O’Gara story a tale of growth and honesty
THERE WAS a time when rugby union autobiographies were pretty few and far between, and with good reason.

Administrators were quite willing to brandish a rulebook which could get
players banished on the grounds of professionalism and profiting from the sport if they brought out a memoir.

Since the advent of recognised professionalism within rugby, however, there have been a fair scatter of My Stories, though some have been better than others.

In his heart of hearts, Gavin Henson probably regrets the relatively premature publication of My Grand Slam Year — or My Grand Slam Kick, as it quickly became known. Ulster and Ireland’s Paddy Johns’ book, The Quiet Enforcer, wouldn’t last you on the train from Cork to Mallow.

Ronan O’Gara’s autobiography is the latest to hit the shelves and thankfully, the Munster and Ireland out-half’s story is on the opposite end of the spectrum to the likes of Henson and Johns. Smoothly
written, with the aid of Denis Walsh, the book
is open and honest and
not lacking in the ‘so-I-said-to-Austin-Healey’ anecdotes that readers enjoy.

The lingering impression from the book is one of growth. From a youngster happy enough as a student with his Munster contract and a car* — who wouldn’t be, in those circumstances — to the rigorous self-examinations of the last few years, O’Gara traces a slow,
deliberate, incremental maturing.

Having come of age just as the professional era came into view, O’Gara’s story doesn’t have the obvious challenge of changing from amateur to professionalism, but in its own way it charts a harder course — the
learning curve which showed him and other
players that accepting a
pay packet didn’t make you professional, but behaving like a professional athlete did. He makes a passing reference to the current mindset, wherein players don’t even consider eating a muffin for fear of the damage it would do to their system.

It wasn’t always that way. The out-half is honest enough to recall letters from the IRFU reminding him of his professional obligations as a contracted player when his fitness test scores weren’t up to scratch.

Refreshingly, O’Gara gives hard-and-fast numbers to back that up; never likely to be mistaken for John Hayes in silhouette, a fascinating strand to the book details the player’s efforts to beef up and overcome a naturally slim build. Nine years ago his top bench pull was 80 kg, and he’s honest enough to tell readers that that was 10 kg behind the next player on the list. In those fitness tests he was last in the 15-metre sprint. And last in the 30-metre sprint.

It’s eloquent testament that long, dreary hours in the gym that O’Gara was able to put 10 metres’ distance on his kicking.

O’GARA is upfront about the disgraceful behaviour of L’Equipe, which published loose rumours about the player’s private life during the last Rugby World Cup, and he’s open about the infamous Duncan McRae incident on the 2001 Lions tour — “Why didn’t I hit him when he was pucking the head off me? I don’t know. I still don’t know.”

As a sports autobiography, straight between the posts.

*Incidentally, O’Gara’s
ultimate aim in terms of motoring cool at that point, back in the mid-nineties, was a Ford Mondeo.

Without being a complete name-dropper, the same Mr O’Gara, through a combination of odd circumstances, gave this
column a lift to Cork city centre from Musgrave Park a couple of years ago.

He was then driving the kind of vehicle Daniel Craig uses in James Bond movies to pull up in front of a casino, and when we stopped by the courthouse I saw him eyeing what looked like an ejector button for the passenger seat.

I hopped out so fast I can’t remember if I said thanks or not. But if I didn’t, well, just for the record: I appreciated it.

Ronan O’Gara:
My Autobiography (Transworld Ireland) is in
the shops now.


Meyler’s Wexford
exit a sign of the times

ANOTHER week, another manager gone. And we’re not even talking about Newcastle United.

John Meyler’s departure from the Wexford hurling hot seat during the week was down to the players, we’re told; it related directly to their dissatisfaction with his management
approach, silence on the bus, etc.

No it wasn’t, said Wexford goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry in this newspaper yesterday, who reiterated his “100%” faith in the departed manager, saying that he was unaware of the supposed player putsch.

In the interests of fairness it should be pointed out that Meyler himself
inclined to the player power reason for his departure, but normally this would be the kind of contradiction that would have everyone salivating, just the kind of mixed message that immediately puts you on notice that this particular coup wasn’t carried out with surgical efficiency. Then again, a lot of the, ah, administrative re-ordering we’re seeing in other spheres at the moment is equally messy.

Given the financial turmoil we all face, this may not be the topic uppermost in every mind, but it makes for an interesting diversion from the impending economic apocalypse. (We refuse to describe same in the usual terms, ie a meltdown. If our finances are going to be compared to anything, it’s not going to be runny cheese).

However, are there any convenient parallels between player power on county teams and the stricken financial institutions we keep reading about? If you likened a team to one of those banks and equated the players to disgruntled shareholders, with a hostile takeover replicated in the form of managerial replacement . . . well maybe all those parallels don’t quite work out.

That said, John Meyler would probably have been quite happy to pocket the $480 million (351m) that Richard Fuld, head of Lehman
Brothers, took home for sending his company into bankruptcy, but we doubt that even the Wexford County Board pays out that kind of expenses.

One obvious point of comparison for the Wexford situation is their near neighbours in Waterford, given the ‘player power’ coup that removed Justin McCarthy not long after a
disappointing defeat to Clare.

Enter Davy Fitzgerald and a first All-Ireland appearance in 45 years,
albeit one that didn’t end happily. It seems to have been forgotten, mind you, that Wexford almost beat Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Cast your mind back to Thurles, in late July, when a Damien Fitzhenry 21 whistled over the Waterford crossbar at the end. Had it flown six inches lower Wexford would have been through to face Tipperary in the All-Ireland

Despite all that, we’d prefer to draw a rather different parallel and point to a different neighbour of Wexford’s. Reports emerged during the week of the Carlow county board’s inter-county expenses for last year, which amounted to 714,000 for their senior hurlers and footballers. Granted, the Carlow hurlers picked up the Christy Ring Cup, but that figure still represents an increase of 292,000 in total on the overall figure. That’s almost three-quarters of a million euro for a mid-ranking county.

Although the messy departure of Meyler in the last few days will power a few headlines and, no doubt, provoke some whinnying from GAA dinosaurs, it’s the action taking place 30 or 40 miles to the northwest of Enniscorthy that really counts.

If anybody thinks that GAA county boards are proof from financial ruin, they might want to have a look at
unsinkable vessels such as Bear Stearns in the US, or Northern Rock in Britain. The same goes for other
sporting administrative units, be they in rugby, soccer or tiddly-winks.

There could be a lot more gnashing of teeth in the coming months as the credit crunch bites sporting brands which have surfed a decade of good times. If so, you’ll be looking back to issues such as player power with a
wistful glance.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Integrity of game takes a back seat

Trevor Brennan: former rugby star appointed to coaching role for Rules Series staff.

FIRST things first. A couple of weeks ago this column mentioned a lift received one time from Irish rugby international Ronan O’Gara in a rather splendid car, which we likened to one of 007’s little runabouts. Grey. Snazzy. You know the job.

Of course, nothing would do one of our readers but to point out that the ejection-seat option we referred to would probably kick in automatically for any journalist sitting in it.

Ho ho ho. You know I saved the number you texted from, right?

Rather embarrassingly, we have to begin this particular column with a similar tale. Last year during the
Rugby World Cup your correspondent ended up in Trevor Brennan’s company after France dismembered Namibia in Toulouse, when one of this newspaper’s rugby writers insisted on calling in for a chat to a nice marquee-type arrangement that Trevor had set up along the banks of the river.

Ah, the pleasant breeze, the cool drinks, the French chat.. All very
refreshing. And in fairness to Trevor, when the evening came to a close, he insisted on dropping us back to our
respective hotels. For some reason best known to the sports editor, our rugby writer stayed in the Royal Hotel Splendide Magnifico De Luxe, while your columnist lodged in Le Petit Carbuncle, or some such establishment.

The reason behind this less than thrilling revelation is the news of Trevor’s installation as a coach with Sean Boylan’s international rules squad, which is surely the QED when it comes to arguments against this misbegotten mess of a game.

Enjoying the man’s company and the decency of a lift home should remove any suggestion of personal bias or
dislike and allow your correspondent to point out that his appointment tells you something crucial about the
international rules game. A sport which is supposed to mix Gaelic
football and Australian Rules football needs a man from a different sport
altogether is needed to coach Irish players in order to play it?

Mickey Harte made that same point recently, and it’s hard to argue against the Tyrone manager on this one. You could point out that Mickey Ned O’Sullivan has given the Springboks advice on catching the ball, but that’s a false comparison.

Cross-code pollination occurs all the time when it comes to individual skills which are common across sports, but this is a different kettle of fish altogether. You could almost say it’s a whole other ball game, but hasn’t that been the problem from the start?
FACE it. The only reason you’ll flick on the Compromise(d) Rules is to see if there’s a scrap. And that would be fair enough if only everyone would only be honest and up front about their motivations.

But instead we get the usual farrago of excuses: the international
dimension, the pride involved, the
enthusiasm of the players. Our favourite excuse for the preservation of this nonsense is the crowd.

Since when did having a lot of
people around constitute a reason for anything? According to the history books bear-baiting and Christian
sacrifices did quite a brisk box-office in
medieval Europe and ancient Rome respectively, but nobody is looking to reinstate them on those crowd-pleasing grounds.

Then again, maybe the bears and the Christians weren’t vocal enough about their support for those japes. It’s
commonly asserted that the Irish
players are hugely supportive of this game, yet we can’t remember any of them raving about the thuggish assaults of the Aussies the last time out.

As for the international dimension, stop. Please, just stop: either Gaelic football is a game worth playing or it’s not, but don’t use a totally different sport played half a world away as some kind of endorsement of it. That smacks of the craven old hunting for validation that used to throw up the old “GAA players fitter than Premiership players” codology.

As I said to Trevor in Toulouse, you can leave me out just here.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Footnotes to a
season’s history

(DAVID Foster Wallace died last week; the American novelist was known for his enthusiasm for tennis, use of footnotes while writing and philosophical musings on infinity. We thought we’d pay tribute to one of those enthusiasms today. And it’s
neither tennis nor infinity.)

Kerry’s defeat at the hands of
Tyrone last Sunday has opened up the debate* about the team of the decade, if that’s a discussion you care to join.

It might be more interesting to talk** about the state of Gaelic football in the wake of last Sunday. It was end-to-end stuff in Croke Park, with some fine individual scores, but there was also plenty of wayward kicking and poor option-taking on show^^.

That said, it was a vast improvement in terms of entertainment¹ on a
couple of other games this season, with most people now anxious to have the hour and a half they devoted to Kildare-Fermanagh, for instance, returned to them forthwith². This isn’t meant, by the way, to be another
version of the hurling is better than football debate, either“. Just a statement of fact.

Although . . . at least the best of the country’s hurlers aren’t decamping to another continent to parade in front of representatives of another sport who are utterly uninterested in the welfare of Gaelic football.

But that’s another story. Tune in next week.†


*Debate might be a strong word. Call it a case of clinging to straws if you’re from Kerry, and a matter of preening your feathers if from Tyrone. As for the rest of the GAA world, does the term ‘team of the decade’ register on anyone’s radar as even the most tenuously worthwhile title?

And hold your nose if you do. There is a willingness to make this
into a ‘well, my team’s less cynical than yours’ kind of argument, in which certain players are brought forth as examples of clean living and candidates for sainthood which are at odds with their usual demeanour . . .

** . . . bringing us nicely to Mr Aidan O’Mahony. Not content with establishing self as the Tom Daley, if not actually the Greg Louganis, of the GAA, the sometimes less than perpendicular centre-back told crowds at the Kerry homecoming that Cork wouldn’t win the All-Ireland while he and Tom
O’Sullivan were on the Kerry team.

Son, when you’re in a hole, the first lesson is to stop digging . . .

Something that’s worth mentioning and of itself. The time has long gone when football teams went up and down the field; most senior intercounty sides now take their cue from Ray Wilkins and his memorable crab-like passing. Though the uninformed call this a patient build-up, this is precisely why they are, in fact, called the uninformed . . .

^^Truly one of the great expressions when it comes to sport. It’s as if each player had a sheet of paper in his hand as he bore down on goal (OPTIONS: A. Kick ball over bar. B. Kick ball wide. C. Drop ball. Tick as appropriate). And that the funereal silence of the exam hall pervaded. And there wasn’t half-a-ton of snorting
opponent hurtling after you, etc, etc.

¹Yes, we are all quite aware that if it’s entertainment you want you should go to the circus. Or buy the Season Five DVD box set of The Wire. But still.

²That was truly tragic, if you recall. Don’t feel too bad if you don’t, either, because the mind has a habit of blocking out trauma that horrific.

“ Funny, though, how those flying the flag for the big ball seem to view anyone with a partiality for hurling as somehow representing the views of hurling aficionados everywhere.
Kudos to the man who texted this column after the hurling final to say — with a near-audible sigh — that it was up to the football to rescue the GAA season.

Fair enough. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, no?

The best laugh about the Compromise-Rules-Greco-Roman-WWF game is the continually-touted line that the players want it.

Would you think so? Really? Given it involves a free trip to Australia, wouldn’t it be a little surprising if they didn’t?

†I’ll be here. Even if some of our footballers aren’t.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie