It was an evening of milestones as Ireland romped to a 59-5 victory over Scotland, a win that secured a third Irish Grand Slam in the Under-20 Six Nations Championship, their latest triumph sitting alongside those of 2007 and 2019.
The Cork citadel remains impregnable to visiting teams as no Irish Under-20 team has lost here, the raucous atmosphere created by a capacity 8,000 crowd the perfect acoustic soundtrack as Ireland crossed for nine tries with eight players contributing to that tally. Left wing Fionn Gibbons claimed a brace.
There were a number of firsts to celebrate. Ireland had never previously won a Grand Slam on home soil, nor had they beaten France and England away in their two previous clean sweeps. They scored 29 tries in the five matches with 16 different try scorers. The last statistic sums up the brilliant team dynamic that underlined this triumph.
Ireland head coach Richie Murphy’s broad smile needed little elaboration but he paused to try and put some perspective on a journey for a group of players that has started with a 15-8 defeat to Italy in a pre-tournament warm-up at the Belfield Bowl last December to an all-conquering tournament finale.
“It is an incredible achievement. They have just come such a long way in such a short space of time. I’m absolutely delighted for them. They have worked really, really hard and they have become a very close-knit group, as you can see by how they play.
“This morning when I looked at them during the walk-through, they were so switched on, so focused and there was distraction around the place; family coming to the hotel picking up tickets and stuff like that. But they really tuned in and tuned out when they had to. They were very relaxed but you just knew by them that they were focused on the job at hand.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a Grand Slam at senior level. It feels a little bit different when you’re the head coach than when you’re in the support role but it’s a special day for us and I’m delighted for our staff.
“From the coaching point of view, having Jimmy Duffy [forwards] there was incredible, his knowledge and his experience. Myself and Jimmy worked together, I’d say 15 years ago with an Irish U-18s team so we’ve known each other a long time.
“Mark [Sexton] coming in, Willie Faloon have been excellent and I have to say, the backroom staff within the Under-20s system is really, really good from the medical department to nutrition and S&C. I said to the guys this morning at our matchday meeting, ‘listen, thanks very much, you’ve made my job very easy’. And I’m glad for them today as well.
“There were over 50 players looked at, at the start of the season. The things we talked about today were the things we talked about back in October; speed of ball, working hard on our ball carry, working hard on our cleanout area and making sure that we are backing each other up.”
He paid tribute to the support the team received for their three home games in Cork.
“Every time you come down here it’s an amazing place. We’ve trained here for the three days leading up to the game and Musgrave has a special feel to it for us.
“Then when you see the crowds come out, they come into the ground really early and you can see how much it means to them to have the U20s down here. The support has been incredible. I got goosebumps as the lads ran out onto the pitch, it was incredible.”
Ireland’s outstanding captain Reuben Crothers finally emerged from a scrum of well wishers to offer his thoughts on the campaign.
“[On the morning of the game] we spoke about not taking anything for granted, that we would go through our usual processes and give Scotland the respect they deserve. I am really proud of the boys, the way they stood up today. It’s unbelievable to lead this group.”
There is no World Cup for Ireland to compete in this summer but there is talk of some tournament in the northern hemisphere. That’s for another day. Last night belonged to the 2022 Grand Slam champions, a celebration richly merited.