The day Kidney was forced to tackle fireman Sam
PLAYERS get dropped for a variety of reasons -- loss of form, horses for courses selections, indiscipline -- but, 23 years ago this month, rugby had its first instance (to our knowledge) of a player being dropped for unwarranted use of safety equipment...
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has forged a reputation as one of the top man-managers in sport and has the trophies to prove it.
Kidney has gone on the record many times as saying that leaving players out is the aspect of coaching he likes least, dating back to the early days when he was in charge of the Junior team at Presentation Brothers College, Cork.
There is an assumption than man-management is all about the arm around the shoulder and a quiet word in the ear as the coach tries to coax the best out of his charges, but you do not win Grand Slams and Heineken Cups without having a capacity for making tough calls -- a ruthless ability to bring the guillotine down when the situation demands it.
It was a freezing Wednesday morning in 1987 and Cork was receiving its customary battering from wind and rain. PBC Cork (Pres) were scheduled to begin their Munster Schools Junior Cup campaign at 2.30 that afternoon in Musgrave Park against St Clement's of Limerick but the weather had lobbed a spanner in the works.
Kidney was just 28, but had already built a formidable coaching reputation with the junior team and Pres were going for their fifth title in a row. Clement's were not one of the traditional powerhouses of the Munster Schools game and Pres hatred was reserved for city rivals Christians Brothers College, Cork ('Christians have a yellow stripe, doo dah, doo dah, etc) but Clement's had some decent players such as Liam Toland and Mike Lynch and PBC and their coach were not taking the game lightly.
As usual, the players were pulled from their classes after 'little break' (something which always excited the envy of their non-playing peers) but rather than catch the bus to the hotel on Orchard Road for the pre-match meeting, soup and sandwiches, they were forced to mill around the school foyer waiting for the go-ahead at 'Muzzer'.
The up-shot was, with Kidney and assistant coach Paddy 'just one more scrum, lads' Attridge away making phone calls and the deluge preventing any yard-based activity to keep minds and bodies occupied, there was a large mob of 14 and 15-year-olds milling around an entertainment-less hall for over half an hour bored out of their gourds.
That does not excuse what took place next, nor does the fact that it was not a result of mischievous intent or a misplaced sense of 'teachers, leave those kids alone' adolescent anarchy. Rather, it can be put down to gross stupidity and cluelessness.
There is a tendency on rugby teams to fraternise with players from the same units or rows. Thus, props and hookers generally pal around, flankers and No 8s, scrum-halves and out-halves and so on. And, on this particular mid-morning, the Pres Junior team's starting second rows were leaning against the wall, chatting idly and gazing out the window at the downpour.
"I'm telling ya boy, this match is never going ahead," said No 5.
"Ah, I dunno," replied No 4. "The rain isn't that bad, you're just soft boy, you hate playing in the rain like."
"Do too." (Note: This is not an exact reproduction of the conversation, more like a general jist).
A minute's bored silence followed before No 5's attention was drawn away from the window and onto the four-inch by four-inch fire alarm on the wall.
"You see that?" said No 5, pointing to the box. "It says 'in case of emergency break glass' but what if you were an 'aul wan and you weren't able to break the glass like? You'd burn."
"Naw, they make them easy enough to break," said No 4.
"They can't make them too easy to break though or they'd always be going off," scorned No 5. "Look, I bet you if I just run my finger lightly along the glass like this..."
Well, you can work out what happened next.
A piercing siren rent the air, booming instructions were issued through the tannoys and, within seconds, gleeful schoolboys, delighted to be free of the monotony of an Irish education, were pelting out of classrooms towards pre-ordained car park collection points oblivious of the rain while p***** off teachers struggled to maintain order. The team quickly identified the culprit and pulled back from his presence as though he wore a dirty woollen smock and carried a clapper, while the guilty party's companion was suddenly nowhere to be seen.
Kidney burst into the hall with a face like thunder closely followed by his assistant but his voice remained surprisingly calm as he surveyed the sorry scene.
"Alright," he said, "who did it?"
No 5, tears already welling up, shuffled forward with arm in the air in traditional schoolboy style.
"Okay c'mon, we're going to the principal's office," said Kidney.
"Ya feckin eejit," said Paddy.
Half an hour later, the rain-soaked pupils were back in their classrooms, the match had been transferred from Muzzer to PBC's grounds in Wilton, and a red-eyed No 5 was hiding down the back of the bus on the way to the Orchard Road hotel after a pretty intense bollocking in the principal's office.
He was allowed to play against Clement's and Pres won a tight match to progress to the semi-final with favourites St Munchin's, but that did not help No 5 when he returned to class the next day as he was quickly identified and vilified as 'Fireman Sam' by various rugby-hating pupils and teachers.
Before the semi-final, No 5 was called to one side by Kidney and told gently that he would not be playing against Munchin's -- who went onto win the title that year. 'Alarmgate' was not mentioned as a contributory factor but, to this day, No 5 is convinced it was his errant 'fire-alarm finger' that cost him his place in that Munster Schools Junior Cup semi-final. Getting dropped is never easy and maybe the alarm was indeed the reason No 5 got canned by Kidney.
Or maybe, it was just the fact that he had played like a bag of s***e...