Tuesday 20 March 2018

Alan Quinlan: One story that sums up the legend that is Eoin Reddan

Eoin Reddan. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoin Reddan. Photo: Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

Eoin Reddan once taught me a most valuable life lesson. Even if there's a part of your job you hate, always do it with as much respect as you can.

In rugby, holding tackle bags can be one of those hateful jobs. It's one of the great euphemisms in our sport.

The meaning is pretty simple. You're not playing. So get dressed and prepare to be a punching bag for those who are.

It's not a nice place to be. Especially because it can be, literally, a pain. An hour holding these flimsy, foam-filled cylinders as 100kg, pent-up players come storming at you isn't exactly living the dream as a professional rugby player.

But I can thank Redser for teaching me how to appreciate this life in the firing line from a completely fresh perspective.

We're in St Gerard's School in Bray before the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Half of us know we'll be playing in France.

The other half of us know we won't. It doesn't take a genius to work out what group Quinlan is in.

And so I'm holding the tackle bags. And not in a particularly enthusiastic fashion. It's difficult to be enthusiastic when you're holding an out-sized punch bag for some fella to ram into at full speed.

Problem is, you'll end up on your arse if you completely slacken off. You have to brace yourself. So I brace myself. Just not in a particularly enthusiastic fashion.

That's when it starts. Redser starts barking at me. I ignore him. He's a scrum-half. That's what they do. Bark. He keeps at it though. Louder and louder. A few curses. Then the bite.

Alan Quinlan and Eoin Reddan in 2007
Alan Quinlan and Eoin Reddan in 2007

He just lays into me for not being utterly disinterested ahead of the biggest competition in our professional lives. "What kind of example is this setting for others? What example is this setting for YOU?"

Thing is, Redser wasn't a starter either. He was supposed to be one of us. But he set the standard, the best tackle bag holder.

It's no surprise he would be one of the few to make the leap into the World Cup team during that dismal campaign. But that summed him up. He set standards that made it impossible for him to be ignored.

That was the story of his career. Can't make it at Munster? I'll go to Wasps and become a European champion.

Need a new challenge? I'll go to Leinster and become a European champion again. Left out of an historic Grand Slam team? I'll come back and win two titles.

It wasn't about the medals though because they give you nothing back. It was about the respect he earned from his fellow pros. It's nice to know you've made that contribution to other people.

He would never let anyone or anything else stop him. And that's why you knew that he would be the only one to call time. He wasn't going to wait desperately hoping for selection or the possibility of injury.

Like all his career, the ending of it would be on his terms. No wonder he's going into the aircraft leasing business. The sky's the limit with Redser.

He won't want any fuss made this week. As ever, the result is all that matters and the preparation that goes into the performance, whenever he is needed. There cannot be too much emotion.

I remember when Peter Clohessy was retiring in 2002. It was before the Heineken Cup final against Leicester. We all knew it.

But you can't use up too much of that energy. This Irish team has a unique shot at history but they can't drown in it.

The Claw had never won a Heineken Cup. He knew this was his last chance. But knowing that wouldn't help us win the match. And we didn't.

The players today will reflect inwardly on Eoin's leaving but not so close to the kick-off that it suffocates them.

Have I asked everything of myself this week? Will I give everything of myself for 80 minutes?

Because that's what Ireland need today. They didn't get it last week for a host of reasons - fatigue, errors, mentally switching off.

If you don't have the ball, and don't challenge for the ball in effective ways at the breakdown, and in forceful, defensive tackles, it's incredibly hard to do anything against a South African side with momentum.

They are a South African side but are they good enough to be really judged as Springboks?

There's still a fair share of negativity here but they remain huge, physical men. Ireland can't give them time and space on the ball.

The template is there from game one, albeit the losses of both Payne and Henshaw, such important characters in this side, are significant. We need to vary the game, keep them thinking. We can do this.

And watch out for CJ Stander. He's nearly the forgotten man of this tour. After all the fuss about his return two weeks ago, then the red card, he's hardly been mentioned this week.

It would sum up this remarkably topsy-turvy tour if he were to have a definitive say.

Irish Independent

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