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Fri 27-Mar-2009 21:22
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Bitchy rant by Caoimhín Ó My-Arse
It was bitchy from the outset, that piece from Kevin Myers in the Irish Independent (March 24th if you want to pick it out)...
The general theme of the article was that we were getting ahead of ourselves in celebrating our first Grand Slam in 61 years (and only our second one ever). Kevin was emphatic in his suggestion that nobody else gave two hoots about it, even going so far as to suggest that the English and French would have forgotten who won the Slam within a week!
Here’s a sample of what Kevin had to say…
For what has driven almost the entire population of Ireland ecstatic beyond words has utterly escaped the attention of everyone else.
Even if you asked an average Englishman or Frenchman, with a reasonable interest in rugby, which team won this year's rugby Grand Slam, they might possibly know today, (though I doubt it, for their countries notoriously take an interest only in their own sporting achievements) but they certainly won't by next Saturday.
And the rest of Europe has never heard of the Six Nations Championship, the rugby-playing countries' equivalent of the Nordic Cross-Country Skiing & Smallbore Trapshooting Contest, that annually has the populations of Scandinavia and Finland -- with all those lovely Nielsens and Nylands -- chewing their chairs in a frenzy of patriotic excitement, convinced the world is watching, agog.
What small mindedness, what a cynical, negative attitude to have. At a time when we are rife with bad news, filled to the gills with talk of recession, even depression, at a time when our confidence as a nation is taking a battering, we don’t need to be talking ourselves and our achievements down further.
I have yet to meet as person who did not take something positive from our rugby victory. Most of the population seem to be in agreement that this can act as a morale booster for the nation, showing that we are not a dead loss despite all the shitty news there has been of late.
Here was an Irish team, with all bar a few based in this country, taking on the best in Europe and winning a Grand Slam that has evaded us for over six decades. Don’t forget where this team had come from, a disaster of a World Cup performance when defeat to Georgia almost became a reality. To come so far in such a short space of time indicates the tenacity and self belief that still exists in this team.
Declan Kidney deserves much of the credit. He came into a squad that many thought had had its day. The O’Sullivan era was over, leaving behind it the bitter taste of regret and recrimination.
Yet the man from Cork showed what calm leadership and a common sense approach can achieve, providing a succinct example to all of us how we should deal with challenges that face us.
Recall if you will how Kidney dealt with the idiotic comments of his counterpart Warren Gatland. Gatland had suggested that the Welsh had the greatest antipathy for the Irish, a comment that few, on either side of the Irish Sea took seriously. Kidney responded as only he can, ignoring the comments completely, focusing instead on the task ahead. He was calmness personified in the days and hours leading up to the contest, and illustrated what true leadership is all about.
We all know the details of the game by now, how it was a rollercoaster of emotions, a fixture that swung one way, then another, before being decided by the two opposing out-halves. Many were unable to watch those final few minutes, unwilling to take in the sweaty drama as a whole campaign came down to a few kicks.
For sheer bravery and guts it will go down as one of the great Irish performances of all time. The way the pack calmly worked O’Gara into position for his crucial drop goal spoke volumes for their strength under pressure. One wrong move in those crucial moments would have spelled the end for Ireland’s crack at glory, and forced us to revert to our perennial role of gutsy losers.
True, we may have contrived to concede an inordinate amount of penalties, and made some silly unforced errors, but the difference was that this team still managed to seal the deal.
And that was what mattered. A tournament such as the Six Nations is beautiful in its tradition. From its inception, when there were just four teams, to its current format, this has been a competition that evokes what is best about life and sport. Friendship, fun, honesty – they are all their in this annual rugby fest.
We should count ourselves fortunate to have been able to witness an Irish side go through the Championship with a 100% record. Think about that – in all the years of the competition we have only once previously won all our matches. There was plenty of misfortune down through the years, no more so than when the Scottish and Welsh refused to travel to Dublin in the early seventies to fulfil their fixtures due to the eruption of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. That was the year when we had already accounted for the English and French away from home – so near…
The weight of history hung on this Irish team as they took to the field in Cardiff. The odds were against them as they faced a Welsh side that many believed was the best in the tournament. But that is what made this Irish success so special, for here was a group of players that was prepared to mount any hurdles that came their way.
It’s why they will always have a special place in our hearts, for those of us who are fair minded enough to do so can recognise honesty of effort and bravery (in the sporting sense of the word) when we see it.
Myers was petty when he told us to cop ourselves on because nobody else gave a shite about what our team had just achieved. How wrong he was. This was a day that had captured the nation’s hearts, erasing, for just a few hours, talk of recessions, banking crises and political fallibility. It was a day when we could feel good about ourselves, and when our closest neighbours could look at us and be impressed.
Kevin, the Welsh, English, Scottish and French will long remember this season. They will remember coming up against a team of Irish men who refused to be beaten, a side that had pride and no little skill. No other Four/Five/Six Nations tournament has had a finish such as the one we witnessed in Cardiff, with the hopes of two nations resting on the final kick of the campaign.
Mr Myers, we are all going through a crisis of confidence right now, as a nation our belief in ourselves has been rocked by the transition from Celtic Tiger to Celtic Cub. Allow us to enjoy some positivity once in a while, allow us to bask in the pride of being Irish, not having to feel constantly embittered as another job loss is announced or another banker reveals himself to be inept in his field.
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