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.

Six Nations: Vive La Revolution!

Pope Benedeccie I announced his team for the opening Six Nations match and there weren’t many surprises. The 22 is picked almost entirely from the World Cup squad, with the only newbie being Peter O’Mahony taking his place on the bench. Good for Frankie’s day job anyway. Not one of those ‘promoted’ from the Wolfhounds game made the final call. Well, what else were you expecting?
This was not a selection to get the pulses racing, but, truth be told, it was never going to be. As we flagged earlier this week, Ireland’s fate this season rests more on their ability to deliver a more potent gameplan in attack than with rafts of new personnel. There were only ever four starting berths where there was uncertainty, and even that was minimal. We knew all along Earls was going to get the nod, and made our peace with this decision. There are some outraged voices out there over this selection, but with no overwhelmingly obvious choice, Earls is a good bet. Yes, his defence is a concern, no, he’s not a natural centre, but those who lament Kidney’s conservatism (count us in) can at least be consoled by the notion that it’s a choice built for attack.
Sexton and Murray starting was pretty well flagged. Great and all as ROG is playing, few expected Kidney to give him a start in this one given his age. It’s in everyone’s interests to give Sexton and Murray an extended run in the side, and hope they can provide Ireland with a stable half-back pairing for years to come. Both undoubtedly have the talent to do so. Reddan can count himself unlucky, but he has been poor on his two most recent outings.
Which bring us to … Donncha … our old friend, selected at 4.. What can we say? It’s clearly a selection based on incumbency rather than form or potential contribution to the team or building for RWC15.
We have moaned about Donncha in the past, but have still advocated his selection, based on his partnership with Paulie and a lack of viable alternatives.
Neither argument now holds water. Donnacha Ryan has usurped him at Munster, started 5 HEC games, 4 alongside Paulie, in a campaign where Munster have gone 100% and earned a home quarter-final. Dan Tuohy started all 6 alongside the very Paulie-esque Johann Muller in a campaign where Ulster demolished Leicester and nearly turned over Clermont in Clermont. Both have earned rave reviews for their performances.
Either is a superior option than Donncha, who is more underpowered than ever, cannot pass, rarely gets across the gainline with ball in hand, and rarely prevents an opponent getting past the gainline. Ok, so he is an expert at “unseen work” (Egg and Palla wish they could trot out that line come appraisal time) and also at the choke tackle, which is clearly top of the list of priorities.
We would argue that if indeed Ireland’s game is to be remodelled around more ball-in-hand attacking, that more players comfortable with handling the ball are required: Ryan and especially Tuohy are vastly superior in this respect. Ryan is playing in the form of life, and at 28 is in or around his prime. Is he going to be 30 by the time he starts a test match?
It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a massively depleted Wales side, and Ireland should win comfortably with or without Donncha. Vexingly, the likelihood is Donncha will be picked for Paris … where he will be shredded. The man has been a loyal servant who has been a part of every triumph this team has had, but his time has gone. Paulie’s provincial partner, Ryan, should have started, with Tuohy on the bench.