Clincher: Ronan O'Gara celebrates his dramatic late drop-goal that secured the Grand Slam for Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff yesterday

WHERE to begin on a night when fate at last pointed its fickle finger in the direction of this Ireland team allowing them to walk away with a Grand Slam, a Six Nations title and a Triple Crown? Probably at the end of a momentous occasion with Stephen Jones's penalty from halfway falling just short of its target, and with ecstatic players in green jerseys celebrating the end of years of heartache.

If the 1948 triumph was monochrome, this time the Irish tasted glory in the brightest possible technicolour. Ronan O'Gara's magnificent drop goal seemed to have settled everything that was on the line in Cardiff, but a dramatic game of such high stakes simply had to have a final twist.

An errant hand at the bottom of a ruck was spotted by referee Wayne Barnes, and suddenly Wales and Jones had an opportunity to spoil the party with the very last play. No one bar the kicker himself will know why the ball ran out of steam when it had initially looked so good.

After all they had given in what was a truly riveting contest Brian O'Driscoll and his team could have done without those seconds of agony, but they and many of their predecessors know that Slams don't come easy. As Jones looked away in despair, all the blood, sweat and tears of the golden generation were finally worth it. Underachievers no more.

Where Ireland had lost their nerve in the past, this was a victory for persistence and heart. A grinding, territorially-dominant performance had exploded like a nova in the early stages of the second half when tries in rapid succession from Brian O'Driscoll and Tommy Bowe appeared to have killed the Welsh effort stone dead.

At 14-6 with the home line-out in disarray and with O'Gara continuing to expose the defensive combination of Shane Williams and Gavin Henson, suddenly it looked as if Ireland would win pulling up. If Wales never quite hit their stride, they did enough to force the winners into giving away a few soft penalties which Jones picked off. A rare darting run by Shane Williams had the Irish defence at full stretch and then after Mike Phillips had bludgeoned his way into the 22, Jones coolly dropped a goal to make it 15-14.

There were five minutes left and with a packed arena ringing to the sound of joyous Welsh voices, you wondered if Ireland had the bottle to save their season and their reputations. But as the stadium clock moved inexorably towards full time, how could we have doubted a team largely constructed in the image of Munster.

While its architect, Declan Kidney, couldn't have predicted the outcome, he would have known if his forwards were able to create the right sort of field position, then he had someone on the pitch who would shoulder the burden of winning the game.

From a line out on the Welsh 22, Ireland picked and drove with the sort of patience and organisation we've been accustomed to in this championship, and appropriately, it was Peter Stringer – on in place of Tomas O'Leary – who delivered the pass to O'Gara.

If the drop goal wasn't the most sweetly struck of his career, it was by far the most important. In fact, no one in world rugby since Jonny Wilkinson in the 2003 has landed a kick of such magnitude. O'Gara hasn't had his best championship, and perhaps he is not even sure of a place in the Lions squad, yet this was unwavering self-belief before our very eyes.

The Six Nations schedulers and the near 75,000 who witnessed this fearsome encounter couldn't really have wished for anything more full-blooded. Gordon D'Arcy's searing break at the off didn't set the tone, because Ireland played for position through the boots of O'Gara and Tomas O'Leary.

Take it as read that some of the collisions could be heard above the constant din, and Stephen Ferris, who would surely have revelled in the physical exchanges, was an early casualty with a damaged finger. In Denis Leamy, Ireland had a replacement ready-made for the fray, but their dominance in the first half worryingly yielded no score and Wales went in 6-0 ahead through a couple of Jones penalties.

But frustration suddenly turned to ecstasy after the interval when O'Driscoll muscled his way over from close range, and then Bowe connected with a perfect O'Gara chip that bounced wickedly between Henson and Shane Williams to storm away for a second try. O'Gara converted both and suddenly Ireland had history in their crosshairs.

Once again Paul O'Connell was magnificent as he charged forward ball in hand and terrorised the Wales line out, and Bowe emphasised his progress with another excellent performance. But even as they coughed up too many penalties, Ireland were more about collective will and drive than anything else.

While it all came down to O'Gara's glory shot, the championship season has been one fuelled by confidence, experience and some intelligent coaching. If the modus operandi haven't been the most spectacular, it was still the sweetest of successes. And last night, leaving the Millennium Stadium and heading into Cardiff with its beer slops and its discarded takeaways, it was good to be Irish in Slam city.

Scoring sequence

32 mins S Jones pen, 3-0 38 mins S Jones pen, 6-0 44 mins O'Driscoll try, O'Gara con, 6-7 46 mins Bowe try, O'Gara con, 6-14 51 mins S Jones pen, 9-14 55 mins S Jones pen, 12-14 75 mins S Jones drp gl, 15-14 78 mins O'Gara drp gl, 15-17