Thursday 14 November 2019

Vincent Hogan: Murphy's 'tackle' on old boss is badly misjudged

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Geordan Murphy has just written a book called 'The Outsider.' Quite what the title refers to is not entirely clear. True, he comes from Kildare, but then so does Jamie Heaslip. They both went to Newbridge College, the same alma mater of men like Bernard Jackman, Tony Buckley and Johne Murphy.

It isn't exactly Angola in rugby terms, is it? Or even Moyross, from where Keith Earls hails.

Maybe the title is to do with pursuing a professional career in England during an era when most Irish internationals have been centrally contracted to the IRFU. That undoubtedly worked against the likes of Bob Casey (another Kildare man, incidentally) who plays with London Irish.

Except Geordan has accumulated 74 caps for Ireland in the same time that Casey, a contemporary, has got six.

No the key to the title is almost certainly in the book's index. Eddie O'Sullivan features in 21 separate passages of 'The Outsider' and the trick is to find one in which Geordan doesn't toss some little personal grenade in the former Ireland coach's direction.


Now there's long been something almost self-consciously graceful about Murphy as a rugby player. His movement is, simply, beautiful. The arched back, those illusionist's hands, the loose-hipped wickedness of that side-step all combine to create a kind of rugby art.

Some things are just meant to be in life. And Murphy, palpably, was born to run with a ball.

But, in his own estimation, he never managed a good working relationship with O'Sullivan. Why? Because Eddie looked at what he considered the high aggregate of Murphy's mistakes in an Irish shirt and worried.

Now, as O'Sullivan pointed out in his own autobiography three years ago, more than 50 of Geordan's international caps were won on Eddie's watch.

So, he clearly wasn't a coach armed with any personal antipathy towards Murphy.

"True, I often preferred Girvan Dempsey as my full-back," wrote O'Sullivan. "But this was a rugby decision, nothing more."

Geordan's record against France specifically wasn't good in the coach's estimation. And, not unreasonably, he came to factor that into his team selection.

But that's the curious thing about 'The Outsider.' Geordan catalogues some of his worst moments in an Ireland shirt -- the opening Six Nations game in Paris '06; the second summer Test in New Zealand that same year; the visit of France to Croke Park in '07; the Six Nations game in Paris one year later -- and, well, they all come down pretty much to one and the same thing.

Missed tackles.

Two minutes into Paris '06: "I missed a tackle that allowed Aurelien Rougerie in for their first try." Next score? "He (Rougerie) power-stepped off his left foot and I wasn't near enough to grab him." In the same game: "Another disastrous moment by yours truly," a long, looping, infield pass intercepted by Cedric Heymans.

At a video session after that second Test in New Zealand (Ireland lost 17-27), O'Sullivan questioned Murphy's failure to make a tackle on Joe Rokocoko. Geordan explained that he knew Gordon D'Arcy had his inside and, therefore, didn't feel the need to commit.

"No you want to put him in the stand," protested O'Sullivan.

"Well you try putting a 16 stone winger who moves like a f*****g conger eel into the stand, Eddie!" responded Geordan.

The famous Rafael Ibanez try in Croke Park? "Instead of dropping my hips and hitting low, I stuck my hand up and did an impression of a well-oiled turnstile. I was never going to stop him with that technique. Inexcusable."

Paris 12 months later? "A Clerc hat-trick and another try by Heymans had us trailing 26-6 early in the second-half. I was hammered in the press for going AWOL, as Clerc's tries were a result of the French pouring down my wing."

Why, you wonder, might the French have chosen to do such a thing?

Now, maybe I might be seen to have a vested interest in the subject, given I ghostwrote Eddie's book. But, reading 'The Outsider', you get an impression that Geordan saw the role of the Ireland coach as some kind of facilitator for those little aberrations that cost careers, championships and, in the Ibanez case, a probable Grand Slam,


Indeed, incredibly, he even admits to upbraiding O'Sullivan for not defending him publicly over the French prop's try at Croke Park and uses words like "spiteful" and "disgraceful" to describe decision-making by the coach that might just as readily be interpreted as logical.

Geordan, inevitably, recycles the shortcomings of the '07 World Cup campaign in France too, the characterless hotel in Bordeaux, the poor food, the small, ordinary rooms, the communal boredom.

Oddly, all the grace that comes so naturally to him as a player is lost in his treatment of O'Sullivan.

He dismisses the coach with whom he won half a century of caps, indeed whose win ratio for Ireland will almost certainly never be surpassed, simply as an autocrat with a taste for "ridiculous expressions."

Yet, reading 'The Outsider', you get no glimpse of a life spent fighting prejudice.

Rather you get the reflection of a beautiful talent for whom the mundane business of tackling an opponent never quite seemed to register as a skill worth mastering.

That, you suspect, was the beginning and the end of Geordan Murphy's story with Eddie O'Sullivan.

Just too many impressions of a human turnstile.

Irish Independent

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