Saturday 18 November 2017

Tony Ward: O'Gara one of best to wear Irish shirt

I suspect there will be an official line operating a different spin entirely, but, certainly at first examination, the squad released by Declan Kidney to prepare for next weekend's must-win clash against France, points a very definite accusatory finger in the direction of two specific Ireland players for what transpired in Murrayfield.

The absence of Tom Court and Ronan O'Gara from the 23 on duty in Edinburgh suggests what could be the end of the road for players capped 30 and 127 times, respectively.

With Cian Healy back on board and David Kilcoyne growing in stature (outstanding again in an otherwise indifferent Munster performance against the Ospreys), the removal of Court should come as no surprise, but, his absence from the training squad entirely (given the three-test summer tour), would appear to suggest a propping career at the crossroads to say the very least.

In the case of O'Gara, there is no such doubt, this looks like what it is, the final curtain on what has been an outstanding career for an outstanding servant to Irish rugby. Were I Ronan, I would get my spoke in now and bow out, leaving memories of great times past and not the sloppy, detached performances we have witnessed of late.

O'Gara was, is and will forever be one of the greatest players ever to wear the Irish shirt. That is how he deserves to be remembered. Unfortunately, as he will find out, people have short memories and generally live in the here and now. I was reminded of that as recently as yesterday when covering the Roscrea/Blackrock humdinger in Donnybrook.

In the final minute, with Roscrea chasing the game, talented full-back Fionn Higgins, when attempting a diagonal kick to the wing, got it all wrong and almost presented the ball to one of the opposing Blackrock centres. Immediately, one spectator alongside me, turned to another, part in jest, partly serious, saying: "look it's an O'Gara kick". That is not how one of the great players of this, the golden generation of Irish rugby, should be remembered.

O'Gara's stubborn personality has been his strength, as well as becoming his weakness of late. It would appear his great Pres mentor, the man who nurtured him for so long, his former teacher and ever-present coach has made the right decision in the best interest of the team, but also, by very definite extension, in the best interest of the PBC, Cork Con, Munster and Ireland player himself.

I suspect, given the Lions year that's in it, he decided, much like Brian O'Driscoll, he would give it one last shot. The most difficult part of reaching the twilight of any career is in accepting that might be the case. And the more you hear people criticise, the more you want to prove them wrong. It is something I experienced in my time and I think it is fair to say most others do too. It is the wrong reason for staying on because inevitably 'they' (whoever 'they' be) will be proved right.


Were I Ronan, my attitude would be: "Okay, I've done my bit and I've gone as far as I can in my country's cause. Now I'll bow out gracefully." He does not deserve the vitriol that has been coming his way. I want to remember the man who strutted his stuff with such conviction for club, province and country.

If he has the desire to continue for Munster for another year then it is into that basket that all eggs should go. It is the end of an era on the back of some indifferent performances for province and country of late. It is the right decision by Kidney for the right reasons.

O'Gara won't see it like that at all, but that is because of the stubbornness that made him the star he is and the star he should always remain in the minds of an increasingly critical sporting public.

Great players endure, O'Gara for sure will endure.

Irish Independent

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