Tuesday 17 October 2017

Where's your f**king pride? The day Fitzie rallied nation

A moment of truth: Captain Ciaran Fitzgerald rallies the troops against England at Lansdowne Road in a Triple Crown winning year
A moment of truth: Captain Ciaran Fitzgerald rallies the troops against England at Lansdowne Road in a Triple Crown winning year
Masterstroke: Ciaran Fitzgerald

Joe O'Shea

It is one of the iconic moments in Irish sport. And 30 years on, as the memory fades into myth, there are many who will swear they actually heard Ciaran Fitzgerald's famous rallying cry in the ground or on their TVs.

Trailing England with 10 minutes to go at Lansdowne Road on March 30, 1985, the dream of a Championship and Triple Crown for Ireland was fading fast.

Then Fitzgerald marched up to his forwards and demanded; "Where's your f*****g pride?"

The TV mikes didn't pick it up - but you didn't need to be an expert lip-reader to decipher the message.

Ireland rallied and Michael Kiernan's drop goal won it at the death. F*****g pride restored.

Look at YouTube clips from that '85 game today and it is startling how much has changed at the top level of rugby and how we experience it.

The decrepit old open terraces in Lansdowne Road, now the space-age Aviva, are jammed with standing supporters, massive, dense scrums roiling back and forth in waves in response to the action on the pitch.

There are no executive boxes or thundering PA systems blaring out pop music, no replica shirts in the stands or corporate decals spray-painted on the pitch. The players of the amateur era look tiny in their baggy jerseys, especially when compared to the sleek, muscled giants who play the game now.

Hooker and captain Ciaran Fitzgerald was just 5ft 9ins and 13-and-a-half stone. As any club bar bore will tell you; "Fitzy wouldn't even make a ballboy today".

For those of a nostalgic bent who grew up watching rugby in the 1980s, seeing clips of the '85 game might provoke a sense of loss, the feeling that the rawness of emotion, purity of the game and connection between fans and players has been forever lost.

But as Ireland face England once again in Dublin tomorrow, former Ireland and Lions star Trevor Ringland, who played in the '85 game, says there is little point in making comparisons between then and now.

"It was the amateur era and it was very different. You can't really compare the game then and how it is today," says Ringland.

"You can see the terraces back then, and people being allowed to run on to the pitch afterwards and it did make for a very special, intense atmosphere.

"But the game, and the way people experience it, has moved on hugely since then and you can't turn the clock back. Fans want modern, safe stadia now, and I think the Aviva is fantastic ground, a great stadium."

Ringland, now a solicitor in Belfast and still involved in rugby with Ulster and his local club, does miss one aspect of the pre-professional era.

"The one thing we could look at is having standing sections where possible, because I do believe they can bring something unique to the experience."

Ringland has a clear memory of the 'effing pride!' moment from '85. But more for the effect that it had than the actual words.

"I'm not sure I actually heard it. But I could see him remonstrating with the forwards and I could certainly understand the message.

"It was an intervention. And you see in different sports, in many areas of life, at crucial times, an intervention being made that makes a difference. And to me, that was a classic case of one that worked. He inspired the forwards, he made a decision to take a quick throw in, move the ball. And that inspired piece of leadership opened up the game and give Michael the opportunity to kick the points."

Fitzgerald's old teammate makes the point that the Irish captain wasn't just ranting and raving as the seconds ticked down.

"He knew exactly what he was doing, knew exactly what we needed to do. He had a very clear plan and it worked."

Rugby went professional in 1995 and since then, the game in Ireland has seen the rise of the provinces and the 'Munster Factor', which has expanded the fan base far beyond its traditional confines.

Attitudes towards England have also changed. A survey for Ulster Bank, released this week, found that 52pc of Irish rugby fans back England to win this autumn's World Cup (if you remove Ireland from the equation).

The Heineken Cup era introduced Irish rugby fans to regular trips abroad, glamour ties in France and glitzy finals involving Leinster and Munster.

The game has long since adopted the marketing and presentation techniques we once associated with razzmatazz American sport. Teams run on in a blaze of lasers, fireworks and pounding dance music.

This week's Ulster Bank Survey also asked Irish fans to pick the current Ireland international they reckoned was the best dancer (the winner was Simon Zebo with 51pc of the vote).

It's probably not a question that would have exercised the minds of fans - or players like Ginger 'Festooned with Saxons' McLoughlin - in the 1980s, pre-sport-as-entertainment era.

However, Ireland vs England still stirs the emotions. And veteran of '85 Trevor Ringland says that while he expects the game to be close, he is hoping for an Ireland win.

"I've got two English brothers-in-law now, so an Ireland win would make the next couple of weeks a lot easier," he says.

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