It’s that time of the year again – awards time, when professionals get to tell each other how great they are, and everyone can feel good about themselves no matter how rubbish they are – even London Samoa get to have a player of the year.
Over in Blighty, Ooooooooohh Brad Barritt and Ooooooooohh Jordan Turner-Hall get to fight it out with Oooooooooohh Matt Banahan for Most Over-rated Bosher, in France Lionel Beauxis and David Skrela compete for Most Disappointing Ten, and over here in Ireland, rank parochialism means the usual provincial carve-up of the big prizes.
The process is that a committee at IRUPA pick 3 names and the players vote
along provincial lines for their choice. This year’s nominees for the Big Boys Cup were Fez, Bob and Radge; and for the Toddlers Prize its O’Mahoney, Gilroy and Madigan. Tiernan O’Halloran would doubtless have got nominated were he not based in (Hell or) Connacht, but it would be hard to find fault with the nominees, with one caveat – ROG.
A bit like the nomination of Piri Weepu for IRB Player of the Year, the nomination of ROG seems to be based purely on column inches – the man’s preference for the dramatic has played in his favour. We’re not naive enough to think that the committee didn’t just select the best Munster player (in their eyes), but it’s a bit of a farce – O’Gara is still a fine, massively important player for Munster, but this hasn’t been a vintage year for him, late drop goals aside.
ROG had an ok World Cup – playing better than Sexton in the group stages, but having an utter shocker in the quarter-final. In the HEC, his impact was huge, but more due to dramatic fireworks than sustained excellence. He spluttered rather than strutted at times in the group round, along with the rest of the team and conspicuously failed to fire against Ulster. He was a peripheral figure in the Six Nations, where he didn’t start any games and didn’t score a single point. There were a few more deserving contenders within Munster:
- Paul O’Connell. Superman wears Paul O’Connell pyjamas etc. Well, he probably does after this year. O’Connell seemed to be carrying Munster on his shoulders at times this season, and was comfortably their stand-out player in the HEC. At international level, he continues to astound – like the best locks these days (Bakkies, Shawsy, Nallet, Thorn), he appears to be peaking in his early 30s. Long may this last.
- Keith Earls. Played like a drain in the World Cup warm-ups, then like silk in the group stages, before missing 5 of 8 tackles against the Welsh. Come 6N time, he grew into you-know-who (© G Thornley)’s shirt and has (finally) shown some real development as a player – his (and the Irish 13 jumper’s) future looks brighter than it did in August.
- Donnacha Ryan. Displaced Stakhanov from the Munster HEC team, and has added some aggression and dog to the pack that the newbies behind him have yet to develop, excepting POM. Had a curious Six Nations, in which he was a contender for Ireland’s player of the tournament, yet failed to displaced Teacher’s Pet despite being laughably superior. It would be remiss, however, not to mention that it’s unlikely Big Jim, Johann Muller or James Horwill would be speared by their opposite numbers.
Still, at least ROG’s nomination gave David Kelly the chance to erroneously claim that it meant O’Gara’s peers rated him higher than Sexton, and it has given us a reason to rant. We can only assume the committee used the following criteria:
- Impact at international level (5%)
- Impact in Heineken Cup (25%)
- Impact on fawning domestic media (25%)
- Impact on YouTube viewing figures (45%)
By that logic, Tom Croft is the best player in the world. To balance the ledger, let us show you the reason ROG is on the list – note: we think its official to refer to this as epic…
P.S. at the Sunday Times round table, one of the panellists said that referees were given a notification to clamp down on sealing off and players going in off their feet after that game – it’s not the first time Munster’s sealing tactics have resulted in a new diktat from on high. You can’t but be impresssed by Munster’s ability to bend the game to their will, but while they may have won the Northampton battle, they lost the Ulster war partly thanks to Paddy O’Brien being distinctly unamused at Owens’ home-towning.