THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM The Ireland squad are pictured before the start of Sunday’s RBS Six Nations game at Croke Park.
Defeat is opportunity lost
WHEN my girlfriend Sara suggested going out for lunch last Sunday there was only silence from my end of the phone. ‘Are you still there?’ she asked. I could only answer with a question of my own: ‘Are you serious? Ah, Ireland, France, Croke Park, 82,500 people…’
My reaction was, of course, a little hasty. All details had been taken care of. Lunch was planned for 12.30pm with Eoin Reddan and his girlfriend Aoife, along with Connacht’s Mark McHugh and his better half, Orlaith who were in London for the weekend. Safety in numbers I thought. There weren’t many Irish people who wanted to miss one of the most historic days in Irish sport!
Eoin, who is in his second season over here with Wasps, received a better offer by the time Sunday came around though as he was called into the Irish squad to replace Isaac Boss on the bench as the Ulster scrum-half was selected to take over from the injured Peter Stringer.
With full stomachs we settled in to watch the build-up to the game. You couldn’t but be impressed with the pictures being beamed from Croke Park as fans began to fill the Hogan, the Cusack and the Hill. It was odd to think that it was Ireland who were the home team. Lansdowne Road, for all its virtues, was a kip by the time the crushing balls moved in last month. Seeing Croke Park again on Sunday, but this time with padding around the posts and 10 metre lines marked out on the pitch, reinforced the fact that the GAA has left the IRFU floundering when it comes to ground development. The GAA can – and do – feel rightly proud of its achievements.
Not everyone in the GAA may have welcomed the removal of Rule 42 but you do get the sense that everyone is a winner with this current arrangement that allows the IRFU and the FAI to avail of Croker’s facilities during Lansdowne Road’s redevelopment.
Of course, they are not ‘availing’ of these top class facilities for free but aside from the obvious financial gains, the GAA have also benefited from a huge amount of exposure through the media, not just in Ireland or Europe, but also around the world. Past inter-county footballers such as Mick Galway and Kevin Moran, who went on to gain international recognition in rugby and soccer respectively, spoke with great pride about the role the GAA played in their lives when interviewed last week.
Many of the current rugby squad also stated how running out onto to Croke Park was fulfilling boyhood dreams. Denis Leamy went on record saying that hurling is the best game in the world! Surely all this can only be good for the GAA. The IRFU and the FAI will benefit greatly from the increase of revenue due the extra capacity of Croke Park while also more than a little relieved to have a ‘home’ venue for home games.
I have to be honest and say that I believed the Croke Park factor would swing this particular Six Nations clash in the home team’s favour. It wasn’t to be however as Vincent Clerc’s late match-winning try denied Eddie O’Sullivan and co their first victory over Les Blues since 2003.
It’s cruel to lose a game in such a manner and the players will be massively disappointed, but not only because of the occasion that was in it. It is an opportunity lost. This Ireland squad is highly motivated and ambitious and no doubt, a Grand Slam was high on their priority list this season.
They will feel frustrated by the fact that they haven’t hit the high levels of performance they set themselves during the Autumn internationals. However, as Paul O’Connell said in the aftermath of Sunday’s game, Ireland must now “move on”. They can still win the Championship and a successive Triple Crown is still a strong possibility. It is, of course, a World Cup year also so Ireland cannot afford to stand still and feel sorry for themselves. England, lifted by victories over Scotland and Italy, are up next on Saturday week. It can’t come quick enough for this group of players who will be eager to put the show firmly back on the road.
GETTING WET AND WILD WITH THE HARLEQUINS
THE Guinness Premiership hasn’t seen any action overt the last two weeks due England playing at home in the Six Nations so we here at Harlequins have enjoyed a mini mid-season break. When I say break, I mean a break from each other rather than from training as such.
The two ‘free weekends’ provided us with an ideal opportunity to rest up for a few days before completing the training schedules that were designed by our fitness guys to help us top up and increase our fitness levels. We then regrouped early last Wednesday morning to head to Portsmouth and the home of the British Navy at HMS Collingwood. Yep, we were dreading it!
Having previously spent twenty-four hours in a forest with the Army, (twenty-four hours seemed a long, long stint at the time) our experience of the Services led us to believe we were going to be getting down and dirty! Instead however, we just got wet, and wetter. Oh and also dirty!
The highlight of the three days was undoubtedly spending thirty minutes on a £2.5 million simulator, lovingly known as ‘The Sinking Ship’. Built to model a modern day battleship, it floods water into cabins from all angles as if hit by enemy fire. Our job? To rush down to the affected areas, fill the holes and make them watertight. With the ‘ship’ also swaying to and fro as if in unsettled waters, the water in the cabins would take you off your feet one moment before subsiding to your waist the next.
We were, of course, given basic training as to what to do in such an emergency, ie; how to use certain implements to plug different types of holes, but nothing could prepare you for the shock of the cold water. Working under emergency lighting and against the rising water got the adrenaline pumping and your mind on the task. Leadership and teamwork were the keys to success. However, with some choice words being yelled, accompanied by screams of ‘run for your lives’, the Navy officer who was present said the task had thrown up some interesting styles of leadership!
Of course, no training with the Services would be complete without trying to kill yourself jumping over walls and crawling through muck etc on an assault course. Good fun all the same and it will hopefully stand to us the next time we play in the rain. I hope!