Thursday 14 November 2019

Ian O'Doherty: Walloping the Wallabies- the sweetest feeling in the world!

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

When it comes to sports we all bloody hate the Aussies. They are rude, they are ungracious, they are obnoxious in both victory and defeat and, if we're honest with ourselves, we're jealous of the fact that they have a killer instinct that few other nations possess and they are, per capita, the best sporting nation in the world.

But while their will to win and refusal to countenance such a thing as a moral victory is admirable, they truly are the most hateful sporting nation in the world.

We have seen that this week in the wake of our thoroughly deserved hammering of them.

Sure, the scoreboard might only have said 15-6 in our favour but psychologically and physically we smashed them up -- and you don't get to say that very often about games between our two countries.

Following a week of insults from former Australian players and the local media you might have been forgiven for thinking that in the wake of defeat they would have engaged in the admirable Aussie tradition of 'fair go'.

But anyone who has paid any attention to Australian sport in the past will know that was always an unlikely hope.

Even before the start of game, the commentators were sarcastically suggesting that the Irish fans had better cheer for the team while they warmed up because they wouldn't get another chance to cheer once the game had started.

And it's that damned arrogance that made the following 80-plus minutes so bloody sweet.

To see a true rugby legend like two-time World Cup winner Tim Horan -- a man, as his name suggests, with Irish roots himself -- come out and accuse us of cheating at the breakdown was particularly instructive.

After all, when you think that the great Richie McCaw is considered one of the finest flankers of all time, largely down to his rather liberal adherence to the laws of the game in that very position, it seems a bit rich to start criticising the Irish for taking a page out of the All Blacks playbook.

But, ultimately, what the Australians are most guilty of is breaking the spirit of the sport and I don't just mean rugby, I mean every sport, at every level.

Sport is as vital to our collective psychological health as any other aspect of culture, be that movies, music or literature.

And many of us will freely admit that we learned more about life on a playing pitch or a tennis court than we ever did in school -- although in my case, that wouldn't be saying much.

All sports have codes of conduct and honour that are both admirable and inspirational -- apologising to your opponent in tennis if your stroke hits the net cord and plops over, giving you an easy point being an obvious example.

In contact sports you can thump the head off each other for 80 or 90 minutes but it would still be a grotesque violation of the spirit of the game if you didn't shake hands afterwards and, once you've reached an adult stage of the game, share a beer in the afterwards, swapping war stories about the game.

This is what makes sport such an utterly transcendent thing -- both as an activity and as a spectacle.

It makes us better people, of that I have no doubt.

And that's why the events of the last week have been so a) utterly hilarious, because it's the supremely arrogant Aussies behaving like the 'whingeing Poms' they like to lampoon and b) depressing.

What you learnt in school is theory, what you learn on the pitch is practice.

It is through sport that you learn the value of being true to yourself and to others; to learn the value of being not just a good loser but also a good winner -- dignity in victory is as important as dignity in defeat, after all.

That's why Brian O'Driscoll could make a valid claim for being our greatest living sportsman although he himself would never be so arrogant as to do that.

He has been the mainstay of our national team for over a decade and perhaps our only truly world-class player.

Not only does he possess an almost suicidal bravery (anyone who goes to Leinster and Ireland games will see how many hits he takes off the ball) that has caused some horrendous injuries, but he never shows anything less than immense respect for his opponents, be it the lowly USA or the vaunted Australians.

Every slight, every dig, every barb that they threw his way in the week running up to last Saturday's glorious occasion would only have spurred the old warrior on even further but there was no suggestion of crowing in the post-match interview.

Instead, he was calm, collected, polite about the opposition and rapturous about the Irish support in the crowd, who themselves performed magnificently.

I went into a local shop later that afternoon and behind the counter stood a guy still in his Ireland jersey.

We looked at each other, just burst into laughter and high-fived each other.

"I have to admit," he said during the conversation, "I completely welled up at the final whistle, I couldn't even talk for a while after the match."

He wasn't the only one.

Irish Independent

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