Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ireland thriving in professional era after reluctant break with past

Sean Diffley

Syd Millar, one of our iconic rugby heroes, who played 37 times for his country, coached and managed Ireland, coached and managed Lions teams in 1974 and 1980 and was president of the International Rugby Board, was less than lauded in the TG4 programme 'Gualainn le Gualainn'.

That, no doubt, would have mildly surprised those who have witnessed the progress of his career since he was first capped as a rampaging prop back in 1958.

Millar was one of Ireland's representatives in Paris in 1995 when the countries voted to adopt what they called an 'open' game, which we know as professionalism.

Ireland had strived to retain the 125-year-old amateur code, but they were out-voted and the IRFU, facing the reality of the situation, accepted the democratic decision.

Millar, asked about ceding the old amateur principles, explained the reality of the situation of either joining with all the other countries, or throwing the toys out of the pram.

In some circles it is a pleasant diversion to criticise the IRFU and sometimes it is a valid pleasure, like throwing snowballs, as when the ticket-pricing turmoil occurred.

But since the arrival of professionalism, the great irony is that it's the Irish who have organised themselves much better than the other countries, even those most vocal in campaigning for the 1995 break with the past.

The difference is that the IRFU contract their players while clubs in other countries are owned by rich fat cats. Look at the huge sums the French clubs are paying for the likes of Dan Carter and Jonny Wilkinson.

But while much of 'Gualainn le Gualainn' -- or 'Shoulder to Shoulder' -- is excellent, there are some suggestions that don't exactly correspond to the basic historical facts, and I express the view even having been an extra in the TV documentary.

For instance, even if I wasn't around when William Webb Ellis acted the bowsey at Rugby School and ran with the ball, I have been party to viewing, in years gone by, the family records.

And those include William's birth certificate, which clearly demonstrated that he wasn't born in Tipperary, but in Manchester. So, away with one myth and apologies to Tipperary.

Also, TG4's contribution to the myth that Warren Gatland was an influential Ireland coach is another suggestion that is simply wrong.

The New Zealander's contribution -- which included, if you remember, the ploy of installing the entire Irish team in line-outs near the opposition line -- eventually lost the confidence of the Irish players.

It is not true that the IRFU decided to end his contract; it was the Irish squad that determined that action.

And viewing the situation in Wales nowadays, the Irish squad was not wrong.

Irish Independent

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