Saturday 16 December 2017

Billy Keane: Don't follow herd – Gatland is, believe it or not, human

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Warren Gatland travelled from Galway to our fundraiser in Ballybunion Golf Club when he was the manager of the Irish team. I asked him about his expenses. He didn't want any. Did it all for free.

We had a lovely night and he's a good man. Likes his pint and has a word for everybody. So it is I felt for Warren when the Irish national herd turned him into some sort of hate figure because he dropped Brian O'Driscoll.

Warren was likened to Thierry Henry, who was a cheat. The Lions boss made his call purely on rugby grounds. There was no bias. Irish players got their chances on tour. If Cian Healy and Paul O'Connell were fit, well then both would be on the team. Conor Murray will make an appearance too at some stage. That would have made six Irish.

Yes, I would have had Brian on from the start. For his courage and for his skill at the breakdown. Romain Poite whistles more than a bunch of lads eying pretty girls on a street corner. The refereeing on tour has been truly appalling. The touch judging has been even worse. And the Lions have suffered most. But Poite likes O'Driscoll.

There's more too, in that Brian leads by example. The kind of man you'd point to and say to your young lad, 'hey boy that's the commitment, skill and courage you need to succeed in life'.

But Brian isn't the player he was. He wasn't at his old best in the Six Nations, apart from the Welsh game. Brian has been better than Jonathan Davies on this tour, but only marginally so.

It was a tight enough call.

Jamie Roberts had to come in. The Lions just didn't threaten in midfield – off some terrible ball, admittedly. There are a few fitness doubts concerning him but, fully fit, the giant Welshman is close on the best in the world. Those who accuse him of being a basher have it all wrong. They don't give out doctors' licences to bullocks. He knows the game and if as expected, by yours truly, the Lions dominate in the scrum, well then Roberts should go over for a try.

I wonder if Brian has been in touch with Kieran Donaghy. Our good friend has been dropped by his good friend Eamonn Fitzmaurice for tomorrow's Munster final against Cork.

That's the hardest part of getting into management so soon after retiring. You have to leave out your old colleagues. Men you won All-Irelands with. The fact is, Kerry need an impact sub. When Donaghy comes on, he will lift the team and the supporters. And you can bring him on at midfield and all six forward positions. He is the most popular lad in the squad and his team-mates would die for him.

Jonathan Sexton will hopefully celebrate the Kerry/Lions double. He's getting married next week. Don't worry young lad, I have it all done. It took me a while to design the bridesmaids' dresses. But the mauve stripes and the purple polka dots are stunning. As for the bride's skirt, it's off the shoulders and is as white as snow, with the graceful lines of a Wardy zig-zag and the silken flow of Ollie Campbell's back swing. Anyway, Laura would look good in an onion bag.

We sometimes forget that these sportspeople are just that. People. Humans. Jonathan's grandmother Brenda will close her shop today for the game. The candle is lit. She prays he will be safe. His mother Clare is a hairdresser on Orwell Road. The prayers are there too. And as I have the chance for a free ad, that woman could make a lovely head of hair out of a toilet mop.

Jonathan asked us to wish a happy 21st birthday to Tim O'Brien-Curran from Kilmoyley, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Jonathan's Irish jersey is framed in Tim's bedroom. We called to see him yesterday. No better lad is there anywhere – or braver, either. And when he laughs, his body shakes. A miracle in itself. And he laughs a lot. You'd be in the better of meeting him.


Tim is from the great plain of north Kerry, where the fields are prairies and the grass is even enough for hurling, and a fine hurler he was too. Tim played for the Kingdom and won an All-Ireland for Causeway Comp. For he's a jolly good fella.

So too is Warren Gatland. Wrong maybe, but not crazily so. I'm sure his loved ones will be saying their prayers too. Warren's got family and he is, believe it or not, flesh and blood. Some of the abuse was unworthy of our country. Dehumanisation is the first step in the abuser's justification for the destruction of a man's spirit. Too many followed the herd over the edge of reason.

But there's love and hope too.

So there I was on a lovely summer's day like today, watching the waves in Ballybunion and wondering what-ifs and worrying what-will-bes. Our little girls kick-splashed me at the water's edge and their laughter made the world a happy place again.

Brian has his Amy on tour and their baby girl Sadie came along too. There's plenty of water for splashing on Bondi beach and loads of sand for the making of castles and many more tries to be scored before the tide goes out.

Irish Independent

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