Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sucker Punch

Paul O’Connell wrote in his Sunday Times column today that the Irish rugby team and management were totally shocked by the violence that broke out in the game against Bayonne on Thursday night. Hmm. How odd that, among such rugby folk, none of them received a copy of that reliable of Christmas presents, Rugby’s Great Heroes and Entertainers, by the BBC's former voice of rugby Bill McLaren?

Everybody’s favourite Scotchman relates an anecdote about a friend of his that left Scotland for the weekend to referee a French club game. Bill met him when he got back, and asked him how he got on at the game. “It’s not a referee those fellas want,” said the ref, “it’s a missionary.”

No less distressing, the Irish rugby intelligentsia seem equally unaware of the ill-fated Irish tour to South Africa in 1998, when rugby was still at something of a nadir here. Ireland got their hats handed to them in the first test, and they were getting something of a shelling in the second too. Just like Bayonne during the week, they were being met by an immeasurably superior force, and they had a choice – they could lie down and take it, or they could stand up for themselves. Punches flew, there was a certain amount of huffing and puffing in the media afterwards, but it was hard not to be sneakily proud of Painless Paddy Johns and his men at the time. An Spailpín isn’t proud of it as a moment in Irish rugby, but he’s not ashamed of it either. What happened in South Africa nine years ago and in Bayonne last week were inevitable in a game as violent as rugby. Mismatches are dangerous. Whatever about the wisdom of that particular tour, Thursday’s visit to Bayonne was like walking around the city of Limerick roaring “drug dealing is wrong!” or “girls never kiss guys who participate in gangland hits or associated criminality!” at the top of one’s voice. Only disaster can ensue.

And so it did, in the form of the injury to Brian O’Driscoll. What sighs of relief were heard across the nation when a relieved Czar Eddie told his faithful people that O’Driscoll only had a broken sinus and not a broken cheekbone as initially feared. So that’s all right then.

An Spailpín’s old friend BT was making an interesting point last night – the sinus can’t actually be broken. It’s a medical impossibility. The sinus is a cavity between bones – a cavity is empty by definition. You can’t break what ain’t there. You can look it up if you don’t believe me.

So, if O’Driscoll’s sinus isn’t broken, what is?

Here’s An Spailpín’s guess, and it’s only a guess of course. I hope I’m wrong, but I get a bad feeling about all of this. My guess is that all this chat about O’Driscoll’s sinus is an exercise in news management. In a fortnight, when the excitement has died down, the IRFU will release a press release to the effect that BOD’s sinus is, worryingly, not responding to treatment. The nation holds a breath, speaks to Joe, hears Hookie huffing and puffing unduly. Then, on the eve of the World Cup a downcast Eddie O’Sullivan, with solemn music bought on the cheap from the former Soviet State funeral back catalogue playing in the background tells a waiting world that, sadly, for BOD, the World Cup is over just before it’s begun, and his position in the squad is to be taken by anyone but Jerry Stauton. Marion discusses it if she’s back from her holidays, Eddie looks kindly on the media, who can only pray to be someday able to appreciate his impossible genius, and the media in turn offer to kiss his Episcopal ring. Even the Ulster boys, who are cheered that Paddy Wallace is now at twelve, Dorse is at thirteen and Sir David Humphries has been drafted in to answer Ireland’s Call once more.

An Spailpín has said it before and will say it again. O’Sullivan out, Frank Hadden for the Lions. It will be a mantra soon.

FOCAL SCOIR: What in damnation were Ireland doing playing in blue? Since when did the Emerald Green of Ireland become replaced by the powder blue of … where, exactly? Key West? A visit to the IRFU site tells us that the Irish don’t even wear emerald green anymore; “IRFU dark green” is what you should ask for now from your local Dulux supplier. Jesus Christ. It’s no wonder the weather is as it is.

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