Examiner Sports column, 27 December 2007.

March 27, 2008

27-12-2007
Michael Moynihan
NOWHERE TO HIDE: Eddie O’Sullivan stands dejected following elimination from the World Cup in France. The Ireland boss is still in place, but his position is not what it was six months ago, given the imminent arrival of several helping hands.Picture: Julien Behal/PA Wire

PERHAPS it’s the Johnny Onion Rings.

Usually even the listless mid-Christmas lull doesn’t get us too downhearted here in Talking Sport, but we’re glum this last couple of days. There may be extenuating circumstances: at a pal’s 40th birthday party the other night the food and drink flowed, but somewhere north of 2am the packets of Johnny Onion Rings started to circulate, and your correspondent is suffering a little yet.

And perhaps that explains the dark clouds over the desk and the gloom facing into 2008. From this seat the coming 12 months may be a long, dark stormy tea-time of the soul.

Count them down. Ireland still doesn’t have an international soccer manager, and the dancing around getting a head-hunter to appoint a team to advise on who to pick in order to appoint shows no sign of stopping.

There’s an element of common sense in waiting, but as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, there comes a tipping point when, consciously or unconsciously, people expect a decision. Or a direction. Or something.

The unhurried air doesn’t sit well given Ireland’s placing in the FIFA rankings: currently just two places below Guinea, though presumably we’re narrowing that gap with every day that passes. We now face a tricky qualifying group for 2010, and if anything symbolises our reduced circumstances, it’s the presence of our bogey team in Group H Cyprus.

THIS past year was when Irish rugby was to come into its own, with much enthusiasm ahead of the Rugby World Cup about our chances of progressing in the tournament. Three months on and the word ‘blip’ now has a very different meaning in the country, though the fact that Eddie O’Sullivan used a very different four-letter word over the weekend to describe the experience may suggest an outbreak of common sense.

Unlike the national soccer team, the rugby side’s boss is still in place, but Eddie O’Sullivan’s position is not what it was six months ago, given the imminent arrival of several helping hands. Given the method of his ascent to the top of the pole in Warren Gatland’s time, O’Sullivan will know exactly what that means.

On a broader front, though Munster continue to do well in the Heineken Cup, the demise of Leinster and Ulster is a worrying portent for the medium term. A lack of candidates for some key positions means trouble if one or two players come down with toothache or common cold. Given the Irish performances before the World Cup began, we may even return to the depressing scenario wherein the Scots can’t help beating us.

And that would be truly depressing.

EVEN in the sports where we’re
acknowledged market leaders,
the clouds continue to lower and loom.

The GAA and GPA may have kissed and made up, but the grants issue isn’t going anywhere for a while – the fact that county boards won’t be administering the grants means there’s already some tinkering going on and that’s likely to continue.

Other signs? The All-Ireland finalist who left to play Australian Rules within a couple of weeks of that game? The perennial discipline problem? The perennial gripes about hurling being a boutique sport?

(Though we feel obliged to point out that while hurling is a joke because Kilkenny have won three of the last five All-Irelands, somehow football is thriving because Kerry have won three of the last four football titles?)

WELL, maybe it’s just us.
The December rain falls on
the just and unjust alike, and perhaps it’s just too much hard work to feel good about what’s on the way. However, 2008 has the potential to be scratchy and fractious on several fronts.

It could be that we’re just building up our sense of enjoyment for the – deep breath – overwhelming joy of New Year’s Eve, or just suffering the inevitable downtime after the glory that was Fair City Sings on Christmas Night, but we don’t think so. We think there may be trouble ahead.

Or maybe it’s just the Johnny Onion Rings after all.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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