Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reddan, Steady - D'oh!

Eoin Reddan - baisteach tine i ndán don bhfear bocht?This bleary-eyed blogger is surprised that neither the traditional media, nor our new friends over at the marvellous Fear of God blog, has noted that in selecting his team to play France on Friday, Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan has reverted to one of the most sacrosanct traditions of the old amateur era. This is the tradition of picking a man for the game against France in Paris for his very first cap, and then somehow expecting him to escape alive. For a time it was as much a part of the Parc des Princes experience as the cockerels, the band behind the goal and the adidas ball with the black spots that meant damnation for the Irish placekicker, who could no more kick the thing than a bag of potatoes.

Remember Ken O’Connell, the openside flanker of Sunday’s Well and Ireland? His career started and finished on the edge of the Bois de Boulonge, God love him. An Spailpín would have long forgotten the poor devil except that the Sunday Times, almost certainly when Tom English was still their rugby correspondent, interviewed O’Connell years later and asked him what it was like to make his debut in the Parc des Princes. Hell on Earth was his answer. Equally, Moss Keane reminisces in his recent autobiography about being raked in the face during a ruck in his international debut in Paris in 1974, when his aggressor drew so much blood that the dazed Moss realised that if only they had a bucket to collect the blood Ireland could have made black pudding.

Welcome to the big time, Eoin Reddan.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s relentless CV padding of recent years means that Eoin Reddan, with half-an-hour’s international rugby under his belt, is now expected to turn around the tanking Irish, and to do so while the likes of Serge Betsen or Chabal is trying to turn him into a melodeon. When Ireland played the might of the Pacific Islands in Ireland’s last game at Lansdowne Road, Reddan wasn’t even on the bench. Issac Boss started at scrum-half, and Peter Alexander Stringer was on the bench. Stringer had seventy caps and won the Heineken Cup for Munster the preceding May. What could he show from the bench that hadn’t been seen already?

And the cost of that is that Eoin Reddan is now being asked to do the impossible, to turn Ireland out of the nosedive they’re in currently. An Spailpín Fánach hopes it works out for him, but my goodness gracious, it’s certainly a lot to ask.

The bizarre thing is, of course, that scrum-half isn’t the position most in need of change. There is no point in dropping the Piper Hickie either; as Donal Lenihan pointed out on Newstalk’s Off the Ball last night, dropping Hickie is like dropping a corner forward in football if you’re getting a hiding. Generally, you’ll find the problems are nearer the action.

What An Spailpín Fánach would do – presuming that he can’t turn back the clock two years and see those autumn internationals as they are – is start Alan Quinlan. Whether it’s in the second row or the back row I don’t care; I would give himself and Leamy 00 licenses and tell them to just take their chances with the cards. Besides, if they do a good enough job, the ref will be too scared to bin either of them. This would have the beneficial effect of putting the French on the back foot, and let’s not forget that Freddy Michalak (did you see the state of him on Sunday night? Good God) isn’t going to fancy being on the back foot much – least of all with Leamy or Quinlan trying to rip it off.

But out from that, there’s no hope. The campaign is already a disaster, and the only thing the team can do now, realistically, is try to stave off humiliation. As a fellow Mayoman and Ballinaman I wish Gavin Duffy all the best, and it’s my dearest wish that he can be the toast of Paris come Friday night, but anybody who has any appreciation of the impossible thrill of seeing a man running with ball in hand has to have his or her heart broken by the shameful current treatment of Geordan Murphy. These are grim days for Irish rugby.

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