Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hold the Back Page: BODballs rubbish must be discarded

Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland
Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland

Eamonn Sweeney

Can we give the O'Driscollatory a break? Please?

There's poor Peter O'Mahony, maybe Ireland's best player of the season so far, being interviewed last week and what do they ask him? Peter, will Ireland be knocked off their stride against Italy because it's Brian O'Driscoll's last home game, will ye?

And young O'Mahony, being a sane man, answers, "We are professional enough that that won't affect us. There is a job to be done at the weekend."

At least he escaped the fate of Rory Best who after saying that no, Ireland didn't speak about winning the game against Wales for O'Driscoll's sake, saw this transformed into, 'Ireland's unspoken pact'.

It's nuts, isn't it? In the run-up to the England game, Ireland's most important match in five years, a section of the media seemed convinced that what mattered most was 'O'Driscoll's farewell to Twickenham'. You'd imagine no one else was playing. And the lead-up to the French game, which will decide whether we win the championship or not, will probably be the same.

Enough already with this shit.

Fact 1: Brian O'Driscoll is the greatest Irish rugby player of all-time. He is the best centre to have played the game. He has always been a credit to the green jersey. He is one of my favourite sportsmen.

Fact 2: The most important thing about this year's Six Nations Championship for Irish fans is not that Brian O'Driscoll is retiring at the end of it, it's how Ireland perform in it.

Fact 3: If the Irish players perform well, they are not doing it for Brian O'Driscoll. They are doing it for Ireland, for themselves and for their team-mates, one of whom happens to be Brian O'Driscoll.

These should be pretty obvious and non-controversial statements but I feel like a bit of a blasphemer for coming out with them. Because there's been such a tsunami of gush and bluster about O'Driscoll, it's as though hyperbole and sycophancy have been added to the Olympics and contestants only have till the end of March to reach the qualifying standard.

Most of this BODballs actually doesn't feel like sports reporting at all. Or news reporting for that matter. It's more like that British tabloid fixation with the Royal Family where they breathlessly inform their readers that the Queen is walking on her hind legs or Kate Middleton cut a cake or Prince Albert went to a match. It's nonsense. Seeing the entire Six Nations championship through the prism of how it affects Brian O'Driscoll leaves you with a grossly distorted picture.

Having said that, I would like nothing better than to see Brian O'Driscoll score the try which clinches the Six Nations title. It's not his fault that so much rubbish gets perpetrated in his name. As he's reputed to be a pretty modest gent, chances are he's probably embarrassed by a lot of it.

You know what was also pretty embarrassing? All that 'Ireland beating Wales proves Warren Gatland was wrong to drop Brian O'Driscoll from the Lions team in the third Test' stuff. In reality, Warren Gatland was proved right when the Lions beat Australia. That's the way of sport. The 2014 Six Nations series is intriguing enough in its own right without being hyped up as some kind of retrospective referendum.

Suppose Ireland lose to France and Wales beat England and sneak the championship. What will that prove? That Gatland was right and then wrong and then right again? Danny Care outplayed Conor Murray last week but that doesn't mean Care rather than Murray should have come on in the third Test. Mike Brown, who may be the best back in the Six Nations so far, wasn't brought to Australia at all. And England, who won four games in last year's Six Nations, had two starters in the third Test while Ireland, who won one game, had three. Yet I haven't noticed the English papers claiming their victory over us as some kind of revenge for selectorial injustice.

Supporting the national team doesn't require you to jump on the bandwagon marked 'Collective stupidity'.

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