The ball was in the air and Paul O'Connell took one look at it and every part of him slumped. His chin dropped to his chest, his hands to his knees, his dreams seemingly to dust. Stephen Jones' last-minute kick was heading dead between the posts and O'Connell shook his head and looked to the ground, sure that Ireland were sunk. But at the last, it died and fell underneath the crossbar into the waiting arms of Geordan Murphy. They did it by a mere foot, a piffling fistful of inches but in the end, Ireland won this exhilarating game 17-15 and with it the Grand Slam. Phew.
This is what everything has been leading to all these years. All Brian O'Driscoll's tries, all Ronan O'Gara's points, every hard David Wallace yard and every soaring O'Connell take. This is what it's all been for. Triple Crown. Championship. Grand Slam. And maybe, above and beyond the earthbound and tangible, vindication.
It was tectonic stuff at times. In all the hubbub and bluster during the week it was mostly overlooked while Warren Gatland might not have been totally right about dislike between Welsh and Irish players, he definitely wasn't 100 per cent wrong. There have been enough needle-filled inter-Celt Heineken Cup matches over the past few years for us all to know that neither sweetness nor light plays much of a part. And so it was hardly with wide-eyed wonder that we looked on and saw a Munster man in Donncha O'Callaghan trade grabbed lapels with and Ospreys man in Ryan Jones inside the opening minute. Or that the pace in the first half an hour was breathless, for every tackle a groan, for every hit a wince.
The last thing Ireland wanted to run into was a side that could not only outdo them for silk but for stone too. One that could soak up pressure, yield territory, cede possession and still come out the other side unmoved and, indeed, in front. Which is more or less a précis of what Wales did in the opening half. To put an even finer point on it, they outMunstered Ireland. They spent time and energy inside their own half and weathered it out, stoic as a lighthouse in a storm. Then they went up the other end of the pitch and Stephen Jones kicked two penalties and the team in red went in at the break 6-0 up. And where have we seen that before?
And so. You're Declan Kidney's Ireland with 40 minutes left to grab the Grand Slam. You've had the better of a half of rugby out of which you've come the worst. You've done well but not well enough, you've been spirited and brave and organised but you've been just short of the bit of ingenuity needed to make the scoreboard give voice to your efforts. In a way, it's been the story of your life. Always there, always a factor but just never good enough. That's what the obituaries will say unless you turn it around. Now go play.
Which is just what they did. They came out and put two tries on the board inside the first five minutes. They told history it had no relevance here, swatted away whatever received wisdom had to say for itself. They stood up and finally told the rest of European rugby what we've always suspected. That beyond the work and the honesty and the never-say-die, there is a group of players who have learned how to be ahead when the music stops.
That second half yesterday, it was as heart-stopping as sport gets. After O'Driscoll and Tommy Bowe hit Wales with their rat-a-tat scores which O'Gara converted to put them 14-6 ahead, every movement of the ball came with a health warning. And that was just for those of us watching on. Inch by little inch, Wales nipped and tucked their way back, two Jones penalties leaving them 14-12 down with five minutes to go.
Five minutes. Sounds like nothing, doesn't it? Not here it wasn't. Not yesterday. Here, it was time enough for the lead to change hands twice, first through a Jones drop goal and then through one for the ages from O'Gara.
And it was time enough for Jones to sink Paul O'Connell's heart into his boots as that last kick took flight, enough too for him to see Murphy collect, run around for a second unsure as to what to do and then kick the ball, the heartache, the jibes and 61 years of hurt high into the Millennium Stadium stands.
Ain't it grand?