to warm the old cockles in the second-half.
Myself and Paula went to Roly’s Bistro for a first ever meal there, and despite no booking on the night of an international the management were very nice, giving us a table as long as were out by 9.00. After about half an hour I was wondering would anyone give us a menu before 9.00. But I have to say the service was top-class and the food was great.
We met up with Victor and a couple of old friends in Smyths in Haddington Road, and then headed into the Shelbourne Hotel to meet up with a few of the lads. They closed the bar at 11.00, but we bumped into Omar Hasan and wangled our way through the door to where the post-match meal took place.
It was great to meet up with everybody. Eddie O’Sullivan came over to me and we chatted for about 15 minutes. We spoke about the French being hammered by New Zealand. He said he wished they’d play like that in the Six Nations. He asked me how I got my two tickets so I told him that they were actually in his name. He laughed so I told him I wouldn’t mind the same two tickets again for the next match.
Actually, he could go one better and give me a few runs in the Six Nations next year. I don’t want to be going on a Lions tour without having some international matches under my belt. The All Blacks seem to be really on fire at the moment.
(In an interview with Gerry Thornley, rugby correspondent of The Irish Times).