Alone He Stands

The fallout from Ireland’s record defeat to New Zealand continues. In the Indo yesterday, what we presume to be Deccie’s thoughts have been channeled through the grubby, ill-informed pen of Farmer Farrelly.  Apparently Deccie is ‘compromised’ in the position of head coach.

Where does one start? Well, let’s take it point by point.

Money is now the core issue, according to Hugh.  True, there looked to be a bit of corner-cutting on this tour, but Deccie’s hand-picked coaching team don’t exactly look like they were put together on a shoestring.

That the rugby setup in Ireland is to the detriment of the national team? Every other coach (bar none) would love the type of player access that Deccie has – he can tell their coaches when to play them, and bring them into camp largely whenever he wants. Key men like Johnny Sexton and Fez played more for Ireland than for their province last season.  Go tell it to the French coaches, who tried to fly Jean Marc Doussain out as cover before the World Cup semi-final, but had to wait for his release until after the week’s Top 14 game.

That Deccie would dearly love to have brought Ian Madigan on tour? Bring him then. You are the coach – you have the right to pick who you want. Maybe prepare by picking him for the Wolfhounds or the Baabaas game.

That Deccie is hamstrung by the situation in Connacht? Of course, we’d all like to have 4 competitive provinces, but good players in Connacht get routinely ignored by Deccie – Fionn Carr was left kicking his heels while Ian Dowling and Denis Hurley were capped in the North America tour in 2009. Tiernan O’Halloran didn’t even make the extended training squad.

That our lack of depth at tighthead is the provinces’ fault? In the November series of 2010, we played 4 games and picked John Hayes twice, Mushy once and Tom Court once. Why weren’t Jamie Hagan, Declan Fitzpatrick or Ronan Loughney given any game time?  Or, erm, Mike Ross, who was first-choice Leinster tighthead at the time.

The Churchill Cup and the Sevens circuit? The Churchill Cup has been abandoned as part of the (agreed) summer tour timetable which had Ireland in NZ for 3 Tests – the US and Canada played Italy this year in the same unified schedule. The ideas that Sevens will help the development of the national 15-a-side team is laughable – it’s like saying 5-a-side soccer will unearth the next Cristiano Ronaldo – the skill sets are entirely different – as evidenced by the complete dearth of former Sevens players at the top level.  The Welsh sevens team has in recent years produced no starters and just one occasional extended squad man, Aled Brew.

The excuses for Kidney and his team are coming thick and fast, but we suspect they won’t wash with an educated rugby public. Farrelly would be better off going back to praising Niall Scannell and calling Peter O’Mahony the new Ruchie – at least some people will believe that, no-one is buying this rubbish.

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Boorish, Self-Serving, Sychophantic and Biased: It’s the Irish Rugby Meeja

What is it with the Irish rugby media? For every Matty and Franno dishing out insightful comment and insider info, there is a Frankie getting paid by the Irish taxpayer to praise his clients. Every time Quinny gives us genuinely interesting comment from an ex-pro’s perspective, Tom McGurk informs us in turn that he is the link between the Irish rugby team and the public. The good and the awful co-exist in an uneasy compromise between treating the viewer/reader like a fool and like an intelligent consumer.

The empty rhetoric and pointless warblings of some of our esteemed scribes after the Welsh game were especially rank. Let’s take three examples in detail


Own Agendas / Provincial Bias

When Farmer Farrelly opined that Rory Best has become a key player for Ireland, we nodded in agreement – we wanted him to be the new captain after all, and he is Paulie’s second in command – no mean feat in a pack of big personalities.

The problem was the preceding paragraphs. Farrelly had started off by saying Deccie had too much loyalty to certain players. We couldn’t agree more. But to see that he was tiresomely referring only to Leinster players (and Tommy Bowe, who had just refused to join Munster), we sighed. Again. The funniest was saying Jonny Sexton needed to return Deccie’s loyalty – after all, he had started just one game in a row, and note the following series of events, starting with Sexton’s debut against Fiji in November 2009, after which he retained the shirt against the Boks the next week

  • DROPPED 1 – for the 2010 Six Nations, Rog took over for the first 2 games, then Sexton came back in for the final 3
  • DROPPED 2 – for the All Black game in June Rog had the shirt, then Sexton came back in against Australia. That November, Sexton retained the shirt for all the big games, but…
  • DROPPED 3 – he lost it again in the following years 6N after the defeat to France. Sexton came back into the side for the final game against England, and held the shirt for the France games in August
  • DROPPED 4 – Rog took over for the England game. In the RWC, Sexton started against Australia
  • DROPPED 5 – then Rog came back into the side against Italy and Wales

Hardly the type of loyalty that needs urgent repaying, whatever you opinions on who should wear the 10 shirt. This parochialism is a huge issue in Irish rugby, but you would think our journalists would know better.


Give The Proles the Message

In case our Anonymous friend thinks we are unfairly targetting the Farmer, let’s move on to his polar opposite, suave sunglasses-donning D4 bon viveur Gerry Thornley. Thornley is our inspiration, and a thoroughly great read when on form. Form is scratchy these days however, and when he isn’t moaning about Pearson penalizing the Munster forwards in Toulon, or France getting to the World Cup final, he is worshipping at the altar of Deccie.

Last season, in return for uncannily getting the starting XV right for every match in the Six Nations, Gerry helpfully explained the logic behind each selection. Sometimes he even went beyond the call of duty in his enthusiasm to get Pope Benedeccie’s message across, assuring us that Paddy Wallace was on the bench to cover fullback, and as such was a better choice than, say, Gavin Duffy or Felix Jones. Equally, Ireland, as well as having the correct selection at all times, had no disciplinary issues. Au contraire:

“Messrs Poite, Pearson, Owen and Kaplan (with the, em, help of Allan) gave them a raw deal.”

So of the 5 referees, 4 were biased. As they say, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Gerry lost his place to Fangio for the RWC, and contented himself with maintaining that Ireland’s attacking game was in great shape and anyone who suggested to the contrary was as blind as Dave Pearson.

And so, back to the Six Nations, and Gerry was again the blue-eyed boy, getting the team selection bang on. We’re not suggesting that there was any relation to his supine review of the game, but safe to say gameplan, selection and coaching did not get any mention. Pulitzer’s all round!


The Lunatics Take Over the Asylum

To be fair to Gerry, he may have pedalled the official line, but at least he did it in a considered and well-spoken fashion. Another well-known pundit opted for the aimless ridiculous ranting ploy – the one and only George Hook. Hooky had an immediate diagnosis for Ireland’s problems after the Welsh game – the back row. So far, so ok. What the plan then George? Well, said our hero, Jamie Heaslip spends too much time in the papers, so time to ditch him and bring in a proper openside. Ok, don’t like the personal attack bit, but go on … who should come in? Harrison Brewer. Harrison Brewer, everyone in Ireland asked? That would be Harrison Brewer, who is still in school, and starred for Terenure in last years Junior Cup. Oh dear. And who is apparently a centre. Dear oh dear.

The craziness is not limited to Hooky, the froth on the message boards is far more voluminous (and stupid) than on HEC weekends, and its generally of Farmer Farrelly standard: play _________ because he has the pishun/schooling/soundness plus he is from the same province as me. But Hook stokes this crap – people recycle his every moronic utterance and claim it as their own, adding to the general atmosphere of stupidity following any Irish defeat. RTÉ have clearly (as is their right) decided on ditching sensible rugby commentary in favour of entertainment.

So Frankie, any thoughts on your man of the match?

 “Thanks Miles/Mark/Ryle/Conor. I certainly do. David Wallace may have been fairly quiet by his own high standards and was substituted after 50 minutes, but the clincher for me is that he is my client, and therefore man of the match.”

The above is paraphrased, but happened in January last year. Wally is a hero of ours and he had the grace to look bemused when presented with his magnum of Magners. Frankie was on the ether again a few weeks ago, labelling Peter O’Mahony (another client) the player of the HEC group stages. His logic – well, didn’t he get two man of the match awards? He did indeed. Guess who he got them from?


A Few Bad Apples

So between personal agendas, prostrating to all, engaging the vocal chords before the brain and enriching oneself, are all Irish meeja types the same? Thankfully not. It would be remiss of us to wrap this article up without mentioning those who we enjoy reading and listening to, those whose considered opinions deserve a (much) higher billing than they currently get. Take it away:

  • Quinny. His new column in the Irish Times is a revelation, giving you a proper insight into the life of a pro, the inner thoughts, the nagging doubts, and the drivers of success. He’ll get better the further removed he is from the playing sphere
  • Keith Wood. Talks and thinks like he plays – rarely putting a foot wrong. You can see why he captained every team he played in, the man oozes intelligence and ambition. And he scored a drop goal for Ireland! From hooker!!
  • Shaggy. When we saw his name down as an RTE pundit, we groaned. Current player, platitudes, bland. But he is much more than that. He is smart enough to know he needs to offer something more, and his random stories from the playing field always make you think
  • Emmett Byrne. Byrne can be hard to understand and talks too fast, but he is the only pundit who has ever led us to think we would have half a chance of understanding the technical dynamics of forward play (both of us are willowy backs at heart)
  • Matty and Franno. What can we say? Guided us through the RWC with proper analysis of matches, as opposed to rants about Deccie/Rog/Drico/losing the will to live. The contrast between RTE’s “isn’t it great for the people of Christchurch” and Setanta’s “Craig Joubert’s display was a disgrace to rugby” post-final analysis was stark
  • Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey. Ok, so his first 20 columns were about his mates who worked in the City, but he finally ended up giving really rounded pieces about the life of a run of the mill 9-5 pro. He appears on Sky from time to timew, but they give him a children’s table to make everyone laugh. Eschew the City, Bob, come back to our screens!
  • Conor O’Shea. O’Shea has an impressive depth of rugby knowledge and his thoughtful leadership has really shone through at Quins. Frequently looks bemused by the tantrums and abuse from McGurk and Hook, he is a rare bright spot at RTÉ.
  • Brendan Fanning. Fangio might hail from the Sindo, but he does some real writing too – for the Grauniad and for his excellent blog. He was Deccie’s pet during the RWC, but he wasn’t peddling the right lines, so now contents himself with writing perceptive and intelligent critiques.