Sport Rugby

Monday 18 November 2019

Alan Quinlan: 'Players deal with disappointment differently, but laughter, if at all possible, is the best medicine'

For the seventh time in nine World Cups, Ireland exited at the quarter-final stage. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
For the seventh time in nine World Cups, Ireland exited at the quarter-final stage. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

In a particularly memorable ‘Father Ted’ episode, a state of panic envelops the Craggy Island Parochial House ahead of a visit by the fearsome Bishop Brennan, who has apparently fathered a son in the US.

Ted, anticipating the potential for disaster given Fr Dougal’s gormless nature and knowledge of the scandal, reminds his colleague to keep schtum about His Grace’s not-so-little secret.

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"Don't mention the son," Ted pleads to a typically absent Dougal just seconds before the booming arrival of their cape-clad guest.

Once the bishop is seated on the unmistakable Craggy Island settee, an awkward silence follows while Mrs Doyle prepares the tea. Inevitably, Dougal blurts, "How’s the son?" to his superior. The room erupts in consternation and a brilliant piece of comedy ensues.

Sometimes addressing the elephant in the room is the best approach.

Skating around a major issue is often unwise, especially in team environments where the collective mood is so important.

Ireland's players would have been happy to return to their provinces over the past couple of weeks, but considering the deeply disappointing nature of their World Cup exit there would have also been some apprehension about their reception.

Those who were toiling away at the provinces while most of the rugby world's eyes were on the Far East would also have had mixed emotions over the reintegration of their internationals, unsure how fragile they may still be.

Players deal with disappointment differently, but ultimately laughter, if at all possible, is the best medicine.

You can’t afford to feel sorry for yourself when your province’s season is beginning in earnest, even if the disappointment from this World Cup probably usurps all previous tournaments due to the levels of expectation for Japan.

When we came back from France in 2007 I had barely hung up my jacket before Rua Tipoki was playfully prodding me for not even getting a game for an Irish team that failed to get out of the pool.

Tipoki repeatedly proclaimed Denis Leamy to be a national hero for securing the win against Georgia with his last-ditch tackle. No one was safe from the slagging; every mistake in training was another opportunity for a punchline.

Everyone was hurting, but you needed that ribbing from Tipoki and Co to break the ice. If you didn’t laugh, you would have probably cried.

Some players will deal with the World Cup disappointment better than others, particularly those who will have another tournament in four years’ time to rectify the mistakes. But it is not all circumstantial, it’s a personal thing.

'When we came back from France in 2007 I had barely hung up my jacket before Rua Tipoki was playfully prodding me for not even getting a game for an Irish team that failed to get out of the pool.'
'When we came back from France in 2007 I had barely hung up my jacket before Rua Tipoki was playfully prodding me for not even getting a game for an Irish team that failed to get out of the pool.'

Everyone’s mental approach is different when it comes to digesting despondency. Some will be in a state of grief, others are much better at boxing it up and moving on.

There is one common trait however – everyone just wants to get back playing rugby. Some will be ready to take to the field sooner than others, though.

Mental and physical recovery will vary from player to player, so this is where shrewd management, the mood of the non-internationals and the value of foresight play a hugely important role.

In 2007, after spending my time in France mostly holding tackle bags, doing fitness work, boxing and lifting weights, I was mad to just play rugby again.

Coming on against Cardiff at Irish Independent Park, just five days after Ireland were sent packing by Argentina in the Parc des Princes, was exactly what I – and Frankie Sheahan, who also played the last half-hour – needed.

We were just two of the 12-strong Munster contingent in Eddie O’Sullivan’s 30-man squad but we didn’t just want to play rugby when we landed back in Ireland, we needed to.

We lost again the following week, 16-3 away to Ospreys, but I wasn’t downbeat. I was just so happy to be home, living in my own house, in a more familiar working environment and actually playing rugby.

We started to build something thereafter. An 11-11 draw in Glasgow followed, before Ronan O’Gara starred on his Munster return as we edged past Edinburgh in Cork, 'national hero' Leamy claiming the crucial try.

All of a sudden, with the Heineken Cup campaign next on the calendar, six weeks after a desperate World Cup campaign exhaled its last breath, we were buzzing again under Declan Kidney, blinkered by the red jersey. Six months later, we were European champions.

The turnaround for this current crop of internationals is sharper, facing into Europe four and five weeks after their World Cup exit, before the back-to-back outings at six and seven weeks. But with clever management there is no reason why they cannot prosper for the remainder of the season.

Once you get that first big moment on the field – a big carry, line-break or tackle, a timely turnover or a heart-warming try, the knots in your shoulders ease, the pressure gauge drops and you gratefully remember the genuine joy that sport can provide.

Dermot Morgan as Father Ted
Dermot Morgan as Father Ted

You need time to deal with disappointments, some of which you may never really get over, but getting back on the horse is the best way to plough on.

The alternative is to lie there prone, hoping things will right themselves, a position that will more than likely just guarantee you another kick in the a**e – something even the imperious Bishop Brennan eventually found out can rattle you to the core.

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