TREVOR RINGLAND cannot forget the day at Twickenham - 19 March 1988 - when he played the last of his 34 rugby matches for Ireland. Yet what lives with him is not the vision of a young winger, Chris Oti, running rings round him to consign his international career to history by scoring a secondhalf hat-trick for England.
What is seared on Ringland's memory is the moment when, feeling sorry for himself about Ireland's defeat, he turned on the TV in his London hotel only to see footage from his home city of Belfast of the horrific incident in which two British army corporals, having been spotted at an IRA funeral that morning, were pursued, beaten, and then executed.
Only three days after a lone Loyalist paramilitary had killed three mourners at an IRA funeral at Milltown Cemetery, the two episodes spoke to the young Ulster solicitor Ringland of the insanity of the conflict in his homeland.
"Suddenly, my disappointment did not matter. Rugby didn't matter," he ref lected. "Here were people from Northern Ireland again being seen in a terrible light around the world. It absolutely put things into perspective and was one of the events that shaped me."
Another of those occurred a year earlier with the IRA car-bomb killing of Lord Justice Gibson, which also injured three of Ringland's great rugby pals David Irwin, Phil Rainey and Nigel Carr - who were en route to a pre-World Cup training session. Carr never played again because of his injuries.
So it was that Ringland, a hero of Irish Triple Crown-winning teams in 1982 and 1985, was given the impetus for his life's work. He organised the 'Rugby for Peace' international at Lansdowne Road a decade ago and today runs the 'One Small Step' campaign designed to build a shared future in Northern Ireland, where "all of our citizens can live, work and socialise together free from sectarianism or racism".
Which brings us all the way to Saturday, and Croke Park. If you had told the old Lions wing on that sombre afternoon in 1988 that a generation later the national rugby teams of Ireland and England would line up at the home of Gaelic sport while God Save The Queen was being played by the Irish Army band in the venue where British soldiers once massacred Irish citizens, he would have found it impossible to credit. That he will be there to see it happen fills him with hope.
"It will be a very significant day for Ireland," said the 47- year-old.
"For those who believe in the Abraham Lincoln concept that 'the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend,' it'll be an emotional day, too."
Of course, he knows others will never feel the same way, that they will only be appalled by the idea of the Union flag PA
flying over 'Croker', a place inextricably linked to Irish nationalism as the venue for the 1920 'Bloody Sunday' massacre when British troops opened fire on the crowd at a Gaelic football match. It is an occasion, Ringland accepts ruefully, ripe for politicisation or for hijacking by extremists.
Rumours that a British government …