Wednesday 24 January 2018

Guilt trips and sad eyes but our heroes will not be bullied on home soil

Paul O'Connell will give leadership as he has always done
Paul O'Connell will give leadership as he has always done
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was a time when the Irish suffered from a terrible dose of Catholic guilt. So there you'd be on the night of a big rugby game, with the girlfriend in your arms, and the testosterone bubbling over like a pot that has been left sit for far too long on a hellish-hot hob.

Sad, isn't it? Nowadays we're suffering from an excess of alliteration.

Back then, in the days of our first youth, there used to be a gallery of martyred saints, with sad eyes, strategically placed by the mothers of Ireland around couches in bedsits.

So there you'd be about to make the move round the fringes. But above on the wall, the basset eyes of the jaundiced old nun who was eaten by cannibals are staring down. Guilt sets in to your girl.

You spend the rest of the night holding her ball of wool while she knits you a hat with a green bobble on top, for wearing at matches. It was her way of showing just how much she loved you. There were no cable ties back then. We were tangled up by balls of wool and chaperoned by holy pictures.

The English too suffered from guilt. Post-colonial it was. The English in Lansdowne sang 'God Save The Queen' in tones so restrained the highest note wouldn't flush out a hush in the library.

Our guests have some sort of vague notion their country had done some terrible wrong to Ireland but very few of the English had even the slightest idea of what exactly it was their ancestors did to us.

The fact was The Age of Empire sent more armies than we do emails and if the school kids in the conquering countries were to be told of every massacre, they would never have learned how to read and write.

So it was the English were exceedingly polite but there was more. The Irish and English rugby supporters get on very well. There's lovely history between us too. The English were the only home nation to show up when the paramilitaries threatened to bomb Lansdowne Road. The English team were applauded on to the field for ten minutes.

That was when rugby fans were in situ at kick-off. Remember it's not a frigging picnic that you're here for. Cheer your team on to the field. It gives the players a mighty boost.

While the supporters get on exceedingly well, the players are out to dominate the opposition. England have often bullied us on home soil while their fans were passing around hip flasks.

There was a day though when the players were made to feel guilty. In Croke Park. The English team were lectured about the Bloody Sunday massacre that took place in the very stadium where they were due to play Ireland. It took all the fire out of their bellies. I wonder could we get the esteemed historian Professor John A Murphy to give a talk on Easter 1916 in the English dressing room just before kick-off.

England will try to bullock their way through, which is fair enough, and we will have to stand up to the constant dipping of the shoulders. Their plan is to wear us out. Paul O'Connell will give leadership as he has always done. He is the epitome of manliness, honesty, bravery and savvy. Tomorrow might be his last Six Nations game in Dublin.

Then there's the wanted poster with Jonathan Sexton's face on the front. The officials at the French match missed at least two late tackles on our out-half. Could it be that a dodo flew over the Aviva and all 57 officials looked up? Soon enough, star players will become extinct.


Ireland will target young Ford. I hope the lad plays well. It takes time to mature but he is a good player and looks sure to become a great player.

Ruby Walsh is a big rugby fan and was recovering from another serious injury when we asked: "How long will you keep going?"

"As long as my nerve lasts," came the reply Ruby went on to explain that when jockeys who have suffered terrible injuries get to a certain age, and maybe have a family to worry about, they ease up coming in to the fences. Ruby, like Jonathan Sexton, is as brave as ever. And they will always be brave.

Those who love our heroes pray not so much for success but that they come home safe. Jonathan is not made to sit back in the pocket out of harm's way. He needs to choose his hits though. Last year Conor Murray and Jonathan were injured in Twickenham from tackling the big men on the rat run to the Irish line.

For the most part, the English do not do French sneaky hits. But in boxing, 15 stone never fights 18 stone.

Ireland to win then, by a single point. With so little between the teams, I must remember to say a prayer to the martyred nun. She owes me one.

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