Inspired by the recent win of the New Zealand All Blacks at the 2015 rugby world cup and the even more recent and very untimely death of Jonah Lomu, their legendary and truly giant winger, my mind starts wandering to “Legendary sporting days in Ireland”.
On the 31st of October 1978 the All Blacks on a northern hemisphere tour took on Munster at their spiritual home of Thomand Park. New Zealand were a formidable side and in the history of their fixtures Munster had never beaten the tourists and the capacity crowd of 12,000 had no reason to think things would change this day.
The 31st of October 1978 was to be a different kind of day however. The Munster men managed a converted try in the first half and two drop goals for a points tally of 12-0. They had dosed out a drubbing to the All Blacks with the touring winger later commenting that “We were lucky to even score nil today” such was the Munster performance.
The day has gone down in Irish sporting history and there are surely numbers well above 100,000 who claim to have been “there that day”.
Enough of the tangential references then, what about Senna? Is it true that he raced in Ireland and how come his name doesn’t jump out of the internet every time you search to see is it true? Well yes, Senna did indeed race in Ireland and not only did he participate in but he won the Leinster Trophy. Back in 1982 as a baby-faced young lad a long way from his home and family in Brazil, Senna had really started to make his name. He had come from a strong karting foundation and racing a Van Diemen in the UK Formula Ford 1600 won the previous year’s championship. 1982 was to be his year however and a move to Formula Ford 2000 saw him win both the UK and Euro series and along the way, yes, the Leinster Trophy.
Making a name for himself was something that Senna was taking seriously and with a name as common as Murphy or Kelly for an Irish man, his family name of Da Silva wasn’t going to do the trick. He instead opted for his Mother’s maiden name of Senna and raced initially as Ayrton Senna Da Silva, eventually dropping the family name for simplicity. This then answers the riddle and explains why there is no “Senna” in the results.
Well what of the race? You might well ask and yes it was a decent enough race. Belfast man Joey Greenan qualified on the front row alongside Senna and somehow pulled off an overtake to find himself battling out ahead of the Brazilian. There are only a few people who can claim to have passed Senna and made it stick and it only took a few laps before the young 21 year old launched a brave move around the outside into turn three in Mondello to take the lead back.
So how do I manage to segway from New Zealand rugby to Ayrton Senna winning the Leinster trophy you might well wonder? It has quite a lot to do with the Mondello Park boss John Morris’s observation that there wasn’t a huge crowd down for the racing that day. Morris was a marshal on the day and aside from his birds-eye view of Senna’s race craft he was in a good place to count the few hundred that were there. Despite Morris’s observations legend would suggest that there was once again a 100,000 strong crowd for this famous event. If you weren’t there you should ask your Dad, you can be sure that he was!
Enjoy this short clip