independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

O'Gara film reveals how he 'tangoed' with rival Sexton

Ronan O'Gara has given a compelling account of the tumultuous final four years of his playing career in which he rails against unfounded rumours about gambling debts, the state of his marriage, and lifts the lid on his rivalry with Jonny Sexton.

The rugby legend, who reigned supreme as Ireland's fly-half for most of his career, lays bare his deep hurt over losing the No 10 shirt in the RTE fly-on-the-wall documentary -- ROG -- which went behind the scenes during his dramatic last years in the green of Ireland.

At the end of the documentary, which gives unprecedented access to the outspoken fly-half, he is seen happily telling the camera how he now swaps stories with Sexton about their much-hyped rugby rivalry over a cup of tea in Paris, after both of them ended up with Racing Metro.

But, straight after the opening credits, he stares into the lens and honestly admits that he still wishes he was on the pitch. "There is nothing like playing. It's all about playing. I still see that, I can't get that buzz back. It's gone.

"Standing on the side of the pitch in Colombes with Racing (Metro), I'm realising that," he says.

The intense, unflinching and at times painfully honest documentary reveals his innermost thoughts on the highs of winning with Munster and Ireland, the low of being dropped by his long-time coach Declan Kidney, and his initial refusal to get to know Sexton.

In the kitchen of his Cork home, one of Ireland's most compelling sportsmen lays bare his hurt at being dropped the first time for Sexton in a test match against South Africa in 2009.

"I have never been hurt like it before. But I suppose what hurt me more is the fact that I know Declan well and I think he'll say it was very tough but I think he enjoyed playing Jonny Sexton."

During their gripping rivalry in the following years, he also reveals he told Kidney he would need to have "balls" to pick him to start in the Six Nations against England in February 2010 following Sexton's glittering debut season for Ireland.

He then reveals he felt "sickened" when Kidney opted for Sexton over him in the game. He also told the cameras he realised he had a reputation for being "grumpy or difficult" but says he found the pressure of playing in his position incredibly tough.

"I wish I could have a laugh. I wish I could be smiling all the time. I wish I could enjoy it more but I didn't and that's the honest answer. I spent days shitting myself in the lead-up to games; you question everything, you can't sleep, you're puking."

In another clip, the raw emotion of Munster losing out at the pool stages of the Heineken Cup, to Toulon in 2011, shows O'Gara looking close to tears and telling the TV interviewer he wants to give up rugby.

While he was constantly unsure of his place in the Irish team in his last years, he was always sure of pulling on a red shirt for Munster.

He said the club, where he won two Heineken Cups, shaped his character.

"It shapes everything about me. There was huge collective love for each other and that's what sometimes gets you over the line in these things. It's been hammered into us how you carry yourself as a Munster player and what you represent."

O'Gara also speaks about the pummelling his professional and personal reputation took during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, when French media published unfounded stories of O'Gara's alleged personal problems.

He said: "There were rumours about my marriage being over. Where do all these rumours come from -- you struggle to get your head around them. Gambling debts of, I think, €300,000. It's funny now but at the time it wasn't funny. I have no problem admitting I love the horses and going to the races but in terms of anything in relation to your own game I have nothing to do with it.

"It was tough for my parents and my family because, obviously, you are seen as a bad guy."

The documentary, from Dave Berry and Nathan Nugent, also shows the softer side of the one of the most recognised players in the country with shots of him running around his kitchen after his daughter Molly and Skyping his children from New Zealand during the last World Cup. And he reveals how making his parents proud was one of the major driving forces of his rugby career.

The last part of the documentary shows his glittering international career ending on a low with Declan Kidney failing to select him to start against Scotland last April, even when Sexton was injured.

"In fairness it's a horrible job for him to have to do but he has done it plenty of times," he says with a rueful laugh. "I can laugh now but at the time it's horrible."

The record-breaking out-half admits his disappointment that his last ever game for Ireland was one of his few poor performances.

"Now that I am finished it's nothing like the way I would like to have finished but that's sport," he says.

The 36-year-old called time on a medal and trophy-laden career during the summer with an honours haul that includes a Grand Slam, four Triple Crowns, two Heineken Cups, three Celtic Leagues and a Celtic Cup.

Now ensconced in Paris, with Sexton at Racing Metro, he said their fascinating relationship has come full circle and jokes that they are even competitive about who has the best French.

"It's amazing I'm saying at this stage how much I like the guy, I see a lot of him in me and me in him and that's competitive and cranky and wanting to be the best and that's how we get on so well. Laura, his wife, feels she gets pushed to the side when I'm around and it's funny the whole thing has gone full circle.

"It takes two to tango and by God did I tango with him and he tangoed with me and that's what you want. I have done many a thing to him on the pitch that he reminds me of over a cup of Barry's tea in Paris," he says.

ROG will be shown on RTE One on Thursday, January 2, at 9.30pm

Irish Independent

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