Television review: Against the head and the truth
Against the Head (RTE2)
It's a most peculiar thing, the rugby. As a small boy I was fanatically devoted to it. I would watch the Five Nations as it was then, with commentary by Fred Cogley, who himself seemed somewhat peculiar, in a good way - he had that thing which is called a "sunny disposition", which stayed sunny even though Ireland tended to lose a lot of their matches.
My disposition would not be so sunny, when they lost, but I would be elated when they won. I really cared about this stuff, cared about it as much as I have ever cared about any sport - but only on four days of the year.
For the other 361 days, it played no part in my life. It wasn't on television, and otherwise it did not exist for me - nor, as far as I could see, did it exist for anyone else apart from the alickadoos who kept it going during these long, long fallow periods.
And there was nothing wrong with this arrangement, nobody ever complained, or if they did, nobody was listening to them. Four international matches, four big TV occasions stretched over the months of January and February, thank you very much and good night.
Well, there's a lot more rugby on TV these days, but somehow I sense that for some viewers, that fundamental psychic structure has not altered a great deal. That the rugby-shaped hole can be filled just as easily now as it was then by quite a small number of games - perhaps even smaller now than it was back then, due to the changes in the nature of the sport brought about by the the size and physique of players today.
Some of us now could probably get by with as little as two big games a year, maybe just the one - by which I mean games that you actually care about, in the Fred Cogley sense, rather than in the Official Ireland sense.
Indeed a friend of mine has formed the view - which I believe to be a tad extreme - that the way in which Official Ireland loves the rugby, and talks about it, is "one of the most truly horrible things in Irish public life".
He is maddened by people who clearly don't understand anything about sport, talking about it in public as if they did. And his ire extends to the whole culture whereby such people will visit Paris or London or Edinburgh or Rome to go to a Six Nations match as part of a lovely weekend break, without realising that what they are doing there - basically having a wonderful time, win, lose or draw, but mostly win these days - is total bulls**t.
So I thought of my angry friend as RTE's Against the Head threw out the interesting proposition that rugby is "arguably the people's game now".
It was the presenter Daire O'Brien who kicked it off, Daire for whom I have some affection, as he is a true sportsman, whose catchphrase "go easy" has a kind of rueful resonance.
Panellists Eddie 'The Dagger' O'Sullivan, Brent 'Bulgaria' Pope, and Bernard 'Baldman' Jackman (only two of those nicknames are made up) went at it with relish, and no Official Ireland panel they.
No, these are real men of rugby, mulling over the concept put to them by Daire, that arguably the Ireland rugby team might now be compared to Jack's Army in terms of its place in the hearts of the people. Arguably…yes I think that rugby is "arguably the people's game now", in the same way that anything is arguable really, if you're looking for an argument. But if you were arguing with that friend of mine, about this and about the Jack's Army line, you would be losing that argument pretty decisively.
Personally I am more philosophical about these things, I just can't get that angry about something that causes me so little genuine unhappiness when things go wrong - which probably makes me a fairly typical Irish rugby fan, if truth be told.
We have a sense of proportion now, that we didn't have in the time of Fred Cogley. And we had quite a sense of proportion even then.