Sport Rugby

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Sean Diffley: Out of the north comes Ireland's new generation of heroes

Sean Diffley

BACK long ago in those placid centuries in Ulster dominated by the venturesome warrior Cuchulainn, there was a saying: "Out of the north comes help."

It was something that those in the southern regions embraced with relief (that is, until Maeve threw a spanner – or was it a bull – into the works...).

Some adages not alone survive but become relevant all over again, particularly in sport.

In Ireland's first Grand Slam year, 1948, Ulster provided seven of the side that accomplished the feat against Wales at Ravenhill, and the old Cuchulainn saying was repeated in many a newspaper headline.

The magnificent seven? They were the half-backs Ernie Strathdee and Jack Kyle, centre Des McKee, full-back Dudley Higgins, prop Bertie McConnell, lock Jimmy Nelson and wing-forward Bill McKay.

When you consider the reluctance of the present regime to take a chance on promising young players, it is interesting to note that a pair of busy medical students – Kyle and Karl Mullen – made their debut in the green jersey in 1945 when they were aged 19, and were full internationals at 20.

That the Declan Kidney regime is ultra-conservative is now generally accepted. However, he wouldn't have dared to leave out Craig Gilroy after the winger's display against Fiji.

The splendidly improving Ulster have demonstrated that they are the best side in Ireland and the reason for their superiority is the vastly entertaining and enterprising back division.

They have the forwards too, but it's the skilful and adventurous play that keeps Ravenhill packed out and the rest of us enthralled.

All the signs are that Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Darren Cave – and Leinster's Ian Madigan – are future internationals, but wrapping them in cotton wool is surely a stultifying process that will not help their careers.

Their provinces don't hesitate to use them against the Welsh, French and Italians, who present plenty of physical opposition.

I reckon that a new Irish coaching team is imminent but, contracts being contracts, there will be no change until after the Six Nations.

And who might the successor be? A lot of us feel it ought to be Anthony Foley, whose only negative flaw is that he is Irish.

The employment of foreign coaches is considered mandatory nowadays. I believe that with the quality of Irish professional players nowadays, even Joe Soap could oversee victories.

And Connacht getting that huge number of applicants to succeed Eric Elwood? Does everybody want to be a coach? Me? No thanks.

Irish Independent

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