Friday 24 November 2017

Howls of disapproval have become studio's pet sounds

Tommy Conlon

Half-time in the studio at Lansdowne Road last Saturday and George Hook is getting his excuses in early.

The Irish rugby team has destroyed England in the first half and Hook's bluster has once again blown up in his face. During the Six Nations campaign he had castigated the coach, Declan Kidney, and insulted a few of the younger players.

At various points he alleged that the team was "badly coached" and that there was "a monster crisis" in the camp. Asked by Tom McGurk after the Wales game if Kidney had "lost his way", Hook's reply was emphatic. "Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt."

And now the team that is suffering a monster crisis, and that is badly coached by a man who's lost his way, has somehow managed to tear England apart.

There's another 40 minutes still to play but the writing is on the wall for the pundit who is about to suffer another undignified public exposure. His reaction at half-time is a transparent attempt at damage limitation. "After this match, if Ireland win, there is an issue about the people who criticise the way we play. (But) This is what we've asked for! In five weeks we've asked for Ireland to play like this."

Yes indeed. If only they had listened to Uncle George sooner, sure they'd be on their way to a Grand Slam now. Instead of celebrating at the final whistle they're the ones who should be eating humble pie. Curiously enough, he seemed far from happy afterwards, despite the fact that players and management had finally seen the error of their ways. It had nothing to do with being proven spectacularly wrong, mind. It was because this victory was really only camouflaging the problems. "In fact," he reminded us all, "it now asks a truckload of questions." So hold it right there, Mr Kidney. Wipe that grin off your face, Brian O'Driscoll.

Now at this stage one would think that a little humility might be in order. Or even common sense: when the hole is getting deeper, throw away the shovel. But no; George keeps digging. Jonathan Sexton has just played a blinder. "Kidney must commit to Sexton," says Hook. Ronan O'Gara had run the show at flyhalf against Scotland. At half-time, Hook had this to say: "I've no problem bringing Jonny Sexton in when we're 30 points clear but I vehemently oppose bringing Jonny Sexton on when it's a contest." And now, three weeks later, Kidney must play Jonny Sexton from the start.

Just in case Hook isn't ramping up the negativity enough, McGurk can be relied upon to add another dollop of hysteria to the debate. Showing all the instincts of a tabloid soccer hack calling for the head of the England manager, McGurk had been chipping away at the Irish coach during the Six Nations with a variety of bar stool questions. "Has Declan Kidney lost his way?" "Have we the right management team?" "Declan Kidney's percentage is now worse than Eddie O'Sullivan's." "Did Kidney deliver a Grand Slam on Eddie's team?"

Kidney is a man of substance and a coach of exceptional achievement. His public demeanour is usually modest and dignified. There is an obvious emotional intelligence about him. His treatment by RTE went beyond legitimate criticism on a number of occasions. It was actually disrespectful. His post-match interview with Hugh Cahill, after the Wales defeat, was painful to watch. He was treated like a schoolboy having to account for himself in front of the headmaster. It was all wrong. And back in the studio McGurk decided to have another go because apparently one of Kidney's answers wasn't "appropriate".

Memo to Kidney: you must always remember to show proper levels of deference to important people in television. Otherwise they'll get very cross.

It fell to Conor O'Shea to point out how hard it is to face the microphones straight after a gut-wrenching defeat. "My team (Harlequins) was involved in the semi-final of a cup (competition) last night and lost in the last minute," he explained. "It is difficult going on TV when you're emotional like that, and to be subjected to that sort (of questioning) -- because inside you're burning."

O'Shea played 35 times for Ireland. Brent Pope had a long playing career in New Zealand and

Ireland. Both have been critical of the Irish coach and team. But it has generally been balanced and fair. Their language has been moderate. They have expressed empathy because they know how hard it can be to compete and win. Hook coached various teams in his day; he must have forgotten what it's like. McGurk has no idea what it's like, which is why he can ask all those macho questions with such authority. Then they beat England and suddenly the tune is changed, just like that. Now it's all "magnificent", "great" and "wonderful".

At half-time in the Scotland game McGurk decides to goad Hook a little bit more, just for a harmless bit of fun at the expense of a young player. "When do you want to see Sexton come on, George?" "Ooooh, not before the Australia match in October." McGurk enjoys a long chuckle upon hearing this. Ho ho ho.

After the Wales game it's Luke Fitzgerald's turn to be ridiculed by Hook, performing once again his uncanny imitation of an overfed bulldog. Bow wow wow. Woof woof woof.

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