Monday 23 April 2018

Fair play Bull, now let's pay Johnson back

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Today we will tell the story of three 10s and John Hayes, but first there's breaking news: The Tipp application to host the Winter Olympics has been shot down.

The last-minute cancellation, for the second time, of the National League tie between Kilkenny and Tipp due to a sprinkle of pancake sugar on Semple Stadium was bad enough but Vancouver South Riding were even worse.

They ran out of grit for the bobsleigh track and so the Irish team failed to win gold.

London might well be the venue for the Olympics in 2012, but the cold here today would burst pipes in Hell. As the Inuit say when the central heating goes wallop in the igloo, "we'll make our own heat".

Twickenham -- 82,000 fans, 'The Chariots' and 'The Fields' -- Ireland and England, John Bull and John The Bull.

Croke Park, against England three years ago, was the night we cried with Hayes when our anthem was sung by a people who were not oppressed or bitter. Hayes and Irish rugby put 'Amhrán na bhFiann' back on our playlist.

There have been those who knocked him off the pitch, but he has never been downed on the field. And that's where it really counts.

Congrats John on reaching 100 caps. Every one of them is richly deserved.

There were tears too in Tullamore this week. Ronnie Walsh, fondly known as The Keg, was only 39 when he passed away in his sleep last Saturday night. He was larger than life; physically and in the way he lived.

The man was always in good form. He was kind, funny and caring. The Keg was a fine out- half for Lansdowne and Tullamore. He coached Tullamore to win the league last Saturday and, you might say, it was a great way to go but as one of his family said to us, "it was 50 years too soon".

The Keg was in Kerry for Jakki and Ivan's wedding just a fortnight ago. It was a mighty day. "What's this AE2 the Offaly lads are going on about?" asked a man from our side.

"Is it a cruise liner or a tube for removing red wine stains?"

"It's 82," I explained. "They can't say it in Offaly, hence AE2."

We know only too well what happened in 1982 -- my good friend Seamus Darby denied us the five-in-a row with that goal. The Keg loved the yarn and it was AE2 all night after that. People who needed a laugh sought him out and he wasn't on his own for a second.

Yes, this is a week of three out-halves. Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton featured prominently.

Ronan has won four Triple Crowns, two Heineken Cups and a Grand Slam. He's never lacked courage in the tackle and for me, he is one of Ireland's sporting heroes.

Sexton is the third out-half of the week and The Keg was a big fan. This is what he's dreamed of since he was a small boy. And who were his two heroes when he was growing up? Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson.

I suppose he'll hardly ask Wilkinson for an autograph. Wilkinson stays so far back from the front these days, Jonathan will need binoculars to see him.

It's some story. Roy of the Rovers could sue Sexton for plagiarism. Here he is in Twickenham playing for his country at 24, in his first Six Nations start, marking Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O'Gara is the sub No 10.

The young lad will not be overawed. He's confident without being cocky, but this is a tough one. We have every confidence in him. He's kicking well and his tackling will hurt the English. If he has a fault, it's that he's too brave at times. Sometimes the general must view the battle from afar to get a better view of the formations.

Whatever happens, he will improve for the experience.

And as for a prediction. Well, we must look back for guidance. "The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself." No, it wasn't Professor John A Murphy. And who said Abba didn't sing profound lyrics? We only beat England by a bare score when we won here in 2004 and '06. We had a little bit of luck both days.

England will try to beat us up in the pack. Remember the day their manager Martin Johnson bullied our President off the red carpet? I could never warm to him after that. Well, let's pay him back now but we need to avoid silly mistakes. I have this feeling we will just about do it. Barely.

Maybe Hayes will score his second try for Ireland.

Ah, but how we wish the poor old Keg was home in Tullamore on this special night, celebrating and expounding, with his many pals in The Brewery Tap.

Irish Independent

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