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Saturday 16 December 2017

Old boys really let the side down at Gonzaga match

Jesuit school more famous for judges and politicians than hooligans, writes Kim Bielenberg

Gonzaga’s mascot is tackled by Castleknock supporters during a schools rugby match in 2010 Picture: Sportsfile
Gonzaga’s mascot is tackled by Castleknock supporters during a schools rugby match in 2010 Picture: Sportsfile
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

The motto of the fee-paying Gonzaga college in Dublin is "Semper et Ubique Fidelis": "Always and Everywhere Faithful".

The Jesuit school - famous for producing judges, lawyers and politicians - declares in its mission statement: "We strive to form men of competence, conscience, courage, and compassion - men of integrity".

The college charges €6,000 a year for the privilege.

It must have come as something of a shock to the refined gentlemen of the Jesuit order that some recent past pupils of Gonzaga have been letting the side down in no uncertain terms.

The drunken and loutish behaviour by some at a recent Leinster Schools Cup rugby tie against Roscrea has been deemed "totally unacceptable" by fellow alumni of the private school.

There must have been a few eyebrows raised, and possibly some marmalade dropped at breakfast tables in elegant dining rooms across south Dublin, when the past pupils' union had to send out a circular email to alumni of Gonzaga in recent days. This urged them not to arrive at the upcoming semi-final match against Blackrock "in a serious state of intoxication".

It should not be any great surprise that students in their late teens or early 20s might occasionally go to a rugby match with drink taken.

But a "small number" of old Gonzaga boys appear to have caused embarrassment by exceeding the bounds of common decency.

According to the circular missive sent out to past pupils, this included "extreme drunkenness", putting up "offensive banners" at the match, and "disrespect towards the opposition kickers".

Of course, there is nothing new in uncouth behaviour at schools rugby matches and this can occasionally veer towards the offensive.

During crucial matches at my school, we did not have the ingenuity to put up banners roundly abusing our rivals, but we used to shout "Nail him!", "Kill him!" or "Crease the b******!" as an opposing player galloped towards the try line. It never really helped us.

Putting off the the opposition place kicker has also been going on in rugby at all levels since time immemorial, despite rugby alickadoos' pretence to the contrary; and, at times, unsportsmanlike behaviour also extended to the cricket pitch at my school. During important cricket matches, it was not unheard of that boys off the pitch tried to dazzle an opposing bowler or batsman with the reflections of the sun in a mirror.

But once pupils had actually left school, their interest in disrupting opposing teams waned.

That is the surprising aspect of the Gonzaga rumpus.

Why would recent past pupils want to get involved at all once they have left the school?

In the Gonzaga case, the past pupils union mentioned in its email that there was trouble on the streets after the recent match against Roscrea.

This, according to the email circular, resulted in gardaí getting involved with some past pupils and some arrests being made.

There was actually just one arrest of a 19-year-old at the match, according to gardaí.

A source told the Irish Independent that the 19-year-old was arrested for "being mouthy" with gardaí who had been called to the stadium. He was later released without charge.

The Garda source said: "There were a few public order incidents with the past pupils. They were drunk and a bit messy but it was nothing out of the ordinary. This wasn't a serious public order incident."

"A few of the guys were walking in the middle of the road and when gardaí asked them to move, in fairness to them, they did."

The past pupils union expressed concern in its email that "this rowdy behaviour reflected very poorly on Gonzaga as a school and on us as past pupils". It must also have caused consternation to the authorities at the school.

Gonzaga students, as they are known, have long prided themselves on being a touch more bookish and cerebral than the pampered products of other 'rugger bugger' enclaves such as Clongowes and Blackrock.

This sense of self-importance was wonderfully encapsulated in a motion debated by past pupils during the depths of recession a few years back: "That a Gonzaga education would have prevented the financial crisis." The motion was defeated.

The Jesuit school has educated many well-known Irish public figures, including former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan, and the former European Commissioner Peter Sutherland.

The past pupils union has proposed a course of action to stop unruly behaviour at the upcoming match against Blackrock.

In their circular email, they urge past pupils, and parents, to have a word with the unruly element before or during the match, and possibly to stand close to them during the matches, acting as effective stewards.

It is a sorry state of affairs indeed if parents have to police their adult children at a schools rugby match to stop things getting out of hand.

Will they have to act like stewards in hi-vis jackets escorting their offspring from Southside palazzo to SUV to stadium in a bid to keep the peace?

One might wonder what can be done to stop the young past pupils involved in the rugby match incident from misbehaving in this fashion again - other than hoping that they grow up and see sense, before embarking on careers as barristers, merchant bankers and cabinet ministers.

Irish Independent

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