Examiner sports Column, October 3 2008

October 19, 2008

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.



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