The joy of Sexton's return needs to buck gods of sport
Published 28/08/2014 | 02:30
When Jonathan Sexton left for France last year, there was an almost Biblical wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Leinster rugby heartlands (that's Dublin 2, 4 and 6, essentially). Now that he's coming back, from 2015, the calf is being fattened and many hosannas are being sung to thank sporting Yahweh for this manna from heaven.
But hold on there, goys. You're all assuming that J10 - yes, that's how it's trending on Twitter - will be an automatic success on his return to Leinster.
Sure, Sexton is undoubtedly a fine talent, a man in his athletic prime. But history has shown us that, like the average Ireland World Cup campaign, these comebacks fall flat more often than not.
You can never go back. I'm not sure why that is: it might be something as simple as the fact that things have now changed whereas you haven't, or you've changed but everything else has stayed the same. Either way, there's a disjunction between memories, expectations, ambitions and hard realities, all crashing into each other like a motorway pile-up.
Maybe the gods of sport don't like it. Maybe there's too much pressure: everyone knows you did it here once, so it's easy-peasy to do it again.
Or perhaps it's more ambiguous than that. Perhaps, like the proverbial shark, we simply have to keep moving ahead in life. On some existential level, forward motion is the only option.
Anyway, never mind these contentions: just survey the evidence. Returning to the scene of previous glory hardly ever works out, particularly in sport.
Only two Sundays ago, the restored King of Cork hurling, Jimmy Barry Murphy, oversaw their worst defeat to Tipp in half a century. I don't blame JBM for that - he's a legend who steered Cork to All-Ireland glory as player and manager. I blame the inexorable might of life's golden rule: don't go back.
Kenny Dalglish tore his stellar reputation to shreds with an ill-fated second stint as Liverpool boss. Something similar happened, to lesser or greater degrees, with Matt Busby at Man United, Kevin Keegan at Newcastle, Kaka at Milan, Jens Lehmann and Arsenal, Robbie Fowler and Liverpool…will we keep going?
In individual sports, of course, there's no "team" to re-join, as such. But they can travel back to former arenas - and it never ends well. Bjorn Borg, Ian Thorpe, Mark Spitz, Michael Schumacher, Justine Henin, even the iconic Michael Jordan: has anyone ever actually been glad they chose a career resurrection? (And look how well getting back in the Tour de France saddle worked out for Lance Armstrong.)
It's not just sport, either. It's pretty much every aspect of life. Bands reforming, years after an acrimonious split, and performing so atrociously that their fans' every fond memory is reduced to ash and bitterness in the mouth.
Actors stepping back into roles in soaps which they vacated years ago. Whole casts reuniting for movie sequels which inevitably get worse and worse each time, to the extent that you eventually can't watch the decent original without involuntarily shuddering.
Old TV shows being disinterred, then rebooted or rejigged, with unavoidably disappointing consequences. Novelists revisiting old characters and settings. Divorced couples giving it a second go.
People agreeing to take back their old job. Managers agreeing to take back their old employees. A group of middle-aged lads, desperate to relive their youth by traipsing back to the scene of that great road-trip they took in 1995…
The evidence is clear: this stuff never works out. Really, the only successful comeback in history was Jesus, and that only lasted three days.
As the man says, you can't step into the same river twice. Sexton seems like a good guy, so hopefully he proves the exception to the rule. But it would be fairly exceptional.