Time for new perspective on 'old enemy'
Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00
It's been a trying week. It began with the fog of Allan when blind Peter denied Ireland their win over the Welsh (never the easiest nation to lose to). The Scottish touch-judge was genuinely remorseful afterwards, but that does not make his mistake any easier to swallow.
If that set Irish teeth to grit-mode, the air of ire was swiftly compounded by the annual hell of Cheltenham. TV pictures convey images of florid-faced, 'Ole Ole Ole' merchants celebrating their pound of flesh, while back home the Bluff Daddies congregate around the office screens spewing their own brand of horse manure. For all the dewy-eyed canter-banter that surrounds this Festival, the fact remains, if it didn't all revolve around money being placed on the outcome, no-one would give a fiddler's. It should be on the business pages.
On Wednesday, we had the baffling out-half selection on the Ireland team, of which enough has already been said, only to add that it was the most antagonising decision during Declan Kidney's successful period as coach.
Yesterday, Wales produced its second dose of irritation as the nation celebrated Ireland's favourite Taff, who, lest we forget, was dragged to Ireland under duress, rounded up a few adders and left us with a national holiday that pollutes our streets with twee and wee.
To wrap up this seven-day trial, there is the prospect of England parading the Grand Slam trophy around the home of Irish rugby. Ireland's recent win over England at the cricket World Cup, allied to the Paddy's Day bodhran-beating and imminent visit of Her Majesty have ratcheted up the anti-English sentiments for tomorrow's showdown.
However, not every Irish person subscribes to this default setting, some of us hold no ill-will towards the English and even have elements of envy and admiration. It is not hard to recall the sense of embarrass-ment at all the hoopla attached to the Croke Park hammering of England in 2007. The excellent victory by Eddie O'Sullivan's side deserved to be duly recognised, but all the peripheral hype that went with it was merely historical hogwash.
Having been exposed to the English education system for five years before relocating to Ireland, there was always a sense of jealousy when it came to studying the countries' respective pasts. English schoolchildren had Robin Hood, Agincourt, Nelson, Waterloo, the Zulus and winning two world wars to fascinate them, we had to make do with Ogham stones, a couple of failed pitchfork rebellions, Ardnacrusha and the mundane existence of a Kerry crone called Peig.
Throw in the fact England is also responsible for the creation of the world's best sports, literature and popular music, and if a Martian had to choose between the two nationalities, he would be unlikely to compound his greenness.
While England's colonial history undeniably contains unwarranted acts of atrocity, the Irish have far more recent shame to dwell upon before they start burning St George's crosses.
From Paul Gogarty's expletive-laden outburst in the Dail, to former Taoiseach Brian Cowen blathering bleary-eyed to the nation, to a Dublin publican gaining cheap publicity against the very Queen who keeps his son in pocket, Ireland has become something of a global joke and a regular "And finally in Ireland ... " item on CNN.
And that's before we get to the IMF bailout.
So, while there is a desire for a victory tomorrow to round off a disappointing Six Nations on a positive note, it should have nothing to do with some perceived 'hatred' of the English.
The perception of England's players or manager Martin Johnson as irretrievably arrogant is also erroneous. England players we have encountered over the years, either through the Heineken Cup, Six Nations or Lions tours, have been consistently courteous and less prone to bouts of sulkiness than some of their Irish counterparts.
Chris Ashton's extravagant swallow dives are more attributable to youthful exuberance than arrogance and it is only when their media go over the top in talking up their team that the charge can be applied to English rugby.
Similarly, the anti-English motivation is more relevant to supporters and 'ra-ra' element of the Irish media than the players themselves. Tomorrow is not about beating the 'old enemy', it is about the Irish recognising their own deficiencies and producing a clinical, professional performance to get the World Cup preparations back on track.