Old boys tackled by young tykes
Published 20/05/2010 | 05:00
AFTER giving the two Irish rugby internationals a light grilling, broadcaster Matt Cooper said the pair would take questions from the floor.
It was, in rugby parlance, something of a hospital pass when you're confronted with a room full of primary school children.
"I've met you in the bakery," one contributor told out-half Jonathan Sexton solemnly.
"I liked when you said you would like to play for Manchester United," offered another.
"Brian O'Driscoll gave my brother a rugby ball -- he's cool," noted a third.
Plenty of interesting nuggets of information certainly, yet no sign of the anticipated cross-examination from a rapt audience, and nothing at all aimed at flanker Kevin McLaughlin. But then it arrived.
"Will you sing us a song?" one pupil of Kildare Place primary school in Rathmines, south Dublin, asked the 25-year-old former pupil.
McLaughlin, no stranger to the media spotlight after making his Ireland debut, was simultaneously blind-sided, wrong-footed and tongue-tied.
His inquisitor -- a nine-year-old girl -- had done her homework. She knew that his other job away from the pitch is as a singer in a choir: the RTE choir no less.
McLaughlin hesitated, but more than 100 youngsters screaming "sing, sing, sing" helped make up his mind, and they were soon joining him in a rousing verse of 'In Dublin's Fair City'.
McLaughlin spent eight years in the school, while Sexton, who was in the same class, spent six years. Yesterday, the pair tried -- briefly and unsuccessfully -- to sit in a chair in senior infants. "I usually sat outside the door," Sexton (24) said with a grin.
But teacher Valerie Morton recalled the pair as "a delight to have" and McLaughlin, who now stands at 6ft 5in and almost 17 stone, as "a wee pet".
"I don't know what they've been eating, it must have been cabbage," she told the current pupils, although a few rueful headshakes indicated that they weren't falling for that one.
Sexton remembered that, in his time, soccer was played on the pitch while rugby was allowed in the yard. The sporting landscape has changed somewhat in the interim.
And for those listening intently to every word, there was plenty of old-fashioned advice. Sexton said hard work and "practising hard" prepared him for those penalty kicks.
"You have highs and lows in every career," McLaughlin, who almost quit rugby last year after a run of injuries, offered. "So you have to be confident in yourself, and back yourself."
Shortly after, the two Leinster players thought about leaving for a training session. It remained as a thought for some time.
Ask a rugby coach how to tackle someone bigger than you and you will probably be told to aim as low as possible.
So it was a happy coincidence that those lining up against Sexton and McLaughlin in the common room had the players' knees directly in their line of vision.
But, just to be on the safe side, the pupils also opted for a blitz defence, with 50 or 60 of them swarming around each player, hoping for an autograph or, better still, to be hoisted high as if in a lineout.
The two men were happy to oblige, probably thankful there were no further song requests.