Sunday 15 December 2019

Paul Kimmage: CJ Stander can belt out Amhran na bhFiann but he’s still a South African playing for Ireland

Ireland’s Paul Kimmage, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley (l-r front row) celebrate after Roche claims gold in the 1987 World Championships and (left) CJ Stander sings the Irish national Anthem
Ireland’s Paul Kimmage, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley (l-r front row) celebrate after Roche claims gold in the 1987 World Championships and (left) CJ Stander sings the Irish national Anthem
Ireland’s Paul Kimmage, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley (l-r front row) celebrate after Roche claims gold in the 1987 World Championships
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

Tommy Tiernan has never been mistaken for René Descartes or Friedrich Nietzsche, but there was a lot of wisdom in an interview he gave to Nadine O'Regan in The Sunday Business Post last week. Asked about the positive response to his latest show on Twitter, the 47-year-old comedian explained that he "tended not to follow that star".

"There's an inclination to think these days that Twitter is the all-seeing, all-knowing arbitrar. My social media is from people on the street," he said.

Curious, O'Regan pressed a little more and noted Tiernan's opinion that social media practitioners were a little too close to ducks for his liking.

"Ducks?" she inquired.

"Ducks," he replied. "If you act independently, you're striding and following the instinct of your body, and somewhere behind you there might be a gaggle of ducks that are quacking, but you don't turn around and follow the ducks." Then he laughed. "I'm aware of the ducks but they don't own me."

Confession: I've been distracted by the ducks of late.

It started with a discussion on The Last Word about identity and the growing farce of international rugby these days. A French team with potentially two Fijian wings, a New-Zealand born prop, and a South African full-back. An England team that has featured a Fijian wing, a South African lock, a South African flanker and two New Zealand centres.

A Scotland team for the Six Nations with a South African prop and a South African flanker. An Ireland team that might feature three New Zealanders and two South Africans at the next World Cup. And an absurd notion that we should sit back and applaud this.

Not Luke Fitzgerald.

"I think it's wrong," he said. "That's controversial and it's no reflection on those guys. They're doing everything within the rules. I want to see Irish guys in there. Are we not good enough to fill those spots? I don't know if being born in a different part of the world makes you a better player. If they're not making their international teams, why would we be taking them?

Read more: 'It does piss you off': Fitzgerald blasts 'wrong' use of residency rules

"Is that an admission we're not as good as good as them? I'm sure it is. Would it affect me if there was a guy from another place getting picked ahead of me? I've been in that spot and it does piss you off. You've come all the way up through the systems and then all of a sudden some guy comes in and is perceived to be better because he's from a different place and it's, 'Let's get this guy in.' It's really disappointing. It really dilutes it. What's the point? It's like Barbarians versus Barbarians, why do that?"

I'm with Luke. What's the point? What's wrong with Irish kids playing for Ireland? What's wrong with English kids playing for England? What's wrong with a rule that says you can only choose one country? And I said as much on The Last Word. There should be no more flags of convenience.

My mistake was to mention CJ Stander.

Almost a year has passed since the genial South African made a brilliant debut for Ireland in the Six Nations opener against Wales and sent the ducks into meltdown. "CJ Stander belted out Amhran na bhFiann and it made Twitter proud to be Irish," the SportsJoe website announced.

They even posted some of the quacks:

Shauna: "Watching CJ Stander singing the national anthem today is a bit emotional."

Ger: "CJ singing out - best thing today. Go @CJStander stand up for Ireland."

Ken: "CJ Stander belting out the anthem and some of the Leinster lads with not a word. Strange times."

Ciaran: "CJ Stander is already a ledgebag!"

Susie: "Anyone who doesn't like the residency rule needs to watch @CJStander singing amhran na bhfiann to see what it means."

CJ Stander on the charge against New Zealand. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
CJ Stander in action for Ireland

Well, I don't like the residency rule. And I watched CJ singing. And I like and admire him as a rugby player. But tell me, Susie, what does it mean?

Almost 30 years ago, on September 6, 1987, five Irish cyclists rolled to the start of the World Professional Road Race Championships in Villach, Austria. Four were Dubliners, one was from Carrick-on-Suir and three have since published books. I blew the dust off their covers last week to examine what it meant to them.

Seán Kelly: "We always felt like we were racing against the odds at the World Championships. The Irish Cycling Federation was not a wealthy organisation. We didn't have a team manager or much back-up because the federation simply didn't have the resources, so we relied on support from our sponsored teams.

"A mechanic from Kas came to help us and Stephen (Roche) had a couple of people from his Carrera team. We had to get our own green jerseys made, which explains why they were often different shades. Our jerseys may not have matched but the spirit in the team was excellent."

Stephen Roche: "Three hours in and I take off another jacket. The race is starting to open up. From time to time groups of riders break away but Seán, Paul (Kimmage), Martin (Earley), Alan (McCormack) and I aren't worrying because so far there have always been others prepared to bring them back. (Moreno) Argentin's Italian team is 13-strong, while all of the major cycling powers including France, Holland, Belgium and Spain have teams of 12.

"Martin Earley and Paul Kimmage are also doing a good job of keeping the pack together, but it's complicated trying to know when to commit resources from a five-man team that's vastly underpowered compared to many others."

Paul Kimmage: "With 60 kilometres to go a four-man group which included two favourites, the Dutchman Teun van Vliet and reigning champion Moreno Argentin, went clear. The French took up the chase, aided by a quarter of the Irish team, Martin Earley, and the gap started to narrow. I sat near the front, waiting for a sign of weakness from Martin.

"The four were retrieved and the attacks followed. Martin, exhausted from his chase, retired - he had done his work. I moved up on Kelly's shoulder and told him I was available for short-range chasing. He nodded, and I set about closing down any serious break without a green jersey. As the bell rang, announcing the last lap, the decisive move went clear."

Kelly: "On the final lap, everyone was nervous and tired. We knew that it might take just one well-timed attack to win the race. Argentin was glued to my back wheel. He would have got into my back pocket if he could. He was following me everywhere and I knew he'd react if I tried anything. I rolled alongside Stephen and we agreed to take turns following the attacks.

"We hit the last climb with about three kilometres left and I was in a group of a dozen or so that was still together. Every time there had been an attack, a green jersey followed. We'd played it perfectly, now we just had to see out the finish."

Roche: "A couple more attempts are neutralised, then Van Vliet attacks and (Rolf) Golz takes off after him. A gap starts to open so I accelerate away from the back of the line, jump onto Golz's wheel and we join up with Van Vliet. (Guido) Winterberg and (Rolf) Sorensen are quick to follow, making it five at the front.

"I'm expecting more riders to respond, but guess that everyone is waiting for Argentin to commit himself. He's the favourite, he's the only rider from the race's strongest team and he's defending the title. But the gap widens and I start wondering: 'What am I going to do?'"

Kimmage: "Behind, the race was over, and we all knew it. I tuned my ear to the PA system and tried to work out what was happening up front. I said a prayer that Kelly might win. With both of them up front they had a great chance. The logical tactic was for Stephen to hold it together to Seán for the sprint."

Roche: "With about 500 metres left I took one last look behind and decided that Kelly's group was not coming back in time and so I prepared for the attack. The remarkable thing was that there was still something in my legs and when I went I tried to use every available ounce of energy. I was turning a big gear when I attacked and just kept turning it.

"After about 300 metres I glanced under my arm and got the most beautiful surprise of my life. The others were well behind me and I was going to be world champion."

Kelly: "As Stephen crossed the line - the new world champion - I put my hands up to celebrate too. It wasn't a gesture for the cameras it was a genuine show of delight. Our little gang from Ireland had beaten the best in the world. It wasn't me that would pull on the rainbow jersey but it was still a magnificent feeling."

Kimmage: "I strained my ears as we turned into the finishing straight. The PA announced the winner: 'Steven Rooks, Champion de Monde.' There was a huge roar from the crowd. 'Did he say Roche or Rooks?' I wasn't sure. Rooks, the Dutchman, was also in the break. 'I think he said Rooks.' I didn't bother to sprint.

"It was seconds after crossing the line that I discovered the truth. I bumped into Irish journalist John Brennan as he scurried across for a few words from the new world champion.

"He's done it. The bastard's done it."



"No. You're joking."

Roche: "At the finish it was chaos. Because the victory was so unexpected I was overcome with joy. Seán, who finished fifth, was the first to congratulate me. I could see that he was genuinely delighted for me and that added to my victory. Martin and Paul were soon congratulating me too and there was a marvellous night ahead of us."

Kimmage: "I made my way through the crowd to the pit area. Stephen had been whisked off for the medal ceremony, but our pit was still crowded. Kelly was giving his story to journalists, Martin was having the back patted off him by almost every Irish supporter on the circuit and there were scenes of great joy all around the pit.

"I too whacked him across the back and then threw my arms around Kelly and congratulated him on his fine performance. I really wished it could have been him on the winner's rostrum, but I suppose it's the one title he is destined never to win. We pulled on some warm clothes and cycled back to the hotel, where it took some solid scrubbing under the shower to remove the grime and dirt from seven hours of racing from my legs."

Kelly: "Our hotel was full of happy Irish supporters that night and they stayed up very late singing and knocking back the drink. I was exhausted but managed to stay up until about midnight when I left Stephen at the bar, wearing his rainbow jersey, a smile as wide as the Liffey on his face."

That's a long-winded way of explaining to all the ducks out there who have been giving me a hard time about CJ that I know what it means to play for Ireland. And it has nothing to do with anthems or flags. There wasn't one of us who knew the words of Amhran na bhFiann that day. Or remembered that it had even been played.

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