2023 vision: Tales of a turkey coma and World Cup dreams

SOME MEN DREAM prophecies, some nod off to visions of nymphs, more are awoken imagining a fall or their teeth falling out. There’s a recurring dream I have that might be infected by a dose of reality when it next crosses the subconscious during a post-turkey stupor this month.

I’m older in that dream: maybe in nine years the one-bed flat will be expanded to a house, there’s a dog and a new hoverboard in the driveway. You should hear the hum of it, lads. Tis something else.

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Joe Schmidt is still the coach of Ireland’s rugby team, of course.

The Kiwi made steady progress since taking over, delivering back-to-back Six Nations titles before putting Ireland into a first ever World Cup semi-final – that loss to England still hurts.

Between then and losing the final in 2019, Schmidt finally won a Grand Slam (Vern Cotter’s Scotland proved to be a bogey team over the years), beat New Zealand away from home and wore out three more assistant coaches.

All that success came despite him needing annual operations to remove an organ after every stressful series of fixtures. Thankfully, the wonders of modern science means it’s no biggie for Joe.

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The hunger of the man never wilted either. His quest for perfection continued and Ireland began playing a free and fluid brand of rugby just in time for 2023. The whole nation is convinced that this will be our year and – on home soil with Schmidt backed up by a coaching ticket of POC, ROG and BOD – who could blame them?

Stirring, we have to roll over onto a shoulder. The mouth shuts to muffle a snore and the reverie moves closer to the big tournament kick-off.

Sky Sports News has spent three hours in each of the last 360 days issuing special reports about how none of the proposed Stadia for Ireland 2023 are going to be ready. Joke’s on them though, St Tiernach’s Park always looks like this.

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‘A great bunch of lads’

You see, after two World Cups hosted in massive empty echo chambers of stadia in England and Japan, everyone’s agreed that we need some intimate venues to generate a competition with actual atmosphere. That said, we’ve got Croke Park ear-marked for the final and there’ll be big group games in Thomond Park, Ravenhill and the redeveloped Sportsground.

Fiji spent their pre-tournament camp down in Kinsale and have been spotted out taking a feed of Murphy’s three times already. All the locals tell them they’re a great bunch of lads, but it’s cute-hoorism. They face Ireland first up and their chances are being killed by kindness.

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The early highlight of the tournament is Samoa facing down France in Fitzgerald stadium, there’s just something about a haka in front of the mountains that brings a joy to the soul. Les Bleus eked out a win against the other blues, but they’re banged, bruised and nicely softened up for the group decider against Ireland in Croke Park – eat that, Vincent Clerc!

England stationed themselves in Belfast so that they could save on the exchange rate, but the Euro was in by the time they arrived. And because they were unable to avoid the aul’ potato bread, Charlie Hodgson’s squad look a bit on the sluggish side early on.

Augustin Pichot has the ‘we exist’ banner out again. It’s probably not unrelated to the rumour that somebody told the Pumas their Ballybofey training base was only 90 minutes from Dublin, so the rivalry continues.

New Zealand love it out west, naturally. They made themselves a home in Mils Muliaina’s hotel out in Spiddal. After ham-fistedly trying to recruit Schmidt in 2020, the fresh Atlantic air is doing them plenty of good and they’ll be kept from the hosts until the final.

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After beating England in the quarter-final and Australia in the semi, Ireland face up to the All Blacks  and destiny on Jones’ Road. The endorphins flow and the dream turns in to a haze, but a late drop-goal lifts the roof off the Hogan Stand and gives Ireland a first ever home win over New Zealand.

There’s a golden trophy in the forward coach’s hands during the parade – everyone else is too exhausted to carry it – and the sight leaves some departing opponents presuming that the big man already has a street named after him in Dublin and Limerick…

Then a log cracks in the fireplace, a relative busts a gut laughing at man in a dress on TV and the beautiful dream is put on ice again. At least until it becomes a reality.

Are Ireland more likely to win the Rugby World Cup in 2015 or host it in 2023?