Thursday 12 December 2019

Hogan: Big men don't cry? The lie that no longer fools

Corkery backing new rugby initiative to spot early danger signs

David Mitchell of Pieta House, Ireland front-row forward Jack McGrath, Ireland women’s full-back Niamh Briggs, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and David Corkery launch the ‘Mind Ur Buddy’ Mental Fitness Initiative with Pieta House at the Aviva Stadium SPORTSFILE
David Mitchell of Pieta House, Ireland front-row forward Jack McGrath, Ireland women’s full-back Niamh Briggs, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and David Corkery launch the ‘Mind Ur Buddy’ Mental Fitness Initiative with Pieta House at the Aviva Stadium SPORTSFILE
Brendan Maher
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

In The Test, Brian O'Driscoll describes the moments immediately after his ferocious collision with giant Springbok, Danie Rossouw, in Pretoria five years ago.

"The first thought hits me while we're going backwards" he writes. "That's a good shot!

"The second comes when we're down.

"F..k, that hurt!

"The third thing that comes into my head is that I need to get up and show him I'm not hurt. I don't see him staggering backwards and falling down, or being taken off the field. I get back in play but I'm down again when the ball goes dead."

O'Driscoll would be one of three Lions players hospitalised that evening after a bruising Second Test and, one week later, he watched the third from a stool in the Fifty-One bar on Haddington Road.

During the first Test in Durban, he'd had a brief scuffle with Bismarck du Plessis, being shoved onto his back as he picked himself from a ruck.

Such moments tend to be harmless but, in the testosterone blizzard of a high-stakes rugby Test, there is something innately humiliating about being knocked onto the seat of your pants.

"Once you let that kind of stuff go unchallenged, you might as well go home" writes O'Driscoll who promptly takes "a swipe" at his opponent.

This leads to him being pinned to the ground, du Plessis bringing a clenched fist slowly down towards his face, stopping just short of contact. O'Driscoll suggests that - at that moment - he considered blowing du Plessis a kiss.

Had he done so, he would almost certainly have been knocked unconscious, collateral damage for an opportunity "to take the piss". His words present an image of the Test rugby player as adversarial to the point of a self-harming recklessness.

After all, if a man is fond of his teeth, he doesn't wisely blow kisses at a Springbok.

There is probably no more compelling physical challenge in modern sport than a rugby Test against South Africa. Generations come and go, coaches impart subtle differences in philosophy, but Springbok rugby tends to be - above all - an expression of physical authority.

That, largely, will be the beginning and end of the challenge facing Joe Schmidt's Ireland today. How do they man up?

The pressure to maintain a front is unrelenting at this altitude of competition, so we will never know what worries might be gusting through individual minds. But, if you were challenged to pick a single Irish player from the past who would have adored a contest with today's imperatives, I doubt you'd come up with a better candidate than David Corkery.

We now know, of course, that Ireland's Player of the Tournament at the 95 World Cup had a lot more going on in his head than the surface relish for physical conflict. His extraordinary interview in this newspaper last February staggered many old team-mates who had been blissfully unaware of his struggles with depression.

To most, Corkery simply answered the modern prototype of the professional rugby forward. Macho, ruthless, unscrupulous.

"Inflicting pain was my job" is how he put it himself. Yet, when injury forced him into early retirement, Corkery found himself in the blackest of black places. Throughout his entire career, emotional cracks had been papered over by the simple compulsion to be hard.

Now the roof caved in.

It took him many years to identify his own, private deception and only hindsight now allows an understanding of how fragile he had really always been.

You might notice Pieta House volunteers fund-raising along Lansdowne Road today and, if so, resist the impulse to rush past. They will be there to promote the "Mind Ur Buddy" programme, a mental fitness initiative run in conjunction with the IRFU.

It is designed specifically to identify and help people like a young David Corkery, with an aim of reducing the potential for self-harm and suicide.

Heavy stuff, maybe, to be listening to on your way to a November international, but Corkery himself has signed up as an ambassador for the initiative, reflecting this week "I know that one simple phone call, an arm around the shoulder or a word in confidence with someone you admire and respect, can make the world of difference."

Corkery might not be with us today if that someone had not come into his own life. So don't breeze past those buckets today. Or, if you must, just text PH4 to 50300 to make a €4 donation.

The Springboks might be in town, but we don't all have to play at being harder than stone.

Karma could catch out a graceless Mourinho

BBC's Match of the Day has seen to it that Jose Mourinho's chest-thumping triumphalism at Anfield last April gets recycled on a weekly basis.

It is Mourinho at his most provocative, celebrating damage inflicted on an opponent rather than any significant watershed for his own team. Chelsea, by then, had already surrendered all but the most tenuous hopes of being crowned champions.

Their victory over Liverpool was too little too late. It effectively returned the title momentum to Manchester City who, of course, duly made it count.

Yet Mourinho's personality demanded that he be the central focus of attention now. So, with TV camera dutifully close, he marched towards the Chelsea supporters, slapping his chest and bellowing like a mule. It was a crassly exaggerated celebration of a result that would, ultimately, be of no significance to his team.

He returns today in a position of immense strength against opponents for whom last season now seems cruelly hallucinatory in recall. The football media won't be gentle on Brendan Rodgers if Liverpool's indifferent form extends to a fifth Premier League defeat.

Mourinho knows this and, should it come to pass, he will most probably wrap his old protégé in a great, supposedly meaningful, embrace. If so, it should be taken for what it is, a chameleon just playing the fame game.

In April, Mourinho was utterly graceless when he had no need to be. A Liverpool victory today might be a long shot. But karma?

Winning Tipp captains share their secrets

Nicky English has his stories to tell about the distinction of captaining Tipperary hurlers, not all of them exactly soap-scented.

So it seems perfectly apposite that the six-time Allstar will launch Noel Dundon's Captains of the Premier Ship in Thurles next Saturday, a 320-page history of the 21 men who have led Tipp to All-Ireland senior glory.

It probably still stings a little in the county that Brendan Maher was not a rushed late addition to that esteemed group, given how close Tipp came to their 27th title this year.

The belief that Tipp should have significantly more All-Irelands to their name fires many a winter argument and that's probably not going to end any time soon. Tadgh O'Connor, captain in 71, is of a view that the back-door system simply "came about 40 years too late".

Dundon's book taps into the stories of those who made it to the promised land and it is one, you suspect, that the entirety of Eamonn O'Shea's 2015 panel might well be encouraged to read.

All profits from Captains of the Premier Ship go to the mental health charity, AWARE.

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