Wednesday 21 February 2018

It's hard to be humble when you're in RTE's new boy band

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Admit it, you kind of knew we were in for another ropey World Cup when they began likening themselves to a boy band. Too many egos smoking like a coal-fire, right? Holy Smoley, those weekend quotes threw up a pretty harrowing MRI of the junk between their ears.

I mean what right-minded bloke puts it on record that people he meets reckon the last tournament "didn't exist" because he wasn't there?

I read that and thought of Bing Crosby leaning on a piano. Or someone admiring his backswing in a wall mirror. You know, someone looking hopelessly self-satisfied. But not a man of the world primed for a six-week war.

Make allowances if you will. First game, first-day nerves, little worries igniting in the rib-cage. But this coming from the bloke whose hand was, supposedly, on the tiller?

Yep, the RTE boys were ready for New Plymouth in a way Declan Kidney and the Irish team could but envy.

After the fallout to '07, most of the players have become so conditioned against hubris that they now pick their words as carefully as archaeologists picking Viking fragments out of the soil in Wood Quay.

Not so Tom and the boys.

"It's unique in a sense," gushed Brent Pope in a befuddling weekend interview with the Montrose panelists. "People watch it like they watch the 'X Factor'," he said.

McGurk spoke of the "brave warriors" he would be grilling over the coming weeks and you couldn't but think that, if Donald Trump ever happened to tune in, he'd be enrolling in a self-assertion class within hours.

"Are we not proud?" asked Agony Aunt George. It didn't say if he was grinning as the words came spilling out.

Hook and Pope make for an entertaining double-act. They don't seem to take themselves too seriously, which is always refreshing.

There's a Statler and Waldorf quality to their relationship, maybe a bit of Felix and Oscar too. One energises the curmudgeon in the other.

And it's fun watching them carom off one another, irrespective of the topic.

But their view of what it is that they bring to rugby punditry is now on public record. And it seems to fall perfectly in sync with McGurk's perspective on the Heineken Cup. "We put it on the map in this country," observed the chair, without any apparent irony.

Which, of course, might just be news to Paul O'Connell or Ronan O'Gara or, dare we say, even Declan Kidney.

Hook admitted that he loved being recognised and actually chose not to go ex-directory so that "all these loonies" can still ring him up, asking rugby questions. Then McGurk mentioned them all once walking together to a Heineken Cup final in Cardiff.

And that's when you could all but hear the music play.

"We were like Westlife," said Pope.

"It was incredible," agreed McGurk. "Even better the DG (Director General, RTE) turned around and said, 'Pat f*****g Kenny doesn't get this sort of reception.' We didn't get into the stadium until we signed a thousand autographs."


And that's when Popey again likened it to being in a band. "We were mobbed," he said, warming to the image. "Remember when we got back, we were soaked in champagne, dripping wet."

"Do you like the fame?" he asked Hook as an aside.

"I adore it," said George.

And their fame will invariably now rise in inverse proportion to the sinking morale of an Irish team that looks to be revisiting the miseries of '07.

The players look haunted and, worryingly, sound mindful of the scorn already beginning to flow in their direction. You can all but read their minds now, of how this would be a grand old gig if it wasn't so damn repetitive.

Where to from here? Simple.

In Saturday's newspaper interview, the RTE chaps eventually ceased talking about themselves and took to shooting the breeze about Ireland.

And Conor O'Shea proposed the view that "humility is a massive part of what Irish people are about".

Can't say why, but Popey changed the subject.

Irish Independent

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