Ancient, Past It and In Demand

A new year!  A new broom!  New excitement!  New Heineken Cup and Pro12 champions, probably!  New players!  Or perhaps not.  For a handful of old timers, 2013 is likely to be just as productive as any other year – well, the first six months of it at least.  Age may be pressing on, but there’s no getting rid of these fine stalwarts.

Donncha ‘Stakhanov’ O’Callaghan

Paul O’Connell is out for the season, and with that news, O’Callaghan’s importance to Munster remains as great as ever – greater perhaps.  The old workhorse was lethargic last season and deservedly lost his place to Donnacha Ryan, but can expect to partner his near-namesake for the remainder of the campaign.  O’Callaghan may not be able to generate the 20-plus tackle counts of his career peak, and has become something of a bete noir on these pages for his continued selection in the Irish team, but he has shown a willingness to adapt to Penney’s fairly radical new tactics, which involves him popping up on the wing with regularity.  For a player who rarely strayed a metre beyond the ruck, that’s a pretty radical change, and he looks energised.  Whether he still has much to contribute to the national team is up for debate, but he’s likely to continue his role as first reserve, so we can expect to see more furious windmilling between minutes 55 and 65 of Ireland’s Six Nations matches.

Ronan ‘RADGE!’ O’Gara

The consistency has waned, the decision-making has become variable and ROG can’t generate much distance kicking from hand these days, but the hard-won self-confidence and metronomic place-kicking remain, and as the recent bonus-point loss in Saracens showed, ROG is still capable of flashes of the old genius.  He’s no longer a contender to start for Ireland, with Sexton now leagues in front, and his place on the bench is under attack from all sides – Leinster (Madigan), Ulster (Jackson) and his own province (Keatley).  But none of the pretenders can quite iron out enough kinks from their game to definitively remove the old ligind from the matchday squad.  Munster need bonus point wins from their next two games, which – coupled with their apalling performance in Musgrave Park this weekend – will put even more pressure than ever on his Munster place, but it would be a brave man to bet on anyone other than the Radge-inator starting both pool matches and a possible quarter-final.  Even if he doesn’t, Kidney would probably still see him as his best reserve, and ROG can expect his mammoth cap count to tick over a little more in the spring. Plus he’s a front-runner for the Lions – no, seriously.

Gordon ‘Dorce’ D’arcy

You don’t know what you got til it’s gone, Joni Mitchell once said, and so it appears with D’arcy.  Dorce no longer possesses the speed he used to, and looks positively undersized in the age where inside centres are bigger than flankers, but his work at gaining yards in contact keeps him in both the Leinster and Ireland team.  His form on friday night for Leinster showed he plans on going nowhere.  Threats are coming up the ranks, but until Leinster’s back-three injury crisis shows signs of abating, Fergus McFadden will be needed elsewhere.  Up at Ulster, Luke Marshall looks like a serious threat and the natural heir to the Ireland 12 jumper, but until he gets another old lag – Paddy Wallace – out of the Ulster team, Kidney is likely to stick with D’arcy.  His days may be numbered, but that number is probably at least 180.

Brian ‘His BODness’ O’Driscoll

The burning question in 2013 is: can BOD rouse himself for a tilt at the Lions.  He dearly wants to bow out with a Lions tour victory – one of the few things he has yet to achieve.  But will his creaking body allow it?  He’s been injured a lot and – truth be told – a bit patchy over the last twelve months, so all eyes will be on what sort of form he pitches up in this month.  With O’Connell out, he’s virtually guaranteed to captain Ireland in the Six Nations.  It’s his audition for the big gig.  If he does tour, it’s likely he’ll do so as captain.  No player deserves to bow out on his own terms more so than this most magnificent of players, and a winning Lions tour would be a fitting send-off.

Leo ‘Laighin King’ Cullen

In a world where Richie Gray and Donnacha Ryan are the new model of loosehead lock, Leo is keeping it defiantly old school.  The opposite of dynamic, and his carrying ability tends to consist of him catching the ball and falling over.  His days as an international – such as they were – are over at this stage, but he remains a cornerstone for Leinster, where his leadership remains hugely important.  As a captain, there are few as adept as he at knowing when to have a polite word with the ref, and when to lay off.

Paddy ‘Bloodied Face’ Wallace

Wallace is a most intriguing player – derided almost universally outside Ulster, the reality is that he is one of the most talented players of his generation and the best passing 12 Ireland have produced in a long time. He is a joy to watch, yet mention his name in the pub and you are almost guaranteed to get spittle in your face from some spluttering eejit who just knows he isn’t as good as James Downey. And what’s more – he’s keeping fresh-faced young tyke Luke Marshall out of the Ulster team – why doesn’t he just go away and let everyone else play! We’re massive Wallace fans, and don’t buy any of the BS surrounding him – Marshall appears to have more right now, but Wallace’s brains and experience (and calming influence on PJ) keep him a touch ahead.



  1. TJ Hooker

     /  January 7, 2013

    Who is this fearlessly impartial young journalist, Conor George?

  2. jojo

     /  January 7, 2013

    wish i could ”like” the above comment.
    sorry there is no kink in any of those pretenders games as bad as a complete inability to tackle. (let alone attack). In the cardiff game he kicked beautifully to corners… kickin away attacking ball and never once allowing a decent opportunity to play. Radge only plays for one person , himself. Munster need to give him a coaching job so we never see him play again. Willl Gatland let him on the lions tour so he can come on as a controlled experienced old head to throw away another tour? I trust him more than that

  3. Conor 4 Radge

     /  January 7, 2013

    Not certain paddy is ahead of Luke after the latter starting 3 games on the trot and paddy missing more tackles than he made in his 40 against scarlets. We probably won’t know until Anscombe names his team but Ulster aren’t weak no matter who they select.

  4. The RoG business has gone beyond a joke now. The 10 minute cameos last year were all a bit of a hoot but if Deccie persists with him in the 6 Nations match-day squad we are one Sexton pulled hammy or, more likely, cheap shot away from having a now geriatric, self-obsessed has-been as our 6N 10. Every 6N side would fancy running at him for an hour!

    None of the No. 10 chasing pack are the finished article indeed but I would argue that any of them will stand up to 50, 60 or 70 minutes of a Test Match better than RoG 2013-vintage.

    Please, oh please don’t let it happen.

  5. Pete

     /  January 7, 2013

    Think the Marshall vs Wallace debate looks about the most interesting thing in an interesting time for Ulster rugby – for me, Marshall’s set a very high standard in the last couple of games, but Wallace was on fire earlier in the season. I do love Marshall’s physicality though. Very difficult call.

    • Indeed. Expect more on this later in the week.

      • pete (buachaill on eirne)

         /  January 8, 2013


      • ORiordan

         /  January 8, 2013

        Luke Marshall has a fractured finger following the Scarlets game and is out for 4-6 weeks so the Wallace vs Marshall or even D’Arcy vs Marshall debate will need to be put on hold for a while.

        Has that stymied your article WoC? 😉

  6. solidalarry

     /  January 7, 2013

    But none of the pretenders can quite iron out enough kinks from their game to definitively remove the old ligind from the matchday squad.

    While I agree, that’s not the only issue, Rog’s game is getting progressively worse – developing more and more kinks, if you like – with age (understandably so) and I’m unsure as to whether he’s remotely a good enough force for international rugby (less time, less space) now he’s visibly slowing down (from a slow base), etc. In which case, someone else needs to come in.

    The younger pretenders haven’t stepped up beyond any argument, but it’s a bit hard for Keatley (who has pushed O’Gara to second in the Pro12 successful kicking percentage charts, I believe) to prove he’s ironed such things out given he’s been dropped from the Munster side. Madigan has Sexton in front of him. Jackson doesn’t have an excuse but has been playing less well in the past few weeks than he was at the season’s beginning.

    Plus he’s a front-runner for the Lions – no, seriously.

    Radge’s cousin. Only explanation.

    On D’Arcy: I think, including the NZ summer tour, he’s just played his best six/seven months of rugby in years. DOC too. Cullen’s on the wane but that’s simply an age thing – and right now he’s vital for Leinster. BOD: here’s hoping. Paddy: I love him too, had a great season, but it never really happened in green, and thankfully Stephen Jones’ right peg was tired after a super tough 80 minutes, otherwise Ultimate Pariah status would be carved in rock.

  7. Pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  January 7, 2013

    You got to give it to Donnshaw he is actually playing quite well. The locks on the wing thing down at Munster is lunacy but he is still flying in to tackles and rucks and has developed some nice hands and for a lock a relatively good awareness of space and decision making.

    Really hoping Marshall’s finger isn’t too bad so that he can play the HCup games and put him in line for 6N duty

  8. Chogan

     /  January 7, 2013

    Replacing Drico is going to be hard enough when he’s gone. A small step in the right direction would be to relieve him of captain. It’s better for Ireland too and it has been demonstrated many times before, that it takes a time to become a great one. We have less time than we think to the next WC.

    • Buccaneer

       /  January 7, 2013

      Thats an interesting shout actually. As with all else, injury enforced the leadership succession plans in the AI. As well as some new faces seeing competitive gametime this six nations, a new leadership cadre has to emerge

    • A very interesting shout. Well worth giving some consideration. It would allow BOD to concentrate on his own game too, and of course he would still be an on-field leader.

      • Chogan

         /  January 7, 2013

        Exactly, there’s no question there. The grooming of a new captain is a vital cog of the BOD succession plan that does require a detailed strategy.
        McCaw, Eals, Johnson etc… were long term captains before they were able to steer their respective teams towards the great achievements they all reached. Their teams were handy too but it emphasises the need for great leadership if we have any true ambition to win anything of substance.
        BOD should not be left as captain because it is felt it will be best for his chances of captaining The lions. He is a great of the game, our great and the rest of the world already knows it. Sentiment has little to no place in pro sport. If fit he will tour and given his credentials he is deserving of captain. Gatland shouldn’t need to see any more.

    • My first feelings on this were reluctance, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s not like losing the Leinster gig affected him, he’s still in the vanguard of everything when he plays, but he’s clearly very comfortable deferring the captaincy to someone else (in that case Leo, for the Six Nations it would be Best or Heaslip, presumably, both of whom will be around for the next World Cup). And, of course, it would allow BOD to concentrate on playing after a run of injury. Yeah, I’m sold.

  9. Bernard Kelly

     /  January 7, 2013

    Who may I ask introduced these players in the late 90s/ early 00s? If his 2 successors had the balls to introduce as many young players during their tenure, would their be as much concern about life after BOD et al?

  10. B

     /  January 7, 2013

    I don’t know what Radge has over Keatley beyond having done it all before, keatley has shown he can play the attacking rugby Penney supposedly wants, has been very accurate from the tee, makes try saving tackles and game winning attacking threats, the biggest black mark against him is that he has not been starting the Heineken games but is that more because Penney is afraid to drop Rog rather than any obvious flaw on Keatley’s part?

    • Obviously been warned by the Con Mafia their boi is the man to pick.

    • If you were to cut an outhalf’s game up into chunks, the areas where Rog wins over Keatley right now are tactical kicking from hand and experience while, even knowing what the stats are, I’d still prefer to have Rog over Keatley if my life was on the line over a touchline conversion. As a running threat Keatley’s miles ahead, as a passing threat he is also ahead (helped immensely by the running threat), as a defender he’s leagues ahead. Game management? You’d think O’Gara would be streets ahead but he’s hamstrung by playing within his own ever-increasing limitations. So beautiful spiralling cross-field kicks to the corner it is then. Forever.

      Keatley’s not perfect but then blatantly neither is Rog. I’d pick the younger man, especially if I were Penney, as IK seems to fit much more closely with his preferred template.

  11. el muckmeister

     /  January 7, 2013

    If Penney screws his courage to the sticking place, drops Radge for the final two rounds of the HEC and they fail to qualify for the qfinals then he is doomed by the Radge lobby who refuse to accept that he is finished at this level. However, it is clear from recent displays that Munster are destined for another ignominious exit from the competition with Radge at the helm. Although I felt that this might have been most likely at the qfinal stages, Racing Metro’s victory at Toulon yesterday should sound serious warning bells in Munsterville and the prospect of a pool stage exit is now real. Such an ignominious exit may be necessary to give Penney the licence to conduct the requisite purge next season.

  12. Anonymous

     /  January 8, 2013

    I am sure there are lots of rugby fans in Ireland who would be delighted to see ROG playing RABO for a few more seasons yet. I doubt if many of them are in Munster.

  13. Yossarian

     /  January 8, 2013

    this article explains why Conor George got his job. The gist of it is if there is an article that generates a lot of refreshes on their page by comments or quoting it generates online revenue

  14. jojo

     /  January 13, 2013

    Radge continues to show his level headed experience with petulent kick in edinburgh game. please, rethink your analysis above.
    Earls cannot do a simple off load, he never looks. Unfortunately, the centre experiment is proving a massive failure.
    Another horrendous munster display.
    Murray actually being there most effective player and taking on way more responsibility than radge.
    Frankie sheahan proves complete inability to comentate commending earls on terrific game.

  15. You smashed it once again my friend carry on the great work I usually get
    fun from your own posts. . !

  16. Pat Delany

     /  February 2, 2013

    Great article. I agree with most of it but you appear to have decided to take a stance on Paddy Wallace no matter what! Yes, he’s a very skillful, classy player and has been fantastic for Ulster. However he’s been a disappointment, and lacking his usual confidence at senior international level for whatever reason. Maybe unlucky, I don’t know.

    I can sympathise with your view though, I felt the same about Geordan Murphy. I blame Eddie for trying to make him fit into his rigid system, and clearly not trusting him to play his own game, why play an improvisor and instruct him not to improvise?! In hindsight though I’ll now concede Geordan was not entirely blameless!

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