Friday 24 February 2017

Sinead Kissane: Ali's 'impossible is nothing' approach offers hope in Chicago

Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, with Iain Henderson, centre, and Jared Payne after Ireland's win over South Africa. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, with Iain Henderson, centre, and Jared Payne after Ireland's win over South Africa. Photo: Sportsfile

Nothing seems impossible this year. Nothing. And not in a good way. 'I read the news today, oh boy' has become a line to live the year by because sense and logic have been absent on too many occasions in 2016.

As we get closer to the end of the American presidential election, there is an increasing dread of waking up next week and reading the result and re-living that disbelief which landed that morning in June when Brexit was voted in.

In sport, the seemingly impossible this year has been uplifting. Pro12 champions Connacht play fantasy rugby better than Toulouse.

Dundalk's style of football has been challenging European teams who've more money and international players.

Not to mention the Chicago Cubs' World Series win and the exorcism of their curse and all that mythical nonsense.

A single victory, not to mind being in the running for a series win, seemed an impossibility when Ireland travelled to South Africa without the likes of Johnny Sexton.

The stakes rose again when CJ Stander was sent off after 22 minutes of the first Test, yet a 14-man Ireland still won 26-20. With a quarter of the second Test remaining and Ireland leading by 16 points, a series win looked absurdly easy before the Boks fought back and Ireland caved in. This all happened in a month when the Ireland U-20s beat the Baby Blacks 33-24 in the World Championship.

Believing in the possibility of an Ireland win over the All Blacks in Chicago today seems illogical. Argentina served up one of the best challenges to New Zealand in their Rugby Championship game in Hamilton in September and only trailed 24-22 in the 50th minute.

But when the inevitable All Black second-half onslaught arrived and replacement prop Charlie Faumina scored a try, the New Zealand TV commentator on Sky Sports rhetorically and arrogantly asked of Argentina: "Do you think they've got the message?"

We all got the message that day, oh boy.

The way this All Blacks team play supersedes any myth about them. And hyping up the man v myth about New Zealand is an easy game to play especially when they have an accoutrement like the Haka.

Half an hour after the full-time whistle in the World Cup final last October I got a chance to face the Haka. Well, kind of. After finishing their celebratory lap, the players stopped to do the Haka with their medals around their necks. I happened to be standing right in front of them. And for 28 seconds while they did the Haka, I was mesmerised seeing it closer than usual.

The All Blacks have been even more mesmerising on the pitch this season. So how do they view a team like Ireland, who have never beaten them before?

It was something I asked Dan Carter and Charles Piutau this week. And they both gave the same answer: the New Zealand players do not want to be on the first All Black team to lose to Ireland. It reminded me of what Munster players used to say when they had that unbeaten European record at Thomond Park - no-one wanted to be on the team that lost that record. But that record fell, eventually.

"That record is obviously not going to last forever," Carter said. "You don't want to be part of the team that's the first to be beaten by the Irish. That brings motivation in itself."

Bad news. Even the thing that's driving us is driving them too. Surely, we should have the monopoly when it comes to drawing motivation from being stuck in a loop with our win-less record against them!

Joe Schmidt won't believe that this New Zealand team have become too big to fail. He likes placing history in front of the players and using it as the ultimate sales pitch, not that it always works.

Before this year's Six Nations, Sean O'Brien spoke about wanting to be part of an Irish team who could win a historic three championships in a row. They went to South Africa looking to do something no Irish team has ever done. And now this.

"Bringing up history is great but creating our own history is the ultimate challenge," Donnacha Ryan said this week.

Before the November Series in 2013, Rob Kearney said the New Zealand game was the big one for them. The uninspiring, muddled performance in the defeat to Australia could have come off as the ultimate game of bluff or rope-a-dope if Ireland had gone on to see through those sucker-punches they produced against New Zealand a week later.

Today can't descend into just a leap of faith because Schmidt doesn't work like that.

But in this crazy, unpredictable year, maybe we'll leave the final word to the late Muhammad Ali to wallow in before kick-off tonight:

"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

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When Ronan O'Gara asked me how my father got on in the marathon last weekend, I laughed thinking how much my dad would love the fact that an Ireland and Munster legend enquired about him.

Dad struggled in the Dublin Marathon. Badly. We gathered near half-way and he looked fine and even carried his grandson in his arms for a few steps.

But a mile after that dad hit the wall and never recovered. He finished in six hours and two minutes, three hours behind the first man home in the Over-60 category.

Dad was a wreck. But 48 hours later, he decided he was going to do it again in 2017. The running bug is definitely back.

Irish Independent

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