Friday, June 23, 2006

A Long Way from Home - Goodbye to the Comfort Zone?

Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed...
The Irish rugby team had their feelings hurt recently. The week before last, they decided en masse to boycott a member of the Irish working press, who was part of the party that travelled to New Zealand and Australia to cover the current tour.

The Irish rugby team thought that the Irish Independent’s David Kelly was, like, such a bitch for what he wrote about their moral victory but actual defeat in the first test against New Zealand. You can see what he wrote here; samples include “a squad high on confidence given the provincial and international success enjoyed this season ... played with Munster-like composure, forcing the home side into many uncharacteristic errors ... Richie McCaw and company knew they were in a match ... we looked threatening, O'Driscoll standing out the game's dominating individual ... This squad has come a long way under O'Sullivan.”

Pardon? You don’t think that’s hurtful? You think if you wanted to take a pop at the Irish rugby team in its totality you’d be coming up with cracks like “Eddie O’Sullivan is so unenthusiastic about making changes to the XV that the IRFU ought to consider getting him treated for obsessive compulsive disorder, before he goes Howard Hughes on them.” Or “the only wing more useless than Shane ‘Shaggy’ Horgan is the one that’s attached to an emu.” Or “the best sidestep Gordon D’Arcy ever made was on the dancefloor at Annabels.” Or “Ronan O’Gara takes his position of stand-off half too literally – he’s meant to get stuck into the bastards, not stand off them.” But hey, we’re all pals here, aren’t we? There’s no need for the nasty stuff.

The goys might be regretting their hissy fit once this morning dawns in Australia. The picture at the top of this piece was on the cover of this morning’s “Irish” Sun, and this evening it had made the Herald. The Herald tried to spin it into another “O Drico! My Drico!” angle, claiming that as well as being the finest rugby player in the history of Irish rugby, Brian O’Driscoll likes nothing more of an evening than to socialise with the travelling support – who are, incidentally, the Best Fans in the World™. Maybe so, but this piccy looks a lot more wild than a evening sipping Pimm’s at the Governor’s mansion, watching the sun dapple those verdant lawns that are that part of Africa that will be forever British. This looks more like a photograph of a man that’s out of his box.

Stories of rugby players partying to excess are part of the legend and lore of the game, most quite too lurid to repeat here. A friend of An Spailpín Fánach told me once he saw S**** B**** and V***** C******** sinking pints of strong black porter in some boozer in Westport once, and seeing those two former Irish internationals (and Blackrock alumni – Christ, how much more do you need?!) on the session inspired in him feelings similar to stout Cortez when he gazed upon the Pacific. But traditionally that’s been kept in the family, and only retold when everybody is old, grey and safely retired. The picture of O’Driscoll, though hardly flattering, is by no means unusual – An Spailpín received it by email yesterday, actually – but the printing of it is a new one in Irish journalism. No doubt the boys will console themselves this morning that there are only oiks and Northsiders working for or reading The Sun and as such they don’t count, but the goys have to worry if the good times in the Comfort Zone are over. And they’ll worry some more if, for all their jawing about “respect,” the team bites the dust by the eight points or more that Paddy Power is predicting. Another lesson in being careful about what you wish for.

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