Quinlan the ideal stand-in for O'Connell
AFTER Minister Eamon Ryan had been subjected to a severe tongue-lashing by the heavyweights of Irish rugby last Tuesday, Ireland coach Declan Kidney presided over a far more placid press conference immediately afterwards.
The touring party for the forthcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia was being announced and, while there were one or two names to quibble over, all in all it was a logical list in keeping with Kidney's time at the helm. The main talking point was the inclusion of Paul O'Connell given that a maddening groin injury has precluded any game time since March 20.
By naming the Munster captain, Kidney was making a statement of intent as to Ireland's approach for this tough assignment as well as offering a considerable boost to a player immersed in a deep bout of injury-induced frustration.
However, with the Irish party jetting out in just over two weeks' time, the likelihood of the second-row being available for on-pitch duties appears remote in the extreme. He could still travel in a non-playing capacity and his presence in the camp would be significant for the psychological tests inherent in a trip of this nature but there is still the issue of who is available to step in as a player.
Irish rugby is paddling in the shallow end when it comes to player pools and at second-row, with Leo Cullen and Donnacha Ryan ruled out due to injury, we are stretched incredibly thin. Ulster's promising but unproven lock Dan Tuohy is travelling with Mick O'Driscoll and Donncha O'Callaghan and if another second-row were to be called up, you are probably looking at Ed O'Donoghue or Bob Casey. However, there is no guarantee that it will be a straight second-row replacement -- step forward Alan Quinlan.
After Ireland claimed the Grand Slam last year, thoughts immediately turned to the World Cup and Quinlan, who will be 37 when that tournament rolls around, appeared to be out of the Ireland picture.
But the rate of attrition after a long, hard season has given this expedition to the southern hemisphere a 'one-off' quality and Quinlan -- like the Mr Wolf character in 'Pulp Fiction' -- is the perfect man to come in at short notice and get the job done.
Although not quite the height of an international lock forward, Quinlan has played in the second row before and his line-out abilities are well established. Kevin McLaughlin is also capable of moving up a row and having Quinlan, who has put in another excellent season with Munster, in the squad would add extra steel, particularly in the absence of Stephen Ferris. We will see what unfolds over the next fortnight but if the O'Connell situation leads to a late call-up, Mr Wolf is your man.
The rest of the squad is along expected lines but, once again, the infuriating situation regarding overseas players affecting the national interest has been demonstrated forcibly. Denis Hurley has made huge strides this season and was well in the mix for tour selection.
Last Tuesday week, he was presented to the media at the Munster press conference and spoke about how much he was relishing the contest against Leinster's Shane Horgan the following Saturday. It never happened. Munster went with a Kiwi-Aussie back three of Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Paul Warwick and Hurley, save for a late cameo, was denied his chance for proper final audition.
Howlett, Mafi and Warwick are fine players but Hurley is a man who could well have a role to play in the World Cup next year and would benefit hugely from the experience of a senior tour.
Mike Ross needs to play week in, week out to produce his best but the presence of Stan Wright and CJ van der Linde reduced his season to occasional starts, 20-minute run-ons and, with the Magners League sticking to the one-prop replacement rule, matches where he could not even make the Leinster bench.
If Ireland cannot lock their scrum on the tight-head side at the World Cup, any notions of making the last four for the first time can be instantly dismissed -- Ross can do that every time.
What is truly exasperating is that the situation that befell Hurley and Ross would never be allowed to happen in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
No overseas player would be allowed get in the way of someone the national selectors have their eye on in the Super 14. Yet, players from those countries frequently frustrate the plans of Kidney -- who is already hampered by working with much more meagre resources.
Irish rugby only has a few bullets to fire, why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot?