Tuesday 26 March 2019

Billy Keane: Wronged Romania should invoke spirit of Dracula and sink teeth into Ireland

David O'Leary (centre) celebrates with his Ireland teammates after scoring the penalty that beat Romania in the 1990 soccer World Cup
David O'Leary (centre) celebrates with his Ireland teammates after scoring the penalty that beat Romania in the 1990 soccer World Cup
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There are parts of Transylvania where the old traditions are dying out fast. It is said black puddings are now the staple diet of the local vampires and love-bites have long gone out of fashion.

Before we go any further, let me just say Transylvania is in Romania and tomorrow we play the Romanians in the Rugby World Cup.

Remember the last time we played Romania in a World Cup, the soccer one, when David O'Leary scored the winning goal in the penalty shoot-out?

The country jumped for joy and men kissed women they wouldn't have had a hope of getting a smooch from in the normal course of relationships, if there is such a thing as a normal relationship.

Plight

Daniel Timofte was the man who had his penalty saved by Packie Bonner, and truth to tell I never gave Timofte's plight a second thought until our esteemed colleague Graham Clifford went all the way to Romania to interview him.

Timofte put it down tough since the miss. We know what he's going through. Kerry have now lost more all Ireland than Mayo since the beginning of the second millennium.

Good luck to the Dubs. Deserved to win and all that. No more to be said. They say time is a great healer. I have little doubt but that we will be over the loss by the beginning of the next millennium, if not sooner.

And as we're on the topic of stolen kisses, there was such a man as Count Dracula and his castle is now a major visitor attraction in Transylvania.

I used to be petrified of Count Dracula when I was a young lad. The father tried to calm me down by telling me Dracula only ever bit women, but being a worrier and extremely precocious I figured that vampires bit men too, seeing as Dracula was a man and he must have been bitten by someone.

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One Sunday evening after a visit to the local cinema for the kiddies matinee, I arranged the school books in the shape of a cross at the front of our bunk beds as a prevention against vampires.

We all have our own ideas about countries we know so little about. Most likely the rugby colour man for the Romanian Independent is cracking jokes about leprechauns and quoting bits of Joyce and myself.

I was lucky enough to meet several Romanian delegations from the Transylvania area over the years as part of a twinning process with Listowel and they are thoroughly fine people who knock a great laugh out of the stereotyping.

On a more serious side there are many ignorant people in this country who seem to think the only Romanians who come to Ireland are beggars and thieves.

The truth is that Romania is a country striving to recover from years of oppression at the hands of the dictator Ceausescu, who enslaved his people and enriched himself.

Some years back I was involved with a group of budding Romanian politicians and I was impressed by their patriotism and intelligence.

We are all the same under the skin.

For sure there are problems in Romania. The standard of living is far below the EU average and when professionalism came in to rugby they were ill -prepared. Their players were scattered all over Europe. It is estimated that about 200 Rumanian rugby players are signed up with foreign pro clubs.

Many are contracted to French clubs, who have little sympathy for those who want to represent their national team.

Romanian rugby people must feel the life-blood is being sucked out of their team by the foreign clubs and World Rugby.

Then there's the caring souls from the TV who schedule the fixtures for the World Cup. Romania have been treated as second-class sportsmen.

The Oaks are being forced to play Ireland just four days after their game against France, which was a tough old battle.

So it is one group of sportsmen have effectively been declared as unworthy of fair play. And where is the solidarity from their fellow players in world rugby?

Rugby is the most punishing ball game of all. Four days' break is a disgrace. And top of that the Romanian are being forced to play the two best teams in the group a back-to-back.

Maybe the citing commissioner has reported Romania for all those bites on virgins' necks in B movies.

And the result of the subsequent disciplinary tribunal is that Romania have been sentenced to hard labour.

As for Ireland, we seem to be building up that same sense of national fervour which energised our nation back in the days when Packie Bonner saved poor old Timofte's penalty.

Our fans are young, noisy and boisterous. Ticket prices are high enough but our young people are well used to paying up for concerts.

Tickets for the first three group stage games are easy enough to come by. I've always said that our travelling fans are worth much more to our team than some of the living dead and picnic trippers who show up at Lansdowne Road. You'd love to take a bite out of them.

There will be some buzz around the game venues in the first few matches at least and we hear the players are thrilled with the support.

Home

I believe Ireland can go very close to winning this World Cup. We have the coach, we have the nearest thing to a home venue and we have the players. Now all we need is a little bit of luck with injuries and referees.

We could be on our way to a wonderful adventure, and there's no need either to eat a feed of garlic bread, wear crosses around our necks or to don turtle-neck tops.

More than anything else Ireland must not be afraid to attack and to win.

Fear is mostly in the head. What's that noise I hear at the window on this dark and stormy night? Aaagh. Where's that Elastoplast?

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